Op-Ed: Why the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of providing energy access for all by 2030 is currently unachievable. Here’s what needs to change

By Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and Co-Founder of BBOXX

At the current rate, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be achieved by 2030. The United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa estimates that upwards of $600bn is needed to meet the global goals and this is just on the African continent – and here rapid population growth is pushing these goals further out of reach.

It is an urgent task but unlike other crises, issues such as the global energy gap are often excluded from daily news agendas. As a result, finding new ways to achieve universal electrification by 2030 (SDG 7) remains an insurmountable task to many people.

I am often surprised by how little discussion there is about the how of meeting SDG 7. We have reached the tipping point and the global community must act now if it is to meet SDG 7, which acts as the trigger for wider economic development and growth. Here are my five steps to reaching the goal:

1. Disrupting the model

By now it is clear that previous ways of thinking about and paying for electrifying entire communities, countries and continents have run their course. The fact that over 1.2 billion people still live without electricity and 1 billion live without reliable energy access are strong indicators of this. Tackling the energy access gap requires a sea change in our thinking and an entirely new approach.

2. Leapfrogging the way in which we tackle the problem

The question should no longer be how do we extend traditional and expensive grid infrastructure but how do we provide the appliances along with reliable connections to individuals and businesses without electricity? It is here that technological advancements take centre stage. In the past ten years, innovative solar home systems that are centrally and remotely managed have become capable of delivering on-grid experiences to rural and off-grid communities that were previously considered unreachable.

3. How one SDG can have a domino effect on knocking down the others

Access to affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) is the entry point to solving a host of global goals. The transition to clean energy is crucial if we are to tackle climate change (SDG 13), thanks to the offset of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions. Electricity enables local businesses to take off and acts as a trigger for economic growth and poverty alleviation, SDG 1. It is equally the entry point to other basic needs, such as clean water and cooking, SDG 6.

4. Partnering to deliver on the mission, including Governments, companies large and small

Blending new partnership models is the key to unlocking scale and rapid growth – from the visionary heads of state who are prepared to back the race to electrification of nations, to the large utilities who bring scale, to new entrants who bring fresh thinking – just as we have done. So think big and partner with global leaders.

5. Meeting the SDGs through practical steps

This means including those who are on-the-ground, like we are, being involved in how to best tackle the macro task. Training and mobilising a local ‘SDG taskforce’ to implement and educate on electricity usage is essential to achieving energy access for all. Subsidies can also have a role to play in accelerating the process. This is model the Government of Togo is using with our joint venture with EDF in the country. Again, a practical example of blending different models to reach a desired outcome.

In order to advance the SDGs, the global community must wake up and start working together to move the dial on electricity provision. Only then will energy act as the driving force for wider economic development, unlock potential and transform lives in Africa and beyond.

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