Total Energy Access

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  • Energy enables development

    Total Energy Access is Practical Action's approach to achieving energy for all. It requires understanding who has access to energy across households, businesses and in the community, and how that energy is used.

    This can only happen if it is measured properly and at the right scale. Billions of people use energy from off-grid sources, so measuring grid electricity access is not the answer.

    Practical Action is calling for governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to adopt Total Energy Access as the approach to defining and delivering energy to the billions of poor people who need it. Join us.

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What is Total Energy Access

To achieve universal energy access by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important that we recognise the range of services that poor people want, need and have a right to. Our understanding of these needs is based on our own research - as well as over 40 years of experience working in partnership with poor communities to achieve renewable, locally-sourced sustainable energy solutions which lift people out of poverty.

Through our Poor People's Energy Outlook series we have developed the concept of Total Energy Access (TEA). This is a framework for understanding people's needs for energy services across three spheres: in their households, at work and in community services. TEA recognises the need for a balanced approach to energy supplies through electricity, cooking and mechanical power, and needs to be reflected in national policies and financing.

Practical Action has worked with a consortium of other agencies on the Global Tracking Framework which now reflects much of our Total Energy Access concept in its proposals for how energy access should be measured.


The facts about energy poverty

The challenge of achieving Total Energy Access is huge. Through our PPEO series we have begun to bring together some of the key facts emphasising the scale of the problem and multi-stakeholder action that needs to be taken to tackle it.

  • Despite the availability of technical solutions, 2 in every 5 people still rely on wood, charcoal, or animal waste to cook their food and 1 in 5 people lack electricity.
  • Each year, 2 million people die from diseases caused by indoor smoke – more than deaths from malaria.
  • An estimated 1 billion people use health services without electricity.
  • Almost 50% of vaccines in developing countries are ruined due to poor cold chain services.
  • Over 291 million children go to primary schools without access to any electricity.
  • To reach Universal Energy Access by 2030, 55% of additional electricity generated for households will need to be through mini- and off-grid solutions.

What needs to happen?

Total Energy Access has the potential to transform poor people's lives. There is a growing recognition of this fact and an appetite to implement change. 2014-2024 has been declared the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All in which the UN is calling for its member countries to commit to ensuring universal energy access to modern energy services.

Practical Action fully supports this commitment and we have made recommendations to help achieve these targets, including:

  • Recognise energy needs across home, work and community
  • Measure energy services not just supply
  • Prioritise and adequately finance decentralised solutions
  • Acknowledge the roles of government, private sector and civil society in achieving total energy access

For energy access to be delivered at scale on the ground it will require a healthy Energy Access Ecosystem at the national level. For individual energy markets (such as the market for biomass cookstoves, or for solar lights), Practical Action will need systemic approaches to delivering at scale. Practical Action has developed a framework for building these energy markets in ways which are participatory of all market actors (including the poor), and deliver at scale for those currently without energy.


Download the Total Energy Access infographic:


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