The pandemic and global energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dealt a strong blow to progress on improving access to electricity. The number of people without access globally increased in 2022 for the first time in decades, rising by around 6 million to roughly 760 million. This setback was primarily concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where four in five people without access live today.
Data from the first half of 2023 suggests a welcome turnaround. The number of people globally without electricity access is projected to decrease to 745 million by the end of this year. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people without access is on track to stabilise in 2023 after rising for three consecutive years. Progress in developing economies in Asia is also set to resume, albeit at a much slower clip than before 2019.
The latest data and International Energy Agency (IEA) analysis also show that the 2022 backslide, while alarming, could have been worse. Affordability measures taken by some governments in Asia and Africa reinforced efforts to connect households through grid and off-grid solutions and helped moderate the decline in access last year.
The number of people without electricity access globally is expected to decrease slightly in 2023
Number of people without access to electricity by region, 2010-2023
million20102012201420162018202020220250500750100012501500IEA. Licence: CC BY 4.0
Sub-Saharan Africa Developing Asia Latin America
- Rest of world
In Africa, mounting debt burdens at national electric utilities constrained financial resources available to expand access. Between 2019 and 2022, many African utilities bore the cost of keeping energy affordable for users, contributing to high debt levels. This, along with supply chain disruptions, impeded grid extension projects. As a result, the number of people on the continent that gained electricity access via a grid connection or a mini-grid dropped by up to 50% in 2022. Setbacks were observed in almost 80% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. However, this reversion was partially offset by robust growth in solar home system sales, which provide electricity to households not connected to electric grids. Sales of these systems surged past pre-pandemic levels last year, with strong growth in West and East Africa. Thanks to increased solar home systems sales, Nigeria saw its population without access continue to drop during the crisis.
In developing Asia, Pakistan – home to 40% of the Asian population without access – was hit in 2022 by catastrophic flooding that slowed progress. Yet a broader turnabout in access was limited by longstanding electrification programmes and the relatively resilient financial position of electric utilities in the region. In 2022, Bangladesh reached near universal access to electricity due to electrification efforts that started more than two decades ago, which have included financial support for off-grid solar solutions and grid extensions. The number of people without access in Cambodia and the Philippines also continued to decrease during the energy crisis.
Even so, the pace at which people are gaining access to electricity still lags far behind the rate seen before the pandemic and remains inadequate to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which calls for access to affordable, reliable and modern energy for all by 2030. To achieve this target, more than 120 million people need to gain access each year to 2030. In 2023, this number is set to be less than 30 million.
To ramp up progress as needed, swift action is required. Governments should accelerate the deployment of effective policies, while the international community must work together to quickly unlock financing for proven solutions.
Annual reduction in number of people without access to electricity by region, 2013-2023
million20132014201520162017201820192020202120222023-250255075100125150IEA. Licence: CC BY 4.0
Sub-Saharan Africa Developing Asia
- Rest of world
One trend that gives hope for accelerating progress is the recent expansion of solar home systems. The installation of these systems contributed to more than half of access increases in sub-Saharan Africa last year. According to GOGLA, the global industry group for off-grid solar, sales of solar home systems in this region rose by more than 50% in 2022 following sustained government programmes to reduce their costs in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda. This provided access to an additional 12 million people by IEA estimates. Most of the growth came from West Africa – particularly Nigeria, which witnessed a record year of sales – but East Africa, the biggest market for solar home systems, also saw sales grow 20% after dipping in 2021.
The IEA estimates the number of people with access to electricity through a solar home system in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by about 25 million since 2019, topping 45 million in 2022. This means these systems now provide electricity access to 4% of African households. Mini-grids provide access to 2% of people in sub-Saharan African, while main grids provide access to more than 40%.
Another promising development is the expansion of solar lanterns and multi-light systems in the region. These smaller off-grid solar PV systems serve as a first step to gain access to basic and essential electricity services, even though they do not meet the IEA threshold for electricity access. The IEA estimates around 18% of the population without access in sub-Saharan Africa now benefits from a solar lantern or multi-light system.1 Solar lanterns, solar multi-light systems and solar home systems are also serving as key back-up for weak grid conditions and in places where load shedding and power cuts are frequent, reducing the use of petrol and diesel generators. Back-up use can represent up to 70% of sales in countries as Nigeria.
In 2022, solar home systems contributed to more than half of access increases in sub-Saharan Africa
Population with and without electricity access by technology in sub-Saharan Africa, 2022
%Grid and mini-gridsSolar home systemsWithout access
Annual increase in population with electricity access by technology in sub-Saharan Africa, 2015-2022
million201520162017201820192020202120220100200300400IEA. Licence: CC BY 4.0
Grid and mini-grids Larger SHSs
- Smaller SHSs
This year marks the mid-point between the creation of SDG7 in 2015 and the 2030 objectives. While the world has reduced the number of people without electricity access globally by around 390 million since 2015, progress has been slow in some geographies. Need remains especially acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where despite the proliferation of technologies such as solar home systems, 600 million people still lack access to electricity – roughly the same number as in 2015.
A new report from the IEA produced in partnership with the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Financing Clean Energy in Africa, found that providing universal electricity access to all Africans requires USD 22 billion annually from now to 2030. Investments in access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa stand at only around 15% of this total today. Mobilising greater financing will require support from both the public and private sector, as well as both local and international institutions. Concessional finance also has a major role to play to overcome affordability issues and reduce real and perceived project risks.
Furthermore, as governments develop electrification plans, they need to institute policies to stimulate electricity use for both household and business activities, while utilities should work to increase quality of service. This will in turn increase electricity demand, producing revenues that can be directed towards additional access projects.
Securing universal access to clean cooking technologies, another key pillar of the SDG7 global agenda, needs to be addressed in parallel. The many synergies between electric cooking and electrification planning can lead to a more efficient use of funding. A recent IEA report, A Vision for Clean Cooking Access for All, draws a pathway to achieve clean cooking goals by 2030.
Highlighting strong policies and marshalling international financing should be a primary focus at the upcoming UN SDG Summit, as well as at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai later this year. While energy access trends appear to be improving again, a persistent deficit – exacerbated by recent crises – remains, and the pace of change is far too slow. To keep global goals within reach, a breakthrough is more essential than ever.
Strong policies and more funding are needed to reach SDG7 access goals
The data presented in this commentary has been collected by the IEA from government agencies, existing surveys and partners. The IEA has worked with several countries to implement new access statistics methodologies, which use utility reporting of new household connections, mini-grid permits, and solar home system sales to provide more timely measures of progress in providing electricity access. This approach, developed with the support of Power Africa, complements traditional survey approaches to allow real-time tracking of how access programmes are performing – an essential pillar for accelerating access provisions, long-term planning and attracting needed investment.
- Basic electricity services or a basic bundle include more than one light point providing task lighting, phone charging and a radio. Essential electricity services or an essential bundle include four light bulbs that can run for four hours per day, a fan that can run for three hours per day and a television that can run for two hours per day. Solar home systems are off-grid solar PV systems with capacity above 10 Wp and meet the IEA threshold for electricity access, providing basic or essential electricity services depending on size. Solar lanterns and solar multi-light systems are off-grid solar PV systems with capacity up to 10 Wp and do not meet the IEA threshold for access. For further information on these definitions, see the IEA’s Guidebook for Improved Electricity Access Statistics.