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This is one of a series of CGD blogs on tweaks to the SDG targets.

I love the proposed Sustainable Development Goal Seven. It says “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Target 7.1 is even better:  “By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.” Who could be against that?

But perhaps “universal access” is unrealistically ambitious?  After all, that means bringing electricity for the very first time to some 1.2 billion people in just fifteen years. As goals go, that’s a bit of a stretch, to be sure.

Yet, this target is at the same time grossly under-ambitious if what’s considered “modern” doesn’t change. The current definition of modern energy access used by the International Energy Agency, the United Nations, and reported by the World Bank uses a threshold of 500kWh per year per urban household­ -- and just half this rate for rural households.  This means an international definition of modern energy access at 50-100 kWh per person per year.  That’s what a typical American uses in less than three days. It is just 3% of the global average and roughly enough power to charge a cell phone and run a few lightbulbs for a few hours a day. That is unambiguously not modern.

Perhaps the UN could remedy this with language such as: “7.1 By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services at levels enabling use of modern appliances, communications, and consistent with a dignified life.”

Or even better: “7.1 By 2030, ensure universal access to basic energy, including affordable and reliable task lighting and power for a small appliance, as defined by average annual per capita energy consumption of at least 100 kWh.  In addition, by 2030, make substantial progress toward universal access to modern energy, including affordable and reliable energy for lighting, communications, and powered-appliances, as defined by average annual per capita energy consumption of at least 1,500 kWh.” 

 Global Energy Access

Electricity consumption (kWh/cap/yr)

Access to electricity (% of population)

Pop w/o electricity (millions)

Canada

16,211

100%

0.0

United States

13,395

100%

0.0

Europe (average)

7,062

100%

0.1

South Africa

4,654

85%

7.6

China

2,944

100%

4.0

Tunisia

1,350

100%

0.1

India

641

75%

297.8

Ghana

299

72%

6.8

Kenya

155

19%

33.1

Nigeria

135

48%

83.0

IEA urban threshold

- - - - - - -   100

- - - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - - -

Tanzania

91

15%

38.3

Liberia

79

0%

3.9

Ethiopia

51

23%

66.8

Source: WDI; most data for 2010

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.