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Access to affordable and clean energy achieves more than Goal 7

Affordable, clean energy is UN Sustainable Development Goal 7. This goal is fundamental to achieving many of the other SDGs. Electricity enables people to store food and medicines in fridges, power hospitals, schools, and businesses, and connect to the outside world through mobile phones.

More than 780 million people globally — including 580 million or 53% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa — continue to lack affordable and reliable electricity supply, limiting their economic opportunities and access to essential services.

Goal 7 is one of seven SDGs we can directly contribute to through our projects and operations. Our energy and development teams are constantly involved in projects to bring electricity to communities, often in the remotest areas.

Because the goals are highly interdependent, progress on one affects some or all of the others — directly and indirectly. For us, it’s all about making connections, challenging assumptions, and turning potential benefits into value-adding outcomes.

Goal 1 – No poverty

Goal 1 – No poverty

Energy can be clean, but if it’s too expensive, access remains out of reach for many people.

We’ve installed six mini-grids in Somaliland — combining solar energy with diesel generators — with a total capacity of 1.9 megawatt. The mini-grids have provided 10,000 new connections, helping to cut electricity bills for poor households by up to 42%. Previously, the electricity that was available had cost about $1 per kilowatt-hour at peak times, too high for those on the lowest incomes, whose daily earnings average $2.

Goal 3 – Good health and well-being

Goal 3 – Good health and well-being

Affordable and reliable energy is critical for health facilities and for storing medicines and vaccines.

In many countries, health services are hard to deliver because there is a lack of electricity, or supply is unreliable and there are unscheduled outages. As technology-enabled care grows, electricity to charge mobile phones is crucial to enable people to connect with healthcare professionals where there is limited healthcare infrastructure and the nearest doctor is too far away.

Goal 4 – Quality education

Goal 4 – Quality education

Lighting, cooling, and digital equipment and connectivity are all vital for learning. All require electricity, but around 30% of primary schools globally lack access, limiting the opportunity of students to fulfil their potential.

Importantly, lighting enables classes to be taught early in the morning or late at night, and students to study after sunset. Access to electricity is also vital to enable students to participate in remote learning — the importance of which has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth

Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth

Expanding access to electricity fuels economic development and employment opportunities.

In Peru, we worked on the 456-megawatt Chaglla hydropower project, which provides about 6% of the country’s total electricity. Construction of the project generated 12,500 direct and indirect jobs, including equipping 1,500 local people with sought-after building skills. Local people were also trained in Somaliland to help install equipment for six solar/diesel mini-grids and to provide ongoing maintenance, while lower rates enable small firms to reduce costs and invest in their businesses.

Goal 9 – Industry innovation and infrastructure

Goal 9 – Industry innovation and infrastructure

Industry innovation has helped to drive down the cost and efficiency of renewables technology. As energy storage, biofuel, and hydrogen technologies are rolled out, there is huge potential to similarly reduce costs.

We have worked on innovative projects to combine renewable energy sources with energy storage to maximize energy yield. This includes a project to deliver innovative concentrated solar power in South Africa. Solar panels harness the sun’s heat, which generates steam to turn turbines. Thermal energy is stored and released for power generation after the sun sets.

Innovation in project funding is important to improve access to clean energy. The development of six solar and diesel mini-grids in Somaliland was made possible by providing existing small-scale energy providers with the up-front investment in return for a commitment to reduce energy rates — removing one of the main barriers to adopting renewables in the country.

Goal 10 – Reduced inequalities

Goal 10 – Reduced inequalities

Poorer rural and remote off-grid communities tend to lack access to electricity, adding to inequality.

Solar systems and mini-grids that connect the poorest and hardest-to-reach households can help bridge the access gap and provide an opportunity to support lasting change. In the Northern Cape in South Africa, we supported the delivery of a solar thermal park that has done more than simply provide energy to remote Pofadder and its population of about 8,000. The park operator funds socioeconomic and enterprise development activities in the community. This includes providing kindergartens and food kitchens, ensuring those on low incomes, and the sick and elderly, receive at least one proper meal a day.

Goal 13 – Climate action

Goal 13 – Climate action

Clean energy is key to addressing climate change. Around the world over the past 10 years we’ve helped to deliver 80 gigawatts of wind generation, 30 gigawatts of hydropower, 17 gigawatts of solar PV, 6 gigawatts of concentrated solar power, and 12 gigawatts of geothermal capacity.

Our teams are also helping to marry pump storage hydro and solar, and support the rollout of battery storage, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage technologies.

Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals

Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals

Targets for Goal 17 include strengthening domestic resource mobilization and promoting the development, transfer, dissemination, and diffusion of sustainable technologies.

Working in partnership is how we operate. We worked with the National Treasury and Department of Energy in South Africa to develop the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement program. It supports the rollout of renewable energy plants and requires power companies to comply with national employment and training policy, and the government’s ambition to manufacture some equipment domestically. The success of the South African program has made it a model for renewables in countries worldwide.

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