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The Covid-19 pandemic has made electricity unaffordable for millions of Africans

According to a new report, the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has made basic electricity services unaffordable for 30 million people, mostly in Africa.

While a greater proportion of the world’s population has gained access to electricity over the past decade than ever before, the number of people without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa has actually increased.

A publication entitled ‘Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report’ was released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA); the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA);

the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report calls for a major scaling up of efforts to expand access to electricity in countries with the greatest shortages.

People in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia had the greatest shortages of access to electricity, the report found, with Ethiopia replacing India in the top three. Globally, the number of people without access to electricity has fallen from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 759 million in 2019.

Electrification through decentralized, renewable energy-based solutions has especially gained momentum.

The number of people connected to mini-grids more than doubled between 2010 and 2019, from five to 11 million people.

Under current and planned policies – and further affected by the Covid-19 crisis – an estimated 660 million people would still be without access by 2030, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the same time, in 2019 some 2.6 billion people had no access to clean cooking, a third of the world’s population. Efforts to improve this figure have been underway for years, with international bodies calling for more support in 2017 that went unheeded.

Largely stagnant progress since 2010 leads to millions of deaths each year from cooking smoke inhalation, the report said, and without swift action to scale up clean cooking, the world will fall 30 percent behind its target by 2030.

The state of access in the sub-Saharan region is characterized by population growth that has outpaced the increase in the number of people with access, leaving 910 million in the region without access to clean cooking.

The scaling up of renewable energy sources is cited as an important way to mitigate some of the problems identified in the report.

The sector has proved more resilient than other parts of the energy sector during the Covid-19 crisis.

Although it has experienced unprecedented growth over the past decade, its share of total final energy consumption has remained stable as global energy consumption grew at the same rate.

More than a third of the increase in renewable energy generation in 2018 can be attributed to East Asia, driven by China’s extensive use of solar and wind energy.

“On a global path to net-zero emissions by 2050, we can achieve key renewable energy goals by 2030 by expanding renewables across all sectors and increasing energy efficiency,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

“Increased efforts to mobilize and scale up investment are essential to ensure continued access to energy in emerging economies.

“Providing access to electricity and clean cooking solutions to people who don’t today costs about $40 billion a year, equivalent to about 1 percent of the average annual investment in the energy sector heading for net zero by 2050.

This fairer and cleaner energy future is achievable if governments work together to step up actions.”