Achieving SDG7 on universal access to energy will require going beyond a business-as-usual approach that has largely focussed on large power infrastructure, and mobilizing new, inclusive coalitions of stakeholders. CSOs’ energy access and development expertise can be leveraged in a more effective way to deliver this. In summary, CSOs can:

  • Improve other stakeholders’ understanding of poor groups’ energy needs, including governments, businesses and donors;
  • Raise awareness of, and stimulate demand for, energy services and products among poor groups;
  • Build public understanding and political support for inclusive energy markets and the enabling environment reforms needed to support them;
  • Design and deliver energy solutions with long-term development impact, working with other stakeholders such as government, private sector, donors and other development partners.

Energy services have been shown to have greatest poverty reduction impact when integrated with wider initiatives on food security, health, education and livelihoods. This approach will also maximize delivery across the SDGs.

Integrate energy access into NDC implementation and promote links to local economic development:

Universal access to sustainable energy is crucial for sustainable development and addressing the causes and impacts of climate change. Most of the billions still living without access to modern electricity or cooking with polluting fuels live in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia. Climate change is a major threat to the rainfed smallholder agriculture and the ecosystems that most of these poor and marginal groups depend on. Integrating energy access into decarbonisation strategies can support the growth of resilient and inclusive local economies, as well as power other services such as health and education, and address entrenched challenges such as gender inequality.

Invest more in DRE as well as grid extension:

Most energy investment still goes to the centralised grid and to power generation, yet 87% of energy poor people live in rural areas, far from the grid. To connect them, targeted investments in grid extension are needed, along with much greater investment in distributed renewable energy (DRE) solutions for electricity as well as clean cooking. Current levels of investment are wholly inadequate to meet the need – particularly from governments and multilateral banks.

According to Sustainable Energy for All, current finance committed to deliver energy access globally is substantially lower than is needed and only 1% of access finance committed went to DRE. For communities near the grid, adding more power will not connect them unless political, technical and cost barriers are overcome. This includes more investment in making new connections affordable, and more research on what blends of public and private financing can deliver access to different groups, including financing approaches for delivering energy to the poorest communities where market-based approaches may not work.

Increase international support for capacity building and improved enabling environments:

International donors need to provide more and better targeted support to build the technical, human and institutional capacity required to deliver universal energy access in energy poor countries, including better integration into NDCs. More support is also needed for developing countries to strengthen their national enabling environments, particularly to incentivise investment in DRE and clean cooking.

Inclusive energy planning:

‘One size fits all’ and ‘top-down’ planning approaches have not achieved universal energy access to date Much greater collaboration and coordination is needed between a range of actors – governments, donors, investors, energy enterprises and civil society groups – to deliver energy services that are sustainable and scalable. As trusted intermediaries, civil society organizations are well placed to support ‘bottom-up’ planning, including building understanding among poor and marginal communities of new distributed energy services and products.

Tailor energy services to the needs of communities to maximize development impact:

CSOs and community organisations have decades of experience and expertise in connecting poor and marginal groups to energy services, at household and community level, as well providing power for farms and businesses. Their experience, as well as wider research, shows how access to energy can enable sustainable development. But to do so, energy services must be integrated with the wider development needs of communities, and take into account their local context, including gender issues, to be financially, socially and environmentally sustainable.

Photo credit: Edoardo Santangelo (Practical Action Consulting)