Achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal n.7

 By Andrew Burger

Local renewable energy resources –solar, wind, waste, biomass, small-scale hydro, geothermal and marine– could turn the tide of rising greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation, natural resource depletion and break the recurring cycle of impoverishment and inequality in the world’s least industrialized countries, according to a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)…

Enacted on January 1, 2016, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) –otherwise known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development– serve as the strategic blueprint for coordinating policies and activities the global community of nations hopes to adopt. There are 17 top-line SDGs, from eradicating poverty (#1) and ensuring everyone living in a nation has access to clean water and sanitation (#6), to fostering responsible consumption and production (#12) and creating partnerships between public and private sector organizations to achieve any one or all of them (#17).
Achieving universal access to affordable, clean energy (#7) is a keystone of the UN’s sustainable development agenda, serving as a fundamental pillar and linchpin for realizing others. The challenge of providing affordable, clean energy throughout a nation is greatest in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable nations–they fare as much as six times worse than more industrialized nations when it comes to clean energy access, according to a UN report released Nov. 22, during this year’s annual climate change conference.

Tracking progress towards achieving universal clean energy access

Just four of 47 of the world’s LDCs were on track to achieve the 2030 university energy access targets set out in the SDG playbook, UNCTAD reports in “Transformational Energy Access.” That’s not to say that no progress has been made. Generally speaking, the 47 LDCs covered in the study have made great strides towards realizing SDG 7, UNCTAD says, but there’s a long road ahead and the pace of initiatives needs to be picked up significantly.
According to UNCTAD, annual rates of electrification among the 47 LDCs will need to increase 350 percent if they are to achieve universal clean energy access by 2030. The UN agency’s Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi highlighted the importance of doing so.
“Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7 is not only a question of satisfying households’ basic energy needs. That in itself has valuable welfare implications, but we need to go beyond […] For electrification to transform LDC economies, modern energy provision needs to spur productivity increases and unlock the production of more goods and services,” Kituyi stated in Geneva in advance of the report’s publication.

Africa’s fast growing population of solar households and small businesses

There’s a lot of evidence available supporting the UNCTAD’s view. Affordable and readily available practically the world over, smart-metered solar photovoltaic (PV) energy and battery storage systems are being installed in LDC nation households and small businesses in rural and isolated areas. The same is true for growing numbers of remote commercial and industrial facilities, such as wireless telecommunications towers, mines, factories and distribution centers.
As already highlighted before, growth in so-called mobile “pay-go” home solar energy systems and energy efficient household products and services is surging in Sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh and India, as well as other developing and lesser developed economies. Pioneering mobile pay-go solar providers are now attracting millions of dollars of capital from the world’s leading multinational corporations, venture capital and private equity investment groups.
French multinational utility and energy services group Engie, for instance, recently acquired Fenix International, a Sub-Saharan Africa mobile pay-go solar energy services provider whose customer base has been expanding by leaps and bounds.
“We believe that combining the strengths of ENGIE, a global energy player and Fenix, a successful company with very strong customer focus, high-quality products and an experienced team anchored in the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa, will enable faster deployment of SHS to the large African population still lacking access to electricity,” said ENGIE Africa CEO Bruno Bensasson. “Fenix will be the agile growth engine for ENGIE’s SHS business in Africa and enable us to become a leading profitable off-grid energy services company on the continent, reaching millions of customers by 2020. We do believe that universal access is now reachable in a foreseeable future by the combination of national grids extension, local micro-grids and solar home systems, depending on the local characteristics of the energy demand.”

Fenix International mobile pay-go system (

Solar mini grids and Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency

A study released in mid-December by Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency, World Bank, Rocky Mountain Institute found a commercially viable, $9.2 billion market opportunity to roll out renewable energy and hybrid renewable-conventional fossil fuel mini-grids exists in Nigeria.
Representatives from more than 600 organizations spanning more than 50 countries gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, for a five-day summit during which they discussed ways to facilitate investment in the solar mini grid sector, as well as accelerate its deployment.
Summit attendees visited the 37.8 kW Bisanti solar mini grid in Katcha Local Government Area of Nigeria’s Niger State. GVE Projects Limited, in collaboration with the Bank of Industry (BOI), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and Institute of Electrical Electronics Engineers (IEEE) built the solar mini grid.
“Our joy has no bound because the mini grid solar light will help our children to read books at night, lighting the community at night and use of our refrigerators, television as well as so many other things,” said Said Alhaji Usman Abdulsalam, Sarkin Masaran Nupe, the leader of Niger State’s Bisanti Community.
“This week’s mini grid summit in Nigeria has reinforced that Nigeria is one of the premier places in the world for off-grid electrification,” said Stephen Doig, Rocky Mountain Institute’s managing director, Sustainable for Economic Development (SEED) Program. The large revenue opportunity, supportive government, and dynamic entrepreneurial environment unite to make Nigeria the ideal location to bring these technologies to scale, prove viable business models, meet the needs of millions of people, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Solar mini-grid

A technology transfer bank for Least Developed Countries

As significant and substantial as all this is, non-hydro renewable energy in the 47 LDCs covered in UNCTAD’s report “falls short of the game-changing access to power that they need to transform their economies,” the UN agency says.
“Utility-scale renewable technologies capable of feeding the grids and mini-grids necessary not only to power homes, but also to grow businesses and industries, need to be deployed rapidly. But to achieve this, the least developed countries must overcome important technological, economic and institutional obstacles. This will require both the right national policies and stronger international support,” according to UNCTAD.
“Because energy technologies, and particularly renewable technologies, are constantly evolving, it is critical that the least developed countries gain access to the technologies suited to their particular conditions and circumstances, and that they strengthen the capacity of their energy sectors to absorb such technologies,” UNCTAD points out. The UN recently created the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries to address this need. Industrially developed UN nations can help even more by living up to the technology transfer obligations they have agreed to as set out in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, however, UNCTAD says.

READ MORE: The leapfrog generation in Africa by Jim McClelland

about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.