Global Commission to End Energy Poverty: Electricity Access Report 2020
Ending energy poverty is the necessary prerequisite to ending poverty itself. That central insight has driven our work since we first came together as the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty (GCEEP) in 2019. It is also at the heart of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #7, which calls for universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added urgency to the goal of ending energy poverty, highlighting the critical importance of access to electricity in particular, while also threatening to reverse decades of progress and putting hundreds of millions of vulnerable households and businesses at risk. But the current crisis also presents important opportunities to advance our agenda as governments undertake large investments in economic stimulus and recovery over the months and years ahead. These investments, as the International Energy Agency has pointed out “will shape economic and energy infrastructure for decades to come and will almost certainly determine whether the world has a chance of meeting its long-term energy and climate goals.”
Against this backdrop, the quest to achieve universal access to electricity must be pursued with greater vigor than ever, and with an eye to challenges and consequences that will extend well beyond the pandemic. Developing innovative business models for both centralized and distributed energy solutions, deploying those models to attract greater private sector investment and participation, and formulating the policies and regulations needed to sustain progress toward a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous energy future—these have been central themes of our work to date.
THE INTEGRATED DISTRIBUTION FRAMEWORK (IDF)
An early focus for the Commission has been addressing problems in distribution, which has emerged as the “weak link” in the power systems of many developing countries. To that end, we developed the IDF, which offers a flexible approach to large-scale electrification in a wide range of contexts. The IDF emphasizes the use of financially viable business models for the distribution of electricity to end consumers by all modes of electrification. Its key principles include:
i. A commitment to universal access that leaves no one behind. This requires permanence of supply and the existence of a utility-like entity with ultimate responsibility for providing access in a defined territory.
ii. Efficient and coordinated integration of on- and off-grid solutions (i.e., grid extensions, mini-grids and stand-alone systems). This requires integrated planning and appropriate business models for all types of consumers in a defined service territory.
iii. A financially viable business model for distribution. This will typically require some form of distribution concession to provide legal security and ensure the participation of external and mostly private investors, as well as subsidies for viability gap funding.
iv. A focus on development to ensure that electrification produces broad socio-economic benefits. This principle links expanded access to the delivery of critical public services (e.g., health, education) and to multiple economically beneficial end-uses.
Individually, all of these principles have been discussed for many decades. The power of the IDF lies in bringing them to bear collectively and rigorously to achieve a durable transformation of the entire distribution sector.
ACTIVITIES AND LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE COMMISSION’S FIRST YEAR
The GCEEP research team is actively engaged in efforts to apply the IDF approach in the countries of Colombia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda and in the state of Odisha in India. Our experience so far suggests that the IDF can be applied in a range of contexts and to achieve a variety of goals, from expanding access to improving service quality. Successful implementation requires, first and foremost, a strong political commitment and an overarching vision and strategy that reflect the specific conditions and aspirations of individual countries. What we have found to be exciting and hopeful in our work with these “first action” countries is that each has an opportunity to meaningfully expand access—starting from its current situation, whatever that is.
Of course, many developing countries also face significant challenges in other key segments of the power sector. Overcoming these challenges requires identifying and disseminating the best regulatory and business models to spur investment in needed generation and transmission infrastructure, removing barriers to the deployment of medium and large renewable plants, and developing sound institutions and market rules to enable efficient regional trade. Thus, another important GCEEP activity over the last year has involved advising the West Africa Power Pool, following an initiative of the Tony Blair Institute, on regional-level reforms aimed at reducing operation costs, improving reliability, and supporting major renewable investments. Such reforms could deliver enormous economic and environmental returns for the countries of West Africa and provide a model for other regions that would benefit from increased integration and trade.
A CALL TO ACTION
Our action plan for the next phase of GCEEP activities aims to leverage the diverse perspectives, expertise, and influence of Commission members across a range of activities, including advocacy, research and technical assistance, engagement with key stakeholders, institutional and individual capacity building, and progress measurement. Ensuring that universal access is at the top of international and national agendas and economic recovery plans; further developing the IDF “toolkit”; working with committed governments and regional institutions to design and implement comprehensive access plans; and building capacity in critical areas such as regulation by helping to establish a new Africa School of Regulation will be among GCEEP’s main priorities for the months and years ahead.
Throughout, we continue to see one of our most important roles as convening and providing a platform for the many actors who are already deeply engaged in the cause of ending energy poverty. Country leaders, development finance institutions, private sector lenders and investors, and utilities—all have indispensable parts to play. By actively bringing these diverse constituencies together and by rallying them to action—through our distinctive focus on practical solutions and with a consistent commitment to aligning global priorities and resources behind the best ideas—we remain firmly convinced that progress toward the goal of affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is not only still possible, but very much in reach.
Download the full report below.