Clean-energy targets help to enable energy access and drive advances that will disrupt daily life for the better. Globally, progress has been made toward the SDG7 targets, especially on access to electricity, where the total population without access to electricity - either on or off-grid - fell from 1.2bn in 2010 to 789m in 2018.1
Progress has been driven by advances in solar PV, battery and LED technology which have both enabled, and been enabled by, significant policy-driven market creation and price declines. In particular, the observed uptake and diffusion of solar PV technologies is driving a rapid socio-technical transition in the energy sector across Africa, albeit unevenly.2
Solar PV technologies at various scales and applications have the potential to accelerate the achievement of electrification targets, especially in off-grid areas where the feasibility, supply and costs of standalone systems renders them affordable, even for low-income households. Further, advances in mini-grid technology, battery storage, efficient appliances and ‘smart grids’, serve to accelerate the access agenda by reducing the need for excess generation capacity, thereby lowering the capital cost of new power systems.
Such technological progress also promises to disrupt the way in which people cook their food, which is another target within SDG7 where progress is lacking. Biomass fuels (firewood and charcoal) remain the dominant technology for cooking, which has major impacts on human health and the environment. "According to the 2019 UNEP Emissions Gap Report", the amount of fuelwood burned across Africa is estimated to be over 400 million m3 a year, releasing over 760 million tons of CO2e into the atmosphere. Black carbon from residential solid fuel burning is estimated to add the equivalent of another 8–16 per cent of the global warming caused by CO2.3 Air pollution from both indoor and outdoor sources was linked to 4.9 million premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disorders in 2017.4
According to the World Bank, four billion people globally still lack access to clean, efficient, convenient, safe, reliable, and affordable cooking energy. Of this total, 1.25 billion are said to be in ‘transition,’ with access to improved cooking services, while the remaining 2.75bn face significantly higher access barriers.5 Further, the World Bank study finds that just 10% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to modern sources of energy for cooking. Solar e-cooking technologies are likely to deliver affordable solutions to some of these households, yet a range of financial and non-financial barriers remain, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where solar PV markets have markedly different levels of readiness.6 Creating or expanding these markets requires targeted and country-specific analysis, capacity building and stakeholder-informed plans and financing pathways. This is where the CTCN plays a role.
Over the past year, the CTCN received requests from Southeast Asia, West Africa, and the South Pacific for assistance with a variety of renewable energy goals. Some of these aim to connect rural areas with access to hydro or solar powered energy and thereby enhance economic opportunities, while others focus on innovative solutions such as Nauru’s request regarding ocean energy and Lao PDR’s request for a master plan for power-to-gas technologies.