Energy services are highly interconnected between socio-economic development and human well-being. Yet, life without reliable energy is a reality for more than 675 million people globally while more than 2 billion people use polluting fuels to cook their meals. Effectively expanding energy access requires integrated and inclusive planning and access to transparent data and analytical tools. To help address this challenge, WRI collaborated with partners to launch an updated version of the Energy Access Explorer — a free and open source “Digital Public Good” software — to deliver climate-friendly and viable energy transitions for all.

Currently available in 8 countries in Africa and Asia, the Energy Access Explorer counts more than 15,000 users to date, including energy planning agencies, clean energy enterprises and development institutions. The majority of these groups were previously left out of energy planning conversations. They are now able to utilize granular data and analytics and gain actionable insights to expand energy services where it’s needed the most.

The upgraded Energy Access Explorer 2.0 includes new data, geographies and functionalities. Here are six practical ways the Energy Access Explorer can expand modern energy services for achieving critical development outcomes.

1) Integrated and Inclusive Energy Planning

Energy plans need to account for aspects of demand and affordability before designing supply options (grid network, mini grids, solar home systems). For example, Kenya is still classified among the top 20 countries with the largest access deficits, with about 23% (12 million people) still without access to electricity and about 80% (42 million people) are without access to clean cooking fuels. Sub-national governments in Kenya, mandated by the 2019 Energy Act, utilize Energy Access Explorer to inform the design of local County Energy Plans.

The Energy Access Explorer analyzes local data on energy resource availability, power infrastructure, socio-economic activities, demographics and other important parameters on energy demand and supply which vary from one community to another. Furthermore, the Energy Access Explorer is being used to support the upcoming Kenya National Clean Cooking Strategy — a roadmap for achieving universal access to clean cooking by 2028 by identifying strategic interventions, setting timelines, estimating the cost and deriving indicators for monitoring and evaluating its implementation.

2) Powering Productive Uses of Energy — Critical for Socio-economic Growth

Energy is vital to producing one of our basic necessities: food! Yet, a large share of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa grows more than 80% of the food relying mainly on family labor and rainfed agriculture because there is limited or no access to reliable power. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the share of agriculture in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about 17.2%, more than 4 times higher the global average (4.3%). Therefore, a key enabler for economic development known as “Productive Uses of Energy” can be used to help power industrial, agricultural and commercial appliances to generate income and support poverty alleviation in the region

Mapping agricultural activities and energy supply is essential for identifying areas where Productive Uses of Energy interventions may be needed the most to mitigate existing climatic and socio-economic challenges. In Nigeria, the Rural Electrification Agency is using the Energy Access Explorer to support the country’s Energizing Agriculture program.

A map showing high priority areas in Nigeria for expanding productive uses of energy.
Data from Energy Access Explorer show high priority areas in Nigeria for expanding productive uses of energy. This sample analysis includes areas with rainfed agriculture, population density greater than 50 people per square kilometer, at least 2 kilometers away from distribution lines and at least 5 kilometers away from mini grids. Source: WRI.

Similarly, in Kenya, SNV and local county governments utilize Energy Access Explorer to map Productive Uses of Energy. In Jharkhand, India, the state livelihood department used Energy Access Explorer to identify 140 villages (out of 1,200) in one of the state’s subdistricts where solar-powered irrigation facilities can be installed.

3) Powering Healthcare — Quintessential for Equitable Development

Health care facilities with reliable energy supply save lives. Still, 50% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa are served by facilities that have no or unreliable access to electricity. Where are these facilities, how much energy do they require and how shall they be best served? The Ministry of Health in Uganda utilizes the Energy Access Explorer to assess the energy needs of health care facilities. Over 3 million people in the country are served by 675 facilities without off-grid or on-grid electricity. All these facilities are in areas that have a significant solar energy potential with a global horizontal irradiation range of 1,650-2,260 kilowatt hours per square meters. Under the right conditions, these facilities are eligible to generate electricity through a solar PV system.

Similarly, in Nagaland, one of the energy poor states in Northeast India, Energy Access Explorer is used to indicate the areas where over one third of health clinics and schools have erratic or no power at all. In Jharkhand, one of the resource rich yet poor states in India, Energy Access Explorer has been leveraged to prioritize 300 health care facilities (out of 3,000 in total) for solarization.

A map of Uganda plotting daily electricity requirements for health centers.
Data from the Energy Access Explorer plot the daily electricity requirement range for Uganda health centers. Source: WRI. 

4) Market Intelligence — Unearthing Fresh Market Prospects for Clean Energy Enterprises 

Clean energy enterprises provide electricity services to those unserved or underserved by the main grid. In Tanzania, more than 30 million people — about half the country’s population — are living without access to basic electricity services. The Tanzanian Renewable Energy Association utilizes the Energy Access Explorer to lead the development of the Tanzania mini-grids geospatial.

 The mini-grid database yielded over 200 existing mini grids across mainland Tanzania. According to data collected, over 60% of these mini grids are still operational, with solar photovoltaic and hydro as the most common, accounting for over 70% of operating mini grids. The data can be used to develop custom market prospect analyses by screening locations to expand businesses and introduce targeted investment for electricity service solutions towards developing more resilient communities.

A map of Tanzanian mini grid location and attributes.
Data from Energy Access Explorer show Tanzanian mini grid locations and attributes. Source: WRI.

5) Investing for Impact

Donors and development institutions need to identify areas where their grants or investment will have the most impact. In Ethiopia, where more than 55 million people have no access to electricity, Energy Access Explorer is being used by the Ministry of Water and Energy and the World Bank to inform the design of the Results Based Financing Scheme for off-grid electrification of Ethiopia’s woredas (districts). More than 19 million people out of 26.3 million people living in 145 woredas have been prioritized for off-grid electrification.

Priority areas for off-grid electrification in Ethiopia.

6) Effective Data Governance

Local ownership and sustainability go hand in hand. With energy cutting across disciplines, local, cross thematic Energy Access Explorer Working Groups are established to not only own but ensure the sustainability of this initiative. Working group members come from not only the typical energy stakeholders (energy ministries, rural electrification agencies, power utilities) but also from key development actors (departments of health, agriculture, education, environment, bureau of statistics). It’s critical to involve local academia to ensure that in country capacity is not only strengthened but most importantly retained within the countries. As such, Energy Access Explorer establishes partnerships with academic institutions such as Strathmore University in Kenya, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and Makerere University in Uganda. Energy Access Explorer functions as a dynamic information system, reducing software engineering and data transaction costs for both data providers and users, facilitating data management and improving data governance.

Moving Forward

Adapting and scaling the Energy Access Explorer technology in a transparent and collaborative manner can equip stakeholders with a digital public good to plan for the attainment of critical development outcomes on health, education, livelihoods. Together with partners and local stakeholders, we plan to expand Energy Access Explorer to capture countries with at least 50% of the total unserved population.