Energy alone is not sufficient for creating the conditions for economic growth, but it is certainly necessary. It is impossible to operate a factory, run a shop, grow crops or deliver goods to consumers without using some form of energy. Access to electricity is particularly crucial to human development as electricity is, in practice, indispensable for certain basic activities, such as lighting, refrigeration and the running of household appliances, and cannot easily be replaced by other forms of energy. Individuals’ access to electricity is one of the most clear and un-distorted indication of a country’s energy poverty status.

–   The International Energy Agency (IEA)


There are now 7 billion people living on planet Earth.  6 billion have access to electricity. Over one billion do not.  Who are they and where do they live?

Since 2003 the IEA has been trying to find the answer to those questions and the table below is their latest snapshot of a world without electricity.  As can be readily seen, as of 2009 over 80% of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa and in Southeast Asia, and particularly India.  And breaking it down further, most live in rural areas.  Imagine a place without light bulbs, HDTV, laptops, cell phones, Apple I-phones, Apple I-Pads and Nintendo.


Based on a detailed country-by-country database updated for this Outlook, we estimate that in 2009 the number of people without access to electricity was 1.4 billion or 20% of the world’s population. Some 85% of those people live in rural areas.

South Asia currently accounts for 42% of the total number of people in the world without access to electricity, even though the percentage of the population with access to electricity in South Asia increased by around 8% over the last three years. In Sub-Saharan Africa only 31% of the population has access to electricity today.


Table 1: Electricity Access in 2009
Population without electricity million Electrification rate % Urban
electrification rate
electrification rate
Africa 587 41.9 68.9 25.0
   North Africa 2 99.0 99.6 98.4
   Sub-Saharan Africa 585 30.5 59.9 14.3
Developing Asia 799 78.1 93.9 68.8
   China & East Asia 186 90.8 96.4 86.5
   South Asia 612 62.2 89.1 51.2
   Latin America 31 93.4 98.8 74.0
   Middle East 22 89.5 98.6 72.2
Developing countries 1,438 73.0 90.7 60.2
Transition economies & OECD 3 99.8 100.0 99.5
World 1,441 78.9 93.6 65.1

Source: IEA 2010


In the last few years small solar power systems have become one means of bringing electricity to rural villages off the grid.  Examples include Ghana, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and India.

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