At the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York, global leaders signed off on the new sustainable development goals.  Among the goals is a commitment to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030."

Only a few days after the UN Summit, I was fortunate to speak at a high-level panel discussion, where leading energy experts from across the World Bank Group convened to discuss how the Bank and other development actors can work together to achieve the ambitious goal of universal electricity for all. 

To understand the scale of the challenge, consider the facts. Today, over one billion people have no access to electricity. About 600 million of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. And according to a recent evaluation by the Independent Evaluation Group, at the current rate of new connections per year, Africa alone will have 300 million more people without electricity by 2030.

So is universal electricity access by 2030 a realistic goal?

As part of the panel discussion, IEG presented an evaluation of the World Bank Group's support to electricity access over the last fifteen years. The evaluation provides important insights into what countries and other actors can do to meet the challenge. It also discusses many examples of best practice from countries that have successfully scaled up electricity access.

But first, it's important to highlight some of the evaluation's key findings.

Over the period 2000-2014, the World Bank Group provided $63.5 billion to the electricity sector, about 9 percent of its total commitments. However, the World Bank Group's role and investment in countries with less than 50 percent coverage has not been as strong as it should be. Support to low access countries accounted for only 22 percent of the World Bank's lending commitments and 6 percent of IFC's total investment commitments for the electricity sector. In fact, in 14 of these low access countries, the World Bank Group did not have a single intervention over the last fifteen years.

Low-access countries accounted for a small share of all physical infrastructure supported by the World Bank Group in the electricity sector over the last fifteen years. In all, these countries received just 8 percent of the total generation capacity, 7 percent of the electricity connections and 3 percent of the transmission and distribution capacity enabled by World Bank support.

Better, Faster, More

Meeting the electricity challenge will require a quantum leap in the pace of connections and the level of investment.  To meet the target of universal electricity access by 2030, the number of annual connections would have to go up ten-fold from the current pace of 1.6 million new connections per year to 14.6 million per year over the next fifteen years. The projected annual investment needed over the same time would be about $37 billion.

So, what will it take to get there? What can the World Bank Group and other development actors do to accelerate the pace of electricity access growth over the next fifteen years?

First, the World Bank Group and other development actors must focus squarely on Sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 51 countries identified as having low access, 40 are in Africa.  Development partners can do more to broaden and deepen their engagement in low-access countries in order to support their efforts to address the huge shortfalls in investment and capacity building. 

Secondly, there needs to be a broad and concerted strategy to mobilize investment from public and private sources. This will require the World Bank Group and other development institutions to move from a predominantly project-by-project approach to a sector-wide organizing framework. 

Despite the major challenges, there are many success stories that show that it is indeed possible to rapidly scale up electricity access. World Bank Group supported interventions in Rwanda, Kenya, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lao PDR and Vietnam have had dramatic results. In Bangladesh, for example, the World Bank supported a program that saw a rapid scale-up in access levels nationally through deploying off-grid solar systems.

To read about these success stories, and other findings from IEG's evaluation,

Download the full report

You can also read an earlier blog post by the evaluation team leaders that summarizes the evaluation findings or download this infographic that highlights key insights on the global electricity access challenge.

Share your thoughts and feedback. We'd love to hear back from you.



Good informative analysis. However, speaking about Africa, one needs to realize the FACT that many countries are run poorly and with corruption deep-rooted, no educative population, sectorian violence any worthwhile measures to improve the electricity scenario needs to take into account these factors to achieve worthwhile results! Moreover, Renewable Energy can be the safest bet in such a region--with high levels of natural energy--Solar power can be the answer --however though affordability could be an issue with poorest remaining under served. Govt in co-ordination with WBG or MDBs can supply solar panels at subsidized rates and initially offer some schemes which would make it affordable!

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