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Ending Energy Poverty & Powering Economic Development

From left to right: Akin Adesina, President of the African Development Bank; Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation; Ernest Moniz, former U.S. Secretary of Energy; Ashvin Dayal, Senior Vice President for the Power initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation

We cannot end poverty without successfully ending energy poverty. For 140 years, we have had a mindset that energy access means building big power plants and connecting them to grids. Today, we know we can do better. That is why earlier this month we launched the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty to fast-track power solutions for the 840 million people who live without energy access today. This week in New York, I was pleased to join my co-chairs former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz and African Development Bank President Akin Adesina and 120 other leaders in the field of energy for a meeting to discuss our results-driven roadmap to end energy poverty by 2030.

I left the meeting with a sense of urgency and a shared commitment to action. As my friend President Adesina has said, “Economies cannot develop in the dark.”

We have only one more decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 7 calls for electrifying hundreds of millions of under-served homes and businesses effectively, sustainably, and cost-efficiently. Without coordinated efforts and clear leadership, the world will not meet the test. Indeed, at the current rate of progress, 650 million people will still be left without power, and locked out of the modern economy a decade from now.

Economies cannot develop in the dark.

We have to act now.

However, in order to unleash the full potential of economic development through electrification, we have to face two facts:

  • First, the bar for achieving SDG-7 is set too low. The most common baseline metric for “access to modern electricity” for urban areas is consuming 100 kilowatt-hours per person per year. That is barely enough to power one lightbulb for five hours a day and charge a mobile phone, and for rural areas, the number is cut in half.  We are also not measuring the quality or reliability of power in emerging markets. These energy targets are insufficient to drive significant gains in economic productivity, and so as we push to achieve SDG-7, we must also push the world to be more ambitious.
  • Second, business as usual will not end energy poverty in time. With investments mostly funding generation projects, distribution now presents the biggest unmet challenge, which also means it presents us with a prime opportunity to innovate.  We have the tools and technologies – pairing new off-grid solutions with traditional grid extension for faster, cheaper, and more impactful electrification – but operating in silos will lead to failure. Transformational change will require integration across the board.

When electricity powers a community, everything changes: Children go to school in the day and study at night. Hospitals and clinics remain open around the clock and store life-saving vaccines and medicines, while shops stay open later. Families can cook multiple meals a day and keep fresh, healthy food cold. The economic benefits multiply and lift up communities, regions, and countries.

I am optimistic about the measurable, bold progress we can make to end energy poverty by 2030, but only if we act together with a focus on meaningful results—powering through all the roadblocks that stand in our way.

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