Energy access and main challenges in the LDCs

The LDCs have a long way to go to achieve universal access to modern energy by 2030. Sustainable energy, encompassing its three dimensions of access, efficiency, and renewable energy, is a key development enabler for many SDGs. Despite the potential that sustainable energy has for development, many vulnerable countries, including the LDCs, still face daunting challenges.

The recent publication, “Accelerating SDG 7 achievement: Policy briefs in support of the first SDG 7 review at the UN High-Level Political Forum 2018,” includes 27 policy briefs by global energy authorities from the UN System, international organizations, Member States and others. It proposes a new Global Agenda for Accelerated SDG7 Action as a clear roadmap towards achieving universal energy access by 2030 and maximizing its positive impact on other SDGs. It notes that while the average global electrification rate reached 87.4 per cent in 2016, the average access to electricity across LDCs hovered as low as 44.8 per cent, and 540.9 million of the world’s 1 billion people without electricity live in LDCs. There has been progress in LDCs in recent years, but while access to electricity increased faster between 2000 and 2016 than in the previous decade, the expansion rate is still far from what is needed to achieve universal energy access by 2030.

Expanding access has been hindered by high connection costs, unreliable or unavailable grid electricity, low population density (especially in rural areas), high leakage rates, high operational costs that pose challenges for utilities and consumers ability to pay, low demand from productive users, and lack of investment.

The electricity access situation in the LDCs also varies by region. In 2016, the Asia Pacific LDCs reached an average electrification rate of 73.6 per cent, while the rate in African LDCs was much lower at 30 per cent. Among the Asia Pacific LDCs, expansion of electrification and deployment of renewable energy systems in Bhutan, Tuvalu, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Nepal, and Lao People’s Democratic Republic have led to notable expansion of access. In some LDCs where significant gains have been made, government engagement and buy-in have been driving forces.

Within the LDCs, access to electricity tends to be far greater in urban areas than in rural areas. In 2016, on average, 75 per cent of the urban population had electricity access, compared with only 31 per cent of rural populations, and access is expanding only slightly faster in rural areas. With a significant portion (68 per cent) of the LDC population living in rural areas and a steep urban-rural electrification gap, closing this gap in LDCs will require a higher level of investment in infrastructure, including a combination of off-grid / mini-grid and decentralized grid-connected solutions to reach more remote populations. The gap between urban and rural populations is more extreme in African LDCs, where 64.6 per cent of urban populations but only 14.4 per cent of rural populations have electricity, than in Asia Pacific LDCs, where 94.2 per cent of urban and 63.9 per cent of rural populations had access to electricity by 2016.

See also UNCTAD (2017),  The Least Developed Countries Report 2017: Transformational Energy Access.