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World Energy Outlook

Defining and modelling energy access

solar panel providing power to a rural area in africaDefining energy access

There is no single internationally-accepted and internationally-adopted definition of modern energy access. For our energy access projections to 2030, the World Energy Outlook (WEO) defines modern energy access as “a household having reliable and affordable access to clean cooking facilities, a first connection to electricity and then an increasing level of electricity consumption over time to reach the regional average”. By defining it at the household level, it is recognised that some other categories are excluded, such as electricity access to businesses and public buildings that are crucial to economic and social development, i.e. schools and hospitals.

Access to electricity involves more than a first supply connection to the household; our definition of access also involves consumption of a specified minimum level of electricity, the amount varies based on whether the household is in a rural or an urban area. The initial threshold level of electricity consumption for rural households is assumed to be 250 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year and for urban households it is 500 kWh per year. The higher consumption assumed in urban areas reflects specific urban consumption patterns. Both are calculated based on an assumption of five people per household. In rural areas, this level of consumption could, for example, provide for the use of a floor fan, a mobile telephone and two compact fluorescent light bulbs for about five hours per day. In urban areas, consumption might also include an efficient refrigerator, a second mobile telephone per household and another appliance, such as a small television or a computer.

Our definition of energy access also includes provision of cooking facilities which can be used without harm to the health of those in the household and which are more environmentally sustainable and energy efficient than the average biomass cookstove currently used in developing countries. This definition refers primarily to biogas systems, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves and advanced biomass cookstoves that have considerably lower emissions and higher efficiencies than traditional three-stone fires for cooking.

Our definition is intended to be supportive of the objective to conduct forward-looking projections, but data availability means that it is not viable to apply it to our estimates of the number of people that do not currently have access to modern energy services. This definition cannot be applied to the measurement of actual data simply because the level of data required does not exist in a large number of cases. As a result, our energy access databases focus on a simpler binary measure of those that do not have access to electricity and those that rely on the traditional use of biomass (such as wood, charcoal, tree leaves, crop residues and animal dung) for cooking, which is used as a proxy for not having access to clean cooking facilities. Both of these are disaggregated (either with data or estimation) between those in urban and rural areas within a given country. Due to differences in definitions and methodology from different sources, data quality may vary from country to country.

Projecting energy access to 2030

Our databases provide invaluable information regarding the current energy access situation, from which we can base our future projections. WEO projections for access to electricity and to clean cooking facilities are based on separate econometric panel models that regress the electrification rates and rates of reliance on biomass respectively over many variables at a regional level. The resulting models relate access rates to per capita income, population growth, urbanisation, fuel prices, level of subsidies, technological advances, energy consumption and energy access programmes. We run these sub-models under the economy and population assumptions of the New Policies Scenario, the central scenario in WEO-2013. Investment requirements, fuel demand and CO2 emissions are based on the regional additional power generation mix for electricity access, whereas for clean cooking a set of assumptions about clean cookstoves, LPG stoves and domestic biogas systems is used.

Modelling an Energy for All Case

In the New Policies Scenario, we project that close to 1 billion people will still be without electricity and 2.5 billion people will still be without clean cooking facilities in 2030. To illustrate what would be required to achieve universal access to modern energy services, we have developed the Energy for All Case. The Energy for All Case is based on the assumption that additional policies are introduced that result in a progressive increase in access to electricity and clean cooking facilities, resulting in universal access by 2030. Achieving universal access to electricity by 2030 would result in higher global energy demand than projected in the New Policies Scenario. It would also have implications for energy investment and for energy-related CO2 emissions.

More information
For more on this subject, see our energy access methodology note.

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