May 2, 2018 / 1:51 PM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-East Africa a bright spot as world crawls towards energy goals

(Adds info, comments from sustainable energy conference)

By Megan Rowling

LISBON, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world is moving too slowly to meet targets to provide electric power and clean cooking to everyone on the planet by 2030, with progress on using less-polluting fuels in the kitchen especially poor, international agencies said on Wednesday.

The number of people living without access to electricity in 2016 was a billion, or 13 percent of the global population, with the vast majority in rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, new data released by the World Bank, the United Nations and other organisations showed.

Unless efforts to get power to hard-to-reach areas are ramped up, an estimated 674 million people - about 8 percent of the world’s population - will still live without electricity in 2030, they said in a report.

In 2016, 3 billion people, more than 40 percent of the global population, did not have access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking.

Indoor air pollution from burning wood, dung, kerosene and other dirty fuels causes over 4 million deaths a year, with women and children at highest risk, the report said.

“We must be more ambitious in harnessing the power of renewable energy to meet sustainable development and climate goals, and take more deliberate action to achieve a sustainable energy future,” said Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which worked on the report.

Among the global development goals now being pursued are universal access to electricity and clean cooking, as well as a doubling of the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and a substantial increase in the share of renewables in the world’s energy mix.

The Energy Progress Report, released at a two-day forum in Lisbon tackling how to meet the targets, highlighted that some countries - particularly in East Africa - have made big strides in getting electric power to their people in recent years.

Vivien Foster, global lead for energy economics with the World Bank, noted that in sub-Saharan Africa the number of people living without electricity had begun to fall for the first time in history, which could be “a turning point for electrification on the continent”.

Previously, efforts to add power capacity were unable to keep up with population growth.

“The battle for universal (electricity) access will be won or lost in sub-Saharan Africa,” Foster told the forum.

Progress in East Africa has been fuelled by a jump in small-scale solar power, driven by a rise in “pay-as-you-go” systems in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, where users can make payments via mobile phones.

Germaine Kamayirese, Rwanda’s minister of state for energy, water and sanitation, said her country was pushing off-grid solar power hard as a way of hitting its goal of providing electricity to all its people by 2024.

Today, 42 percent have access compared with just 6 percent in 2009.

At least 30 million people around the world are benefiting from solar home systems, yet only about “a dozen” countries are embracing this revolution, World Bank experts said.

“If more countries would turn to this resource, we think electrification could accelerate even more rapidly,” said Foster, noting the need for governments to develop clean energy markets and ensure good-quality products.

A shift towards cleaner cooking is lagging partly because it lacks policymakers to champion the cause in many places, she added. Markets for modern cookstoves also remain undeveloped.

On current trends, by 2030, only 73 percent of people will have access to clean fuels for cooking, said Maria Neira, director for public health and environment at the World Health Organisation.

“This is absolutely not acceptable,” she told the conference, noting that such a failure would have “an enormous impact on the health of people”.

MORE FOR LESS

Progress on boosting use of renewable energy also is set to fall short of the 2030 target, the report said.

As of 2015, the world got 17.5 percent of all energy that goes to end users, such as households, industry and agriculture, from renewables.

Solar and wind have become far cheaper, allowing them to compete with conventional power sources such as coal.

But electricity accounted for only 20 percent of energy consumption in 2015, said the report, flagging the need to speed up the transition to cleaner energy in transport and heating.

Energy efficiency is improving, with economic growth outpacing increases in energy use in all regions except for Western Asia from 2010-2015, the report said.

That means countries - and particularly industries - are using less energy to produce more.

Transport and residential buildings have not shown the same rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

Several wealthy developed countries such as Japan and the United States may have reached a peak in energy use, the report said, while among large developing countries, China and Indonesia are rapidly becoming more energy efficient.

"To meet 2030 targets, we must make every unit of energy work harder," said Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, a body set up by the United Nations. (Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)

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