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Regional sales head Ramesh Jha of Schneider Electric India launches "Switch on India" campaign on July 3, 2017, in Kolkata, India. Photo: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Shell, Engie, Schneider Electric and other multinational energy companies have recently announced ambitious goals to extend electricity access to about 200 million people, 20% of the unelectrified population globally, within a decade.

Why it matters: The seventh UN-backed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 7) is delivering affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern electricity to the 1 billion people around the world living in the dark. It's a major challenge, but presents both humanitarian and economic opportunities to companies with deep pockets and large geographical footprints.

Details:

  • In October, Shell said it expects to provide electricity to 100 million more people and help turn energy startups into substantial businesses.
  • Engie aims to provide access to “decarbonized, decentralized” energy to 20 million people around the world by 2020.
  • Schneider Electric is halfway toward its goal of connecting 50 million new households to electricity by 2025.
  • Total has hopes to reach 25 million people in Africa by 2020 with its solar products, while EDF is also active.

Where it stands: These five energy giants have already invested in or acquired more than 10 of the leading household solar and renewable energy mini-grid companies in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In addition:

  • Engie's internal mini-grid company, PowerCorner, plans to power 40,000 homes in Tanzania by 2020.
  • Schneider has pledged to train 1 million solar technicians in energy-poor countries by 2025 and has achieved almost 20% of that target.

It's expensive to extend grids to the rural communities where 80% of the world's unelectrified population live, so investments have focused on decentralized renewable-energy solutions. Scaling distributed energy has already connected tens of millions of people and displaced kerosene and diesel generators.

Yes, but: Global finance for SDG 7 is “dramatically off track.” This deficit jeopardizes progress in other areas, because electricity access is often a prerequisite for clean water, food security, health, education and other SDGs.

The bottom line: While multinational corporations alone cannot solve the problem of energy access — especially for marginal communities that cannot afford basic services — they can use their size and balance sheets to make a difference.

William Brent is director at Power for All, a global coalition to expand electricity access through renewable energy.

Go deeper

NRA files for bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for voluntary bankruptcy as part of a restructuring plan.

Driving the news: The gun rights group said it would reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment." Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.