The goal of this periodic blog (EfD) is to promote information exchange on access to quality energy services in developing countries including renewable, modern, biomass and household energy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Two Billion People Gain Electricity Access: 1970-2010

By Doug Barnes

Rural Energy
and Development,
Published 1996
In 1996 I wrote "It is hard not to be daunted by the scale of providing energy services to the world's rural population. There are nearly two billion people without access to modern forms of energy such as electricity or oil. This book describes the plight of these two billion. Its message, however, is that there are now many ways in which their situation can be improved. For though the problem is daunting, practicable and affordable prescriptions are available." This was from the book Rural Energy and Development: Improving Energy Supplies for Two Billion People (World Bank, Washington DC). Click on the text for a scanned copy of the book. Unfortunately, this is the only free downloadable form, but it still can be purchase on commercial sites. 

At the time, no one was counting the number of people who were without electricity. My World Bank Director during that period was Richard Stern. He was very supportive of this new line of work on rural and household energy.  During those times when most people didn't give a thought to rural energy in international organizations, as the director of energy at the World Bank he took a risk that this long ignored issue would take on future importance. Only time would prove him right.

During one of our pre-publication meetings, he turned to me and asked, "How confident are you of the number two billion. It's in the title of the book, so it better be right." I squirmed a bit in my seat, knowing all the potential flaws in the numbers we had researched. However, at that time no one had taken the effort to calculate the number of people without electricity. The team that I worked with had been fairly meticulous in looking at those with and without electricity country by country.  As a result, I looked at him and confidently said, "No one has any better numbers than us." He still did not look convinced, but accepted our judgment. Later we would turn these numbers over to the International Energy Agency, which now keeps track of those rural electrification rates in developing countries.
Table 1 Rural Electrification in Developing Countries,
1970-2010
Source: Barnes, Electric Power for Rural Growth,
Second Edition, 2014 

As one of the first people to count the number of people without electricity, I recently took a look at some figures in my book Electric Power for Rural Growth published in the 1980s. The Second Edition of this book has now been published. I found that in 1970, the rural electrification rate in developing countries was only 12 percent, compared to more than 60 percent today (Table 1). 
Today, projecting backward from recent trends, I found some interesting results. In 1970 there were only about 2 billion rural people in developing countries, so about 1.75 billion people were without electricity. I estimate that during the 1970s and 1980s due to population growth and few international efforts involving rural electrification programs, the number of people without electricity kept growing to well over 2 billion. The incremental number of people with electricity was not even keeping up with population growth. 
During the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the number of people without electricity in developing countries finally started going down (due to significant programs in China, India, Thailand and other countries). People without electricity declined to about 2 billion people in the early 1990s. Today the number of people without electricity has declined further to 1.3 billion. Significant progress has been made in the last 40 years.

In the 1990s there were 2 billion people without electricity, and in 2010 the number was 1.3 billion. But this does not mean that only 0.7 billion new households have been provided with electricity between 1970 and 2010, because during those times populations grew at about 2% per year. Thus, during the last 30 years over 2 billion people have gained access to electricity. Countries like China, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico now have electricity access rates that are well over 95 percent, and they are working on the last remaining pockets of people without electricity.

Obviously the task is not complete. Even a large country like India still has more than 200 million people without electricity, and in rural Africa, astoundingly, only 1 in 8 people in rural areas has electricity. So complacency is not the order of the day, and actions are still needed to bring a modern life to those living in extreme poverty or very remote areas. This is still true even 30 years after the publication of the forward looking policy book Rural Energy and Development.

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