Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report (2020)


The 2020 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report monitors and assesses attainments in the global quest for universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy by 2030. The latest available data and select energy scenarios are set forth in this year’s report, which finds that although the world continues to advance toward SDG 7, its efforts fall well short of the scale required to reach the goal by 2030.


The share of the global population with access to electricity increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 90 percent in 2018, enabling more than a billion people to gain access during the period. The population still without access to electricity was 789 million in 2018, down from 1.2 billion in 2010.The global advance of electrification accelerated slightly in recent years, rising from an average of 0.77 percentage points annually between 2010 and 2016 (127 million people/year) to 0.82 percentage points between 2016 and 2018 (136 million people/year). These numbers nevertheless fall short of the gains needed to achieve the goal of universal access to electricity by 2030. Annual increases of at least 0.87 percentage points would be required to meet the target. Under current and planned policies before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, it is estimated that about 620 million people will remain without access in 2030, 85 percent of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Share of population with access to electricity in 2018
The 20 countries with the largest access deficit, 2010–18


The share of renewable energy in TFEC reached 17.3 percent in 2017, up from 17.2 percent in 2016 and 16.3 percent in 2010).3 This indicates that global use of renewables has grown faster (at 2.5 percent in 2017) than overall global energy consumption (1.8 percent in 2017), extending a trend seen since 2011. The growth of renewables is driven primarily by increased consumption of modern renewables (that is, renewables other than traditional uses of biomass). Modern renewables commanded a 10.5 percent share of TFEC in 2017, up from 10.3
percent in 2016 and 8.6 percent in 2010.

Renewable energy consumption by technology and share in total final energy consumption
(TFEC), 1990–2017

Important regional differences should be noted. Sub-Saharan Africa had by far the highest share of renewable energy in TFEC for 2017. However, reliance on traditional uses of biomass in the region accounts for almost 85 percent of its renewable energy consumption and, as already observed, is associated with adverse health and environmental effects. Owing to the extensive use of modern bioenergy across the power, heat, and transport sectors, in addition to the region’s reliance on hydropower to generate electricity, Latin America and the Caribbean had the largest share of modern renewables among all regions.

• Change in share of renewable energy in total final energy consumption between 2010
and 2017


Rates of improvement in global primary energy intensity (total primary energy supply per unit of gross domestic product) have fallen in the past few years, following a period of relative steady growth. Global primary energy intensity in 2017 was 5.01 megajoules per USD dollar, equivalent to a 1.7 percent rate of improvement since 2016, the lowest rate since 2010. Nevertheless, recent progress has been greater than historical trends, thanks in part to
a range of energy efficiency policies adopted around the world. The average annual rate of improvement in global primary energy intensity between 2010 and 2017 was 2.2 percent, more than the historical rate of 1.3 percent between 1990 and 2010. To reach the SDG 7.3 target (by doubling the historic improvement trend), the annual improvement to 2030 would need to average 3 percent in the years between 2017 and 2030.

Annual growth rate of primary energy intensity by period, target rate for 2017–30, and
potential for 2017–30 in IEA Sustainable Development Scenario


Each target is monitored using one or more proxy indicators, in line with the SDG framework devised by the UNSD.4 For example, progress in access is monitored both through the proportion of the population having access to electricity and the proportion relying primarily on clean fuels and technologies. Similarly, progress in energy efficiency is monitored through the energy intensity of the economy, measured in terms of primary energy and GDP.

POLICY INSIGHTS The world has a decade to meet the SDG 7 call for universal access to electricity. Now more than ever, efforts must be made to accelerate electrification in access-deficit countries. The covid-19 crisis has further accentuated the need for reliable, affordable access—in health institutions in particular, but also for water pumping, schools, and community resilience. Recent trends have shown, however, that it is hard to sustain the pace of electrification through to the last mile, or even the last few miles. Doing so requires commitment. In countries where the level of electrification remains low (e.g., the Sahel countries, the question is how to deliver affordable and reliable service at scale. In countries approaching universal access (e.g., India, Peru), the question is how to connect those hardest to reach.

Percentage of refugee households having access to on-grid electricity in selected

Access to electricity plays a critical role in poverty reduction for women and girls. Women’s employment and leisure will improve with increased access to electricity. Poor electricity supply was pinpointed as the biggest obstacle to growth by 25 percent of female-headed enterprises surveyed in Tanzania and 19 percent in Ghana. Statistical data from these countries show a positive relationship between the productive use of electricity and women’s economic empowerment. Use of electrical appliances allowed for diversification in products for sale and helped female entrepreneurs attract more customers (Wilson 2020). The provision of electric light amplifies time savings by increasing efficiency and adding flexibility in the scheduling of household tasks. Freeing up women’s time is a prerequisite for investments in their education and life choices, encouraging them to seize economic opportunities and participate in economic, political, and social life.


In 2018, 63 percent (56–68) of the global population had access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, comprising electric, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas, biogas, solar, and alcohol-fuel stoves. (Technical recommendations defining what can be considered “clean” fuels and technologies are set out in WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: household fuel combustion (WHO 2014). Yet there remain some 2. 8 billion (2.4, 3.3) people who rely on polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, including traditional stoves paired with charcoal, coal, crop waste, dung, kerosene, and wood. Due to limitations in the underlying data, analyses use types of cooking fuel rather than cookstove and fuel combinations.

The global population with access to clean cooking (in percentages)

The global access rate to clean cooking fuels and technologies reached 63 percent (56–68) in 2018. As seen in Figure 2.5, the access rate has been steadily rising between 2000 and 2018, with an annualized increase in access to clean cooking of 0.8pp (–0.2, 1.7) between 2010 and 2018. As shown in Figure 2.6, progress in access has decelerated since 2012, dropping from just below 0.8pp per year between 2000 and 2015 to 0.7pp from 2017 to 2018. Even discounting potential slowing of progress, such increases are not enough to reach SDG target 7.1.2 by 2030. Moreover, as seen in previous years, population growth continues to outpace the annual increase in the number of people with access to clean fuel and technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa: Figure 2.7 shows the annualized increase in the number of people with access to clean fuels and technologies (orange), compared to the annualized population increase (green), by region, over the period 2014–18.

Change over time in the absolute number of people (left axis) and percentage of the global
population (right axis) with access to clean cooking

While the human cost from polluting cooking is gradually easing in most regions, the trend is being overtaken by alarming population increases in Sub-Saharan Africa: On a global scale, gains in the percentage of population having access to clean cooking have been matched by population growth. These developments have caused a decades-long stagnation in the numbers of people without access to clean cooking, referred to here as the “access deficit.” Estimates suggest this number has hardly deviated from 3 billion people in any year since 2000, as illustrated in, with the 2018 estimate of 2.8 billion people (2.4, 3.3) being equal to the 1990 value of 2.8 billion people (2.4, 3.1).

Access deficits by region (population without access to clean fuels and technologies),

Lack of access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking contributes to 4 million deaths each year in low and middle-income countries. It has been linked to heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and cancer. This pollution is not restricted, however, to the household environment alone, as it contributes as well to localized pollution, disrupting regional environments. Household air pollution affects climate change: cooking and heating account for some 25 percent of black carbon emissions
worldwide (Bond and others 2013), and around 30 percent of the wood fuel harvested globally is unsustainable, which results in climate-damaging emissions equivalent to 2 percent of emissions worldwide (Bailis and others 2015).

Percentages of girls and boys who gather wood and water22 among all children in a given
country, by WHO region, for the period 2010–17


25 “End use” refers to the service for which energy is consumed. The services are classified into three categories: electricity end uses, transport end uses, and heating. For the sake of simplicity, the latter is referred to in this report as “heat.” A fraction of electricity end uses overlaps with heat, as some electricity is consumed to produce heat. In this report, however, renewable electricity consumed to produce heat is accounted for under the electricity
end use. Heat refers to the amount of non electric energy consumed for heating in industry and other sectors. It is not equivalent to the final energy end use. Renewable energy has three main end uses: electricity, transport, and heat.25 The SDG 7.2 target calls for a “substantial increase” in the share of renewable energy, requiring an accelerated penetration of renewable energy in all three end uses. Electricity accounted for almost two-thirds of renewable energy consumption growth from 2016 to 2017, followed by heat (30 percent) and transport (6 percent). With this growth, renewables’ share in electricity reached almost 25 percent and surpassed the renewable share in heat for the first time. The share of renewables (including traditional uses of biomass) in heat has been stable at around 23 percent since 2010 (Figure 3.3). The stability in shares stems from two concurrent drivers: first, slow declines in traditional uses of biomass for cooking and heating, and, second, greater use of modern renewable technologies. The year-on-year increase in the direct use of modern renewables for heat reached 2.3 percent in 2017. For the first time since 2001 the share of renewable energy in
transport did not rise, remaining at 3.3 percent, which is the lowest share among end uses. Biofuels account for most of renewable consumption in transport, but renewable electricity use is also emerging thanks to the uptake of rail and electric vehicles.

Renewable energy share by end use, 1990–2017

total renewable energy consumption in the region. Latin America and the Caribbean had the largest share of modern renewables among all regions thanks to the extensive use of modern bioenergy in transport and industry, in addition to hydropower electricity generation. In Southern Asia as well as in Eastern Asia and South-eastern Asia, the penetration of modern renewables in TFEC remains below the global average at around 8 percent. Outside of Latin America, Middle Africa, Europe, Oceania, and Northern America had the highest share of modern renewables in final consumption in 2017, led by bioenergy and hydropower, with wind and solar PV making growing contributions.

Renewable share in total final energy consumption by region, 2017

While modern renewable energy has seen robust growth in the past few years, deployment would need to accelerate much faster, especially in the heat and transport sectors, to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030. Most scenarios for the energy transition point in the same direction. At the core of an energy transition thorough enough to reach the target of SDG 7 is increased electrification of all end uses, combined with a decarbonized power sector.

Global weighted average prices resulting from auctions and capacity awarded each year,


The impact of improvements in primary energy intensity (the global proxy for improvements in energy efficiency) is revealed by trends in its underlying components. Between 1990 and 2017, global GDP more than doubled while global total primary energy supply increased by just over 50 percent. Although growth in primary energy supply slowed markedly in 2015 and 2016, it picked up again in 2017, growing by nearly 2 percent.

Trends in underlying components of global primary energy intensity, 1990–2017 (left); and
growth rates of GDP, primary energy supply, and intensity, 2015–17 (right)

In addition to improvements in end-use efficiency, the rate of global primary energy intensity improvement is also influenced by changes in the efficiency of electricity supply. These include improvements in the efficiency of fossil fuel generation and reductions in transmission and distribution losses. The efficiency of fossil fuel electricity generation has steadily improved since 2000, after showing flat rates of improvement during the preceding decade, to reach
nearly 40 percent in 2017.

Trends in global fossil fuel electricity generation efficiency (left) and growth in electricity
generation by fuel type (right), 1990–2017


HOW TO BRIDGE THE GAP To bridge the gap and connect the remaining 620 million people projected by the Stated Policies Scenario to be without access in 2030, the connection rate would have to triple from its current level—to nearly 90 million a year between 2019 and 2030. Most of the acceleration would have to happen in Sub-Saharan Africa, as discussed in the previous paragraph. Certain countries would have to scale up efforts, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda, which together are home to half of the regional population lacking access in 2030 under the Stated Policies Scenario.

Projected gains in access to electricity by region and technology, 2019–30

Policies that promote centralized and decentralized solutions in parallel are crucial to unlocking electricity access. Geospatial analysis developed by IEA identified decentralized systems as the least-cost option for more than half of the electricity connections (representing nearly 440 million people) that would have to be made in Sub-Saharan Africa if the region were to achieve universal access by 2030. Decentralized solutions (largely based on renewables) can be adapted to conditions in remote rural areas, where around 80 percent of the population without access in Africa would be concentrated in 2030.36 If deployed carefully, such systems can complement the grid, providing energy services immediately and preparing the way for grid expansion in the future. Parallel efforts should be made to increase the
central grid’s density so as to connect nearby households and, where feasible, to extend it to reach large population centers. Capitalizing on the coverage of its main grid, Kenya implemented the Last Mile Connectivity Project, which has connected an average of one million households annually since 2015. Direct investment in the existing electricity network is also essential to improve and maintain energy services, increase trust in the central network, and raise the financial and operational performance of utilities.

The current energy system produces numerous greenhouse gases, making the energy sector responsible for around 75 percent of such emissions. Climate change mitigation is thus a mounting concern for the sector, and in 2020 countries will have to present revised and more ambitious commitments for the first time as a result of the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in 2015.

Additional reductions in CO2 emissions by measure under the Sustainable Development
Scenario relative to the Stated Policies Scenario


Comprehensive and accurate data are a prerequisite for making evidence-based decisions, monitoring trends, and tracking progress toward policy goals. In developed and developing countries alike, well-designed and appropriately resourced statistical systems play a fundamental role in monitoring progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7).

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