Although access to electricity has advanced more rapidly in recent years compared to past decades, it remains a critical issue. According to Tracking SDG7: The energy progress report (2019), in 2017, around 840 million people worldwide still did not have access to electricity. Hence, the deployment of sustainable and low-carbon electrification solutions are crucial, both to achieve universal access for all (SDG 7) and fulfil the Paris Agreement. Of the current population living without access to electricity, around 95% is in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, more than 55% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to electricity in 2017.
Moreover, energy access remains one of the most problematic issues in the context of humanitarian crises. Electricity for basic lighting and charging of essential equipment is needed in such situations, in addition to clean fuel-efficient cooking stoves that can improve the health and safety of displaced people, most of whom rely on unsustainable energy resources that pose risks to their safety and security. Therefore, access to clean and sustainable energy can deliver quick returns in humanitarian settings and significantly contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the numbers of displaced people and refugees reaching unprecedented levels (more than 25 million refugees in 2019), achieving energy access has become ever more important. To this end, IRENA and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) entered into an MoU to promote the use, increased uptake and replicability of renewable energy solutions as cost effective and environmentally sound options in situations of displacement and other similar humanitarian settings. Under this framework, IRENA released a study at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019 to assess energy usage in four refugee camps in Iraq and Ethiopia, and to devise a blueprint for providing more reliable and affordable energy supplies using renewables.
IRENA is expanding its work to cover all energy transition pathways. Among them is a key pathway for the power sector transformation, namely the provision of energy access through the deployment of off-grid renewable energy solutions. IRENA works with Members to develop techno-economic analyses of mini-grids in rural areas and renewable energy roadmaps for isolated power systems such as those of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
IRENA is now expanding its work on national energy roadmaps for SIDS to support its Members in devising 100% renewable energy roadmaps. These look not only at the power sector but also power-to-X options such as electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen.