Energy efficiency is vital to improving energy access globally, especially in emerging economies where there is increasing energy demand. Despite widespread progress, 674 million people remain without access to electricity, and energy efficiency on both the supply and demand sides has a role to play in increasing the available bandwidth in existing generation, transmission and distribution networks.

Energy efficiency enabling universal energy access

Universal access does not need to be costly. Figure 1 below shows that achieving universal access to electricity and clean cooking technology will cost a 1.9% increase in energy sector investment and a net increase of 37 Mtoe per year, while saving 1.8 million lives annually.1 This scenario assumes the use of energy efficiency as an integral part of energy access policies.

Additional impact of the Energy for All Cases relative to the New Policies Scenario in 2030

Additional impact of the Energy for All Cases relative to the New Policies Scenario in 2030

Notes: GHG = greenhouse-gas. GHG emissions are from biomass combustion in traditional cookstoves.

The benefits of achieving universal energy access by 2030 far outweigh the costs

For those at the lowest levels of energy use, the number of affordable options has greatly increased thanks to the falling cost of technology and gains in energy efficiency for end-use appliances.1 There is a role for the use of super-efficient appliances paired with off-grid energy generation systems in enabling supply to remote areas that are sparsely populated or far from the existing energy grid. For these areas, the cost of energy can be prohibitively high, due to the lack of existing electricity grid infrastructure and the large distances over which fuel sources must be transported.

While developing countries are often the recipients of second-hand and inefficient appliances, reducing demand through the use of super-efficient appliances, especially those operating on direct current (DC), paired with off-grid systems (such as solar PV systems), can maximise the energy services delivered by each kilowatt of electricity.1

There is also a role for the use of efficient cookstoves for the 2.8 billion people who do not have access to clean cooking facilities and rely on low-efficiency, traditional cookstoves. These cookstoves produce high particulate matter pollution due to the incomplete combustion of solid biomass, thereby reducing the life expectancy and adversely affecting the health of many people, in particular women around the world. Reducing the use of solid biomass through the transition to higher efficiency LPG or biogas cookstoves would significantly reduce the labour required for the collection and transport of solid biomass, a task predominantly undertaken by women, and also significantly reduce deforestation in areas where biomass demand is high.

Energy access and reliability

For the nearly 60% of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa that have no access to electricity2, and the 28% of healthcare facilities and 34% of hospitals that have unreliable access electricity. Medical staff must often work with polluting kerosene lamps and refrigerated vaccines are under constant threat of deterioration3. Energy efficiency measures, such as replacing existing lamps with more efficient LEDs, and the use of efficient solar-powered DC refrigerators could ensure reduce pressure on the existing grid, improving reliability and reducing costs.

  1. IEA, World Energy Outlook, Energy Access Outlook, available online:

  2. SE4All Africa Hub, 2014

  3. UNEP, 2017; WHO, 2010