Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

The Understand Energy Learning Hub is a cross-campus effort of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Global Energy Access

Main content start

Fast Facts About
Global Energy Access

Access to sustainable modern energy services is fundamental for economic growth and human development. It is one of the Sustainable Development Goals laid out in 2015 by the United Nations (SDG 7). Access considers two dimensions:

  1. Electricity: Access advances education, health, productivity, security, comfort, and entertainment. It also facilitates higher-value economic opportunities.
  2. Clean cooking fuels: Access improves the lives of women and children by dramatically reducing health impacts related to indoor air pollution, decreasing the exposure to risks associated with collecting traditional biomass, and increasing available time that can be devoted to other economic activities.

Energy access and consumption are highly related to the Human Development Index (HDI) that takes into account life expectancy, education, and health to measure a country’s well-being. A country’s fuel mix is also related to its level of development: less developed countries use a higher share of traditional biomass, while more developed countries use more electricity.

Nevertheless, a significant portion of the world population still does not have access to reliable electricity or clean cooking fuels, creating a challenge for equity in development opportunities.

Benefits of Energy Consumption

As energy quality, availability, and consumption increase, people can move from meeting basic needs like household lighting to enhancing productivity of subsistence activities like food preservation to enhancing their quality of life with things like computer access to commercial and industrial development with machinery and automation to advancing their quality of life with things like advanced healthcare.


Share of Global Population
Without Access

10% (756 million people)
lack access to electricity, of which 82% are in rural areas

Change in Global Access

9% (605 million additional people)
gained access to electricity, of which 30% were in rural areas

Embed Code

Achieving Universal Electricity Access by 2030

Ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030 (Target 7.1 of the SDG 7) entails:

  1. Connecting 1/3 of those without electricity to the centralized power grid. It is the least-cost option per kWh for the largest share of those gaining access.
  2. Providing access through decentralized solutions for households in rural areas (2/3 of the unconnected population). For rural communities far from existing grids with relatively high population densities, mini-grids* are the best cost-effective solution, while off-grid** solutions tend to be most cost effective for rural areas with low population densities.
  3. Increasing the role of renewables (mainly solar PV) in providing electricity access, both through the grid and through decentralized solutions. 

*Mini-grid: localized electric grid that can operate independently or in conjunction with the main grid and can use local renewable energy sources or conventional sources
**Off-grid: operates independently of the main electrical grid. Electricity is generated locally and stored to ensure continuous power supply

Embed Code

Clean Cooking Fuels

Clean cooking fuels and technologies are those that attain the air quality levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) with respect to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Share of Global Population
Without Access

29% (2.2 billion people)
lack access to clean cooking fuels, of which 74% are in rural areas

Change in Global Access

16% (758 million additional people)
gained access to clean cooking fuels, of which 49% were in rural areas

Embed Code

Achieving Universal Clean Cooking Fuel Access by 2030

Replacing the traditional use of solid biomass, coal and kerosene for cooking with clean cooking facilities for everyone by 2030 (Target 7.1 of the SDG 7) entails: 

  • Using liquified propane gas (LPG) as the most common solution to clean cooking access. In the last decade, 70% of those who gained access did so through LPG.
  • Providing electric cook stoves in urban areas with well-developed electricity networks.
  • Promoting the use of improved cookstoves (ICS) in rural areas without fuel and electricity infrastructure as a short-term solution to deliver health benefits and time savings while electricity or LPG networks are developed. Improved stoves incorporate features such as better insulation, more efficient combustion chambers, and proper ventilation systems.
Embed Code


  • Important for modern quality of life, reduced indoor air pollution, and human health
  • Economic growth, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas
  • Improved education and economic activity that results from increased electricity access
  • Distributed electricity solutions facilitate access in more remote areas
  • Reduction in the collection of fuelwood frees up time for women and children and decreases their exposure to physical risks


  • Poverty and high vulnerability to income shocks


  • Development and expansion of electrical grid infrastructure is capital intensive and expensive
  • Lack of stable demand and consumer base

Clean cooking fuels:

  • New clean fuel systems can change food taste and preparation methods
  • Traditional stoves have other benefits such as heating, protection from insects, and fuel flexibility
  • Solutions not always designed with community input and aligned with cultural traditions
  • Difficulties with adoption of and adherence to new cooking systems

Climate Impact:

Low gradient
  • 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to lack of access to electricity and clean cooking fuels, as households burn solid fuel (biomass + coal) for cooking, heating, and lighting

Environmental Impact:
Low to Medium

Gradient from green to yellow to orange to red, with rectangle around the green and yellow portion.
  • Unsustainable harvesting of fuelwood contributes to deforestation
  • Household air pollution from burning solid fuels was responsible for an estimated 3.2 million deaths in 2020, including over 237,000 deaths of children under the age of 5

Updated March 2024

Before You Watch Our Lecture on
Global Energy Access

We assign videos and readings to our Stanford students as pre-work for each lecture to help contextualize the lecture content. We strongly encourage you to review the videos and readings below before watching our lecture on Energy Access and Energy Use in Develpment.



Our Lecture on
Global Energy Access

This is our Stanford University Understand Energy course lecture on universal energy access. We strongly encourage you to watch the full lecture to understand the significant roles that energy access and energy use play in human and economic development and to be able to put this complex topic into context. For a complete learning experience, we also encourage you to watch / read the videos and readings we assign to our students before watching the lecture.

Presented by: Sally Benson, PhD; Professor of Energy Science and Engineering, Stanford University; Senior Fellow at The Precourt Institute for Energy and at The Woods Institute for the Environment
Recorded on: December 12, 2023   Duration: 65 minutes

Table of Contents

(Clicking on a timestamp will take you to YouTube.)
00:00 Introduction 
04:45 What is Meant by Sustainable Energy for All? 
19:07 Sustainable Development Goals 
29:37 Countries with Pervasive Energy Poverty 
34:47 Energy Access 
52:21 Access to Clean Cooking Fuels 
59:10 Energy Access for Productive Uses 
1:02:22 Global Population Growth

Embed Code

Additional Resources About
Global Energy Access

Stanford University

Fast Facts Sources

More details available on request.
Back to Fast Facts