Light at the end of the tunnel

Ranking topics: Energy: largest consumers

“WE WILL make electricity so cheap only the rich will burn candles”, Thomas Edison said in 1879. Almost 140 years later, the inventor’s dream has become a reality in much of the world—but not all of it. Data recently released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) show that the number of people worldwide without electricity has fallen below 1bn for the first time in modern history. Most of the improvement has come from India, where more than 400m people have gained access to electricity since 2000.

As rapid as India’s progress has been, it still probably falls short of the target set by Narendra Modi, the prime minister. In 2015 he proclaimed that every Indian village would be electrified within 1,000 days. This April, his government claimed success, declaring that 93% of the 19,679 villages that lacked power in 2015 had obtained it, with the remainder uninhabited. However, India declares an area electrified if as few as 10% of its households and important civic buildings have power. According to Sustainable Energy for All, an NGO, some 22m households in India are still in the dark.

The government has since made an even more ambitious pledge, promising to connect every household before parliamentary elections next spring. But the closer that countries get to full electrification, the harder it is to connect the last holdouts: China took around 20 years to hook up the final 10% of its population without power. Investment in India has so far focused on large-scale, grid-connected wind and solar projects. The country will need to incorporate off-grid methods as well, which currently make up only 2% of investment, if it is to achieve its goal of universal 24-hour electricity by 2022.

This article is from our Graphic detail blog.