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Electric wires in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Photo: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Progress continues to be made on global energy access, with the latest report from the International Energy Agency finding that 89% of the world’s population is connected to electricity.

The big picture: These impressive, rapid gains have kept the world on track toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7): modern energy access for all by 2030. As household access improves, the agenda to combat energy poverty is shifting to affordable and reliable access for business.

Where it stands: The number of people living without electricity has dropped to 840 million, from 1.2 billion in 2010.

  • Kenya and Bangladesh made the fastest progress over the past 8 years, driven by aggressive government investments in last-mile connections.
  • The greatest challenges will soon be limited to sub-Saharan Africa, where the report projects that 90% of the world’s 650 million people still without electricity access will live in 2030.

But, but, but. Residential electricity accounts for only 5% of global energy consumption.

  • Electricity at home has benefits, but impact studies from India and Kenya show that neither off-grid solar home systems nor on-grid connections for the very poor increase incomes.
  • Meanwhile, many middle-income countries at or near universal access still suffer from dysfunctional power systems. Business surveys across Asia and Africa frequently cite high energy costs and unreliable power among the greatest constraints to business productivity and, by extension, job creation.
  • A new World Bank report on electrification argues that policymakers need to shift strategy to center on the “productive use” of electricity at affordable rates.

Between the lines:

  • High relative energy costs make it harder for firms in regions like sub-Saharan Africa to compete globally.
  • Lack of reliability is even more damaging. Lost output from outages — in addition to the costs of backup systems — can be devastating for competitiveness.
  • Building an energy system for residential and business customers should be mutually reinforcing. But the push for universal access in Kenya and other countries has at times strained electric grids and ended up undermining reliability.

What to watch: As more countries approach universal access, they'll have more latitude to set energy targets around cost and reliability that will have a stronger impact on economic growth.

Todd Moss is executive director of the Energy for Growth Hub and a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Go deeper

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.

How long it’s taken to confirm Supreme Court justices

Expand chart
Data: Axios research, U.S. Supreme Court, Supreme Court Historical Society; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

It takes a U.S. president an average of 70 days from the date a Supreme Court seat is vacated to nominate a replacement, according to data from the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Why it matters: With news outlets reporting liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's plans to retire, Democrats will be looking to confirm President Biden's nominee with enough time to refocus the national political debate ahead of the midterms.