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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

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.