News from the IEA: the Energy Access Outlook 2017

The International Energy Agency sent out a pioneering message in the World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2002, and the world of energy practitioners discovered this black hole in their industry. Then it stubbornly kept updating their readers, year after year. Now, fifteen years later, the IEA publishes a monograph on Access to Energy. What can we learn from it?

The picture of access to electricity has improved slightly in the last year: people without access are 1.06 billion in 2016, down 10% from 2014 (and down one third from year 2000). As many experts in technology are saying, progress (in solar generation, in electronics applied to grids and minigrids, in batteries) is accelerating and can surprise forecasters. The IEA scholars duly revised their previous estimates: their outlook is now 674 million people without access to electricity in 2030, a 14% lower level than forecast in last year’s WEO.

The conclusion is the same. The panorama of public and private initiatives is impressive. Access will be almost universal by 2030. Except in Sub Saharan Africa.

The outlook for cooking fuels and facilities remains bleak: 2.3 billion people will be excluded from clean cooking in 2030, the same forecast as last year. While 900 million people will gain access, the net improvement will only be 400 million, the rest being absorbed by population increasing in the areas still excluded. No revolutionary innovation here is in sight, practically no contribution is coming from renewable energy: indeed, almost all the improvement is due to diffusion of liquefied gas, often replacing biomass.

So, electrification of Sub Saharan Africa and diffusion of a cleaner way of cooking food are the two challenges still lacking an adequate response.

It is time for spreading good knowledge and stimulating brain power. Plunging into the IEA Outlook will help. It provides abundant fresh information: a high-quality text, many appealing coloured graphs that convey an impressive amount of information, precious for teaching, and a vast and detailed database, all freely accessible in the website: www.iea.org/energyaccess.