World Faces Challenges in Meeting Access, Renewables Goals

The world will fall short of the goal of providing universal sustainable electricity access by 2030 set by the United Nations and World Bank without “immediate concerted action” by governments, industry, and the international community, according to a survey of utilities around the world conducted by the Global Electricity Initiative (GEI).

The GEI is a partnership between the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Energy Council (WEC), and the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership. It conducted a survey this year of utilities in countries that together account for over 80% of global installed generation capacity, with the participating utilities representing about a quarter of total capacity.

The report projects that annual global electricity demand will increase 47.9 TWh to 53.6 TWh by 2050 and that meeting that demand will require $19 trillion to $25 trillion in investment. The GEI also found that while renewables will continue strong growth, the fuel mix will remain dominated by coal and natural gas through 2035.

“Utilities have made progress in integrating renewable energy such as wind and solar into their systems,” the report noted. However, “[m]ore development is needed to achieve the full benefits of these carbon-free but intermittent energy sources which today are not suitable for base load generation.”

Large-scale deployment of renewables will require introduction of energy storage, smart grids, and carbon capture and storage (CCS), as well as regulatory reform and a “considerable” increase in the price for CO2. Of the participating utilities, 62% are facing challenges in renewables integration; 96% cited energy storage as an important element in renewables integration, with 73% citing smart grids as important. Yet 97% also reported that energy consumers are not willing to pay higher prices for carbon-free electricity.

Land and water issues also featured prominently in the responses, with 78% of utilities reporting that obtaining land for new infrastructure is a concern, and 61% reporting that water requirements will be an increasing challenge. “As land and water resources will face increasing demand and growing limitations on supply, energy and water must be managed together to maintain reliable energy and water supplies,” the report said.

Insufficient progress is being made in expanding electricity access, especially in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. “Unless a concerted action is undertaken by national governments and the international community, the 1.2 billion people currently estimated as having no access to electricity and 2.6 billion without access to clean cooking facilities will remain largely the same until 2030,” it said.

Thomas W. Overton, JD, associate editor