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The last few months have seen a renewed interest in the energy theme, with flagship gatherings taking place in Africa and Europe to share learning about successful initiatives and foster partnerships to accelerate progress. The team delivering the UK Aid-funded Ideas to Impact programme has been watching three of these events particularly closely. 

One billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, do not have access to electricity, which holds back progress of low-income countries across health, education, food security, gender equality, livelihoods, and poverty reduction. Meanwhile, the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development commits the world to close the energy gap, especially for ‘last mile’ populations, by 2030, which is fast approaching.

We are still far from achieving SDG 7 on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. This urgency was emphasised over the last few months by leaders of governments, businesses, civil society and international organisations.

Many of them gathered on 2 and 3 May in Lisbon, Portugal, at the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) forum, under the motto ‘Leaving no one behind’. The event aimed to accelerate and scale action at the local, national and international level, share the latest evidence of scalable innovations in providing electricity access and foster collaborative partnerships that are much needed to achieve this goal.

The forum was also marked by the launch of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, a joint effort of the International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency, United Nations Statistics Division, World Bank and World Health Organization, which benchmarks annual progress towards achieving universal access to modern energy services, doubling renewable energy and improving energy efficiency by 2030.

Energy access and energy efficiency: two sides of the same coin

One key factor which is often left out of the energy access debate is energy efficiency.

The urgency of improving energy efficiency was stressed at the Sustainable Energy Forum for East Africa 2018, organised in March in Rwanda’s capital Kigali by the East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency with the national Ministry of Infrastructure, UNIDO, the EAC Secretariat, the Austrian Development Agency and SEforALL.

Speakers such as Professor Toby Peters from Birmingham Energy Institute and CEO of SEforALL Rachel Kyte highlighted the need for tackling the energy access and energy efficiency issues together. This would help us to achieve the goal on access more quickly as a lower consumption of energy would increase its affordability for the poor.

Energy efficiency is particularly key when it comes to cooling appliances. From storing food and lifesaving vaccines and medicines, to providing safe work and educational environments, access to cooling is key to improving lives of poor communities in low-income countries. However, the growth in the world’s population means that cooling needs will be on the rise as will energy demand. Moreover, hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants used in appliances such as air conditioning systems are a major source of pollution. Energy-efficient technologies and clean sources are needed to prevent further climate change impacts and a rise in emissions.

Africa Cooling Conference
Rwanda’s Minister of Environment Dr Vincent Biruta opening a gathering of stakeholders at the Africa Cooling Conference in Kigali on 21 March.


If we are to achieve not only SDG 7 but the others as well, from access to health to food security, cooling needs to be higher up on the agenda. This urgency was also stressed at the Africa Cooling Efficiency Conference, convened by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) in partnership with the country’s Ministry of Environment, UN Environment, UNDP and GIZ. K-CEP was launched in 2017 to support countries, companies and communities to achieve energy efficiency objectives related to the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment, agreed in 2016 in Rwanda to limit consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas used widely in air conditioners and refrigerators. K-CEP is deploying US$ 52 million of philanthropic funds to strengthen institutions, support adoption of model policies, scale-up technology deployment, leverage finance and help make cooling more affordable and sustainable.

The Africa Cooling Efficiency Conference brought together around 40 cooling and energy efficiency stakeholders, funders, implementers, decision makers and world-renowned experts that took stock of regional green cooling initiatives at the intersection of cooling and energy efficiency, as Ideas to Impact is doing with the UK Aid-funded Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition and Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge (OGCCC).

The Refrigerator Competition aims to encourage, for the first time, the development of energy-efficient fridges that are affordable and suitable for poor communities in off-grid areas (you can learn more about the competition’s achievements here and the lessons learnt here). Meanwhile, the goal of the OGCCC is to stimulate the development of innovative and energy-efficient off-grid cold storage technologies and their deployment in select Sub-Saharan African countries.

The conference participants highlighted progress and lessons learned from lowering costs of ownership, improving efficiency and reducing impacts of cooling products and how we can maximise future success by sharing best practices.

For example, SEforALL and the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program have launched the Cooling for All initiative, which is funded by K-CEP and focuses on how we embed growing cooling demands that can reach everyone within a clean energy transition, and in turn, support faster progress to achieve the goals of the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment.

A sharp focus on accelerating energy efficiency through policy-making can be found in the GIZ-funded Green Cooling initiative, which shares sector-specific data with private sector and policy makers to reduce emissions, maximise efficiency and foster sustainable energy consumption. Meanwhile, the Global Environment Facility SolarChill project conducts field testing in Swaziland and Kenya on vaccine coolers to stimulate development of field testing on food refrigeration prototypes, and initiating interest in investment in manufacturing and marketing the technologies.

Finally, the UK aid-funded Low Energy Inclusive Appliances (LEIA) is a research and innovation programme contributing into the Efficiency for Access Coalition, which includes UK Aid, Power Africa, Lighting Global, Rockefeller Foundation, Shell Foundation, Sida, EnDev, Good Energies Foundation, to promote energy efficiency as a potent catalyst in global clean energy access efforts. LEIA aims to accelerate the availability, affordability, efficiency and performance of a range of Low Energy Inclusive Appliances particularly suited to developing country contexts.

If we are to achieve SDG 7 by 2030, we need to act together, soon, on all these fronts.

This blog post was co-authored by Makena Ireri, Manager of Ideas to Impact's energy access innovation prizes and Programme Manager at Energy 4 Impact, and Lorenza Geronimo, Ideas to Impact Communications Manager, based at IMC Worldwide.

Cover photo credit: Andreas Gücklhorn

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