Nearly one-fifth of the global population has no access to electricity, and two-fifths rely on traditional solid fuels, including biomass, for cooking. More than 95% of this unmet need is in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, and 84% is in rural areas. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 14% of rural residents have electricity. Energy poverty has serious impacts on human health and living standards, and even having a grid connection does not guarantee a safe, affordable and reliable power supply, or one adequate for productive uses, as outages are common in most African countries.

Energy choices have significant local and global environmental and climate impacts, making sustainability a key concern. Yet for most developing countries, and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, it is energy access that remains the priority, to alleviate poverty and support economic development. That raises the question: Can low-carbon options meaningfully contribute to meeting those development goals?

As part of the New Climate Economy project, SEI and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) co-hosted a workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, in April 2014 to examine whether and how low-carbon options are changing conditions for energy access in Africa. The workshop brought together about 40 representatives of academia, government, NGOs, donor organizations, business and development programmes across Africa. This discussion brief draws on the insights and experiences of workshop participants, adding context from recent research.

Download the brief (PDF, 1.2MB)