Friday, October 20, 2017

Renewables Will Give More People Access to Electricity than Coal, Says IEA

Around the world, more than a billion people still lack access to electricity.

This number is shrinking, down by one third since 2000, despite rising population levels, according to an International Energy Agency (IEA) special report on energy access, published Thursday.

The report says that while coal has supplied nearly half of the progress from 2000 to date, its role is set to decline “dramatically”.  This is because renewables are becoming cheaper and because the hardest-to-reach people are in remote, rural areas where off-grid solutions offer the lowest cost.

Mother with a solar panel in Lira District, Uganda, East Africa. (Credit: Alamy) Click to Enlarge.
The report shows the number of people without access to electricity will shrink by another third by 2030, with 60% of these gains supplied by renewables.  Furthermore, if the world commits to providing universal access by 2030, then renewables would bridge 90% of the remaining gap, the IEA says.

Recent progress
Population without electricity access, by region, 2000-2016. (Source: IEA special report on energy access) Click to Enlarge.
There have been spectacular gains in providing access to electricity this century, cutting the number without it from 1.7 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016, the IEA says.  Most of this progress has been in Asia, as the charts at right show (blue, yellow and green lines and columns).

India has led the way, with 500 million gaining access to electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa now has the majority of people still without access, at 600 million, an increase over the past 15 years due to rising populations. Recently, this number peaked and started to fall (red line and columns).

Fuelling gains
The rate of progress has been accelerating, the IEA says, rising from 62 million people gaining electricity access each year during 2000-2012 to 103 million during 2012-2015.

Coal has been the main source of this new supply, generating 45% of the electricity used by people gaining access for the first time between 2000 and 2016 (purple pictograms in the chart, below).

There has also been a growing role for renewable sources of electricity, the IEA notes, with particularly rapid growth in decentralized off-grid access.  From 2000-2012, renewables provided 28% of new access to electricity.  This figure rose to 34% during 2012-2016.

There are regional differences in the sources of new electricity connections.  In India, for example, coal generated 75% of new supplies, against 20% for renewables.  (This pattern is expected to reverse, see below.)

Sub-Saharan Africa has had the most rapid recent improvement in providing electricity access, rising from 9m new connections per year during 2000-2012 to 26m per year during 2012-2016.  Most of this acceleration is due to renewables, responsible for 70% of new access since 2012, whereas coal has not supplied any new connections in this period.

Future growth
Looking ahead, the IEA says the number of people without access to electricity will fall to around 700 million by 2030, under its central scenario.

Asia will reach close to 100% access to electricity by 2030, and India will meet its aim of universal access in the early 2020s.  The vast majority of the 700 million still without electricity in 2030 will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Note that this chart reflects the IEA’s central “New Policies Scenario”.  This includes existing policies plus announced policies and intentions.  It also reflects assumptions about the costs of different technologies and the rates of population and electricity demand growth.

Growing grid
Around the world, the share of new electricity access supplied by renewables will nearly double to 60%, up from 34% over the past five years. This pattern is even more extreme in India, where the share of new electricity from renewables will triple to 60%

Coal’s role in providing electricity access “declines dramatically”, the IEA says, providing power to 16% of those who gain access over the next 14 years.  This compares to 45% during 2000-2016.

Note that the IEA has been criticised for repeatedly underestimating the rate of growth of renewables, particularly solar.  This makes its outlook, in which renewables supply most new electricity access, even more striking.

Role of renewables
If the world wants to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal energy access for all by 2030, then 90% of the additional electricity connections over and above the IEA’s central scenario will come from renewables, its report suggests.

This reflects the fact that the hardest-to-reach populations are those least likely to benefit from grid expansion.  For these people, decentralized systems, predominantly supplied by solar, offer the “lowest cost pathway” to electricity access.

The report, for the first time, uses geospatial analysis, at a resolution of one square kilometer, to assess the most cost-effective ways to deliver electricity access to sub-Saharan Africa, whether through grid or off-grid solutions.  This analysis takes into account existing and planned infrastructure, technology developments, local resources, population density and likely demand.

It is this new analysis that suggests decentralized renewables will be the cheapest way to provide electricity access for sub-Saharan Africa’s rural poor.  Note that research suggests Africa could more than meet its electricity needs, with renewable sources alone.

The IEA puts the cost of providing electricity access to everyone on the planet at an additional $391bn over the period to 2030.  This would nearly double total spending, adding to the $324bn already expected to be spent under the IEA’s central scenario.

Read more at Renewables Will Give More People Access to Electricity than Coal, Says IEA

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