How can subsidies accelerate universal energy access?


Access to affordable, reliable and clean energy remains one of the greatest development challenges. This event on Thursday, 22 October 2020 explored the role that subsidies as a form of public finance can play in achieving universal access to energy.

Last updated 22 October 2020
Solar energy panel on a hut.

Availability of off-grid lighting solutions, such as solar systems, is limited in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the upfront costs are beyond the means of many households (Photo: Azuri Technologies via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If universal access to energy is to become a reality in the next decade, additional efforts to increase public finance are required. Making progress on energy access and transitioning to renewable energy should also form a central part of countries’ recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Subsidies are necessary to achieve universal energy access. They are needed to bridge affordability gaps and the higher costs involved in ensuring that the poorest and most remote communities are not left behind. In rural areas especially, many communities cannot afford even the most basic modern energy services.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of addressing inequalities in access to energy, including electrification of health care facilities and clean cooking.

Policymakers and investors increasingly recognise that subsidy support from public finance will be required to reach more remote communities and achieve universal energy access. There have been numerous dialogues on the need for effective subsidies in recent years and a growing body of literature supporting this view.

Hosted in partnership with Hivos and Tearfund, this IIED Debates online event on Thursday, 22 October explored the role of subsidies in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 – universal energy access.

What are the opportunities and challenges for policymakers, the private sector and civil society? What can we learn from current and past subsidy schemes? And how can subsidies play a vital part of the COVID-19 response and recovery?

Event coverage

You can watch a video recording of the complete event below, including the question-and-answer session with webinar participants, and on IIED's YouTube channel.


The presentations delivered duribng the webinar are available in IIED's SlideShare channel

About the speakers

Stephen Nash is the founder of Kuungana Advisory, which he set up in 2015. He advises on policy and regulation in the sector, but also provides commercial and financial advisory services to a wide range of private sector clients and equity and debt investors.

Rita Poppe (moderator) is the global advocacy officer, green & inclusive energy at Hivos. She works in the field of energy access and climate finance at global level, connecting on the ground energy realities with international policy and finance.

Daniel Kitwa is the finance lead at Africa Mini-grid Developers Association, where he is responsible for building intelligence, partnerships and conversations between investors, donors and developers around tariffs, financing gaps and other de-risking needs.

Nipunika Perera is a researcher in IIED’s Shaping Sustainable Markets research group. Her research focuses on financing energy access, integrated and cross-sectoral energy planning and gender and social inclusion. She also comes from a background in international climate policy. She is a co-author of the ‘Moving more money: can aggregation catalyse off-grid financing?’, which brings out lessons from South Asia and East Africa on how aggregators have been in place to crowd in public and private finance, and provide support beyond financing to grow off-grid markets

Linda Wamune is the founder and managing director of Econome, a distribution enterprise focusing on clean energy and water in Kenya. Over the last 17 years, she has worked for clean energy distribution enterprises providing leadership and building effective teams that have delivered successful growth through innovative sales and marketing of products to communities.

Satish Gautam is the national programme manager of the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood, a joint project of Government of Nepal, Asian Development and United Nations Development Programme. He was trained as an engineer and later specialised in renewable energy and public policy.

About the series

This event is part of the IIED Debates series. Through the convening of expert speakers and external stakeholders, IIED brings together an international community to discuss critical issues.

IIED Debates encompass both physical and digital events, including critical themes, breakfast debriefs and webinars. These events are public and are hosted regularly throughout the year in our London and Edinburgh offices and online.

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Juliette Tunstall ([email protected]), IIED's internal engagement and external events officer