Investments aligned with this strategic goal aim to provide underserved and energy-impoverished communities with access to clean, affordable energy as part of broader efforts to ensure a just energy transition.

The sections below include an overview of the approach for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.

What

Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What problem does the investment aim to address? For the target stakeholders experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

A global transition to 100% clean energy, essential to mitigating climate change, can have severe economic and social impacts. Fossil fuels currently account for over four-fifths of global primary energy demand (1). Dependence on fossil fuels is especially concentrated in developing economies and rural communities, where the need for electrification and energy provision must be balanced with emission reduction targets.

Economic excluded groups and certain emerging economies lack access to and funding for clean energy usage despite technological advancements elsewhere. Many communities, particularly in Central and Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, still lack access to clean energy and electricity (2). Low-income neighborhoods worldwide are often denied home energy-efficiency improvements and upgrades because the structures are too dilapidated; moreover, the operation of fossil fuel power plants can continue to affect public health years after the facilities shut down (3). The World Health Organization estimates that 92% of the world’s population lives in environments where local air pollution exceeds WHO’s safety limits (4).

Thus, a roadmap for economy-wide decarbonization must prioritize plans, policies, and investments that eradicate energy poverty through green, affordable energy for all (5). Investors should seek to maximize social and economic benefits for local communities and increase productivity per unit resource while capitalizing on the commercial opportunity of the low-carbon transition.

Investments aiming to improve equitable access to clean energy can:

  • improve housing energy efficiency for low-income households;
  • provide affordable loans to local authorities and communities to finance the transition to clean energy (6);
  • support rooftop and community solar in low-income communities;
  • finance the deployment of distributed renewable energy generation and management solutions (such as micro-grids) in rural areas; and
  • facilitate the development and deployment of clean energy infrastructure in emerging economies.

What is the scale of the problem?

The current rate of progress to universal access to electricity remains insufficient, with approximately 620 million people still projected to lack access by 2030 (7). Achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 will require both energy access and decarbonization efforts to accelerate.

Who

Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who (people, planet, or both) is helped through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Planet: Investments in clean energy access naturally reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Rural and low-income communities often rely more on particularly emissive fossil sources such as diesel, kerosene, and traditional biomass. As economic growth spurs energy demand from these communities, meeting this demand with clean energy sources can help mitigate carbon emissions.

Low-income communities and historically excluded groups due to race or ethnicity: Historically excluded groups, such as BIPOC in the United States, typically occupy older, more poorly maintained, and less energy-efficient housing stock, leading to high spending on energy (8). Households that spend more than 10% of their annual income on energy would benefit from financial assistance, access to capital to install energy-efficient appliances, and housing retrofit programs (9). In contexts facing a legacy of pollution from burning fossil fuels, local healthcare providers could receive support and financial assistance to provide more frequent health checkups, medical equipment, and treatments for illnesses caused by that pollution (10). Distributed energy generation and storage leads to distributed economic opportunity, potentially extending the benefits of the low-carbon transition to regions seeking pathways to economic development.

Rural communities: Many rural communities around the world face comparative poverty; on average, rural households have lower incomes and older housing stock than urban households (11). Thus, a greater proportion of rural household income is dedicated to energy costs. In the face of more extreme temperatures, likely to amplify heating and cooling needs, rural residents’ demand for energy is likely to rise further. Increasing access to affordable energy can therefore generate deep economic and social benefits in rural areas.

What are the geographic attributes of those who are affected?

Climate risk, economic inequality, and social inequity are spread across the world. All areas reliant on fossil fuels will need support through the clean energy transition. About 90% of those expected to still lack access to electricity in 2030 are projected to be in rural areas. Even in India, which has successfully implemented rural electrification in recent years, over 75% of new electricity access has been facilitated by coal. Much of the future global rise in energy consumption is expected to come from sub-Saharan Africa, which will have half of new births by 2040; these people must have their energy needs met with clean, affordable energy sources to enable the energy transition (12). In 2018, approximately 548 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to electricity, or more than half of the region’s population and nearly 70% of the world’s population without access. Rural communities more generally account for about 85% of the global energy access deficit (13). Energy poverty is inextricably linked to income inequality and poverty, as poorer communities can less afford electricity access.

For clean cooking fuel, 65% of those currently without access to clean cooking fuel, or 1.6 billion people, are in developing Asia, and less than a fifth of the population in sub-Saharan Africa had access to clean cooking fuel as of 2018 (14). Under stated energy policies, use of clean cooking fuel on the continent will expand by 2030, but barely in excess of population growth, so the number of those without access will rise to over 1 billion by 2030 (15). Critically, in India and China, recent progress away from traditional biomass and kerosene has been enabled almost entirely by liquified petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas, not clean energy. Investments to improve access to clean energy are critical not only to replace fossil fuels but also to alleviate energy poverty.

Contribution

Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How can investments in line with this Strategic Goal contribute to outcomes, and are these investments’ effects likely better, worse, or neutral than what would happen otherwise

Organizations can consider contribution at two levels—enterprise and investor. At the enterprise level, contribution is “the extent to which the enterprise contributed to an outcome by considering what would have otherwise happened in absence of their activities (i.e., a counterfactual scenario).” To learn more about methods for assessing counterfactuals, see the Impact Management Project. Investments in improving access to clean energy can contribute as follows:

  • Signal that impact matters: By supporting the just transition to clean energy, investors demonstrate that meeting global climate targets requires considering the effects of the low-carbon transition on at-risk communities. They signal that climate investments can generate not only environmental but also social benefits by developing fossil fuel-dependent communities. Including principles of equitable transition into investment philosophies showcases that the clean energy transition is incomplete without a focus on justice. In doing so, they signal support for inclusive growth and highlight sustainable development in the context of pathways to net-zero by 2050, especially insofar as this translates into popular and political support for climate solutions.

    Directing more capital towards issues of energy access and justice also signals policymakers. Policy support will be critical to ensuring a just transition, as governments may be best positioned to balance stakeholder concerns and offer incentives for investment in at-risk communities.

  • Engage actively: Investors can promote access to clean, affordable energy to ensure that the low-carbon transition can realize its full environmental and social benefits. At the national, state, and local levels, investors can advocate policymakers to develop new regulatory regimes that focus not only on the innovation and development of clean infrastructure but also on the geographic and community-related diversity of these initiatives. Investors can engage with their own key stakeholders to push for a just transition, for instance by encouraging their partners and clients to act on improving energy access and diversifying the geographic and community exposure of their clean energy portfolios. Finally, investors can encourage their portfolio companies to consider principles of access and affordability in their operational decisions.
  • Grow new or undersupplied markets: Investment has moved aggressively towards deploying clean energy in emerging economies in recent years. The continuation or acceleration of this trend may give rise to new or unsupplied markets as improving energy access spurs economic development and small business growth. Investors can make outsized contributions by evaluating energy-access targets in accordance with Sustainable Development Goals, insofar as achieving these goals becomes a lens through which to view investments in economic development (23).
  • Provide flexible capital: Investors with patient capital and an aligned risk appetite can support developing and scaling clean technology while creating economic opportunity. The energy transition will span decades, and the process of reducing energy poverty and phasing out fossil fuels will require flexible capital, including blended finance, willing to accept long horizons and uncertainty, especially given the need for policy support. The just transition is global and extends to all economic sectors. Though guided by long-term trends towards decarbonization and digitization, the transition is susceptible to both changes in global socio-political environments and domestic industrial developments. Investors with sharper risk appetites can drive the long-term opportunities and change that other capital may hesitate to pursue.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many target stakeholders can experience the outcome through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Low-income populations and groups in emerging economies that lack access to electricity and clean energy comprise 10% of the world’s population (approximately 789 million people) (16). The International Energy Agency’s net-zero emissions pathway (by 2050) features a commitment to universal access to clean energy and cooking fuel by 2030 (17). With population growth, between now and 2030, universal access will require about 2.8 billion people to receive access to clean cooking fuel for the first time (18). The net-zero emissions pathway has electricity becoming the primary cooking fuel for nearly 60% of developing-country households, up from just around 10% today (19).

The International Energy Agency further estimates that increased clean energy investment to achieve universal access to electricity would save 1.8 million premature deaths each year caused by burning fossil fuels (20). Any community with a local economy that relies on the fossil fuel industry is especially well-positioned to receive the outcome from investments aligned with this Strategic Goal.

How much change can target stakeholders experience through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

The exact amount of change effected by improved clean energy access will depend on the surrounding policy environment, advancements in energy efficiency, electrification of end-uses (such as transport), growth in storage capacity, and infrastructure. Policy that aims to support a transition to 100% clean energy can ensure that universal energy access is not only achievable but also sustainable. The impact that target stakeholders experience as a result of investments aligned with this Strategic Goal will also depend on the region’s existing clean energy supply and levels of energy poverty.

The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that over three-quarters of the reduction in global CO2 emissions necessary for a pathway to 1.5°C warming could be achieved through electrification and renewable generation (21). This, in turn, could permanently improve social outcomes by extending economic opportunity and reducing inequalities among communities and countries (22).

Risk

Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What impact risks do investments aligned with this Strategic Goal run? How can investments mitigate them?

The following are several impact risk factors for investments in line with this Strategic Goal.

  • Evidence Risk: It may be difficult to track and locate consistent, reliable data to inform investment decision-making because technologies and infrastructure are limited in emerging economies and low-income neighborhoods. Investors can mitigate this risk by developing a proactive transition plan that incorporates data collection in its initial phases (24).
  • Stakeholder Participation Risk: Different groups have differing needs during and after the clean energy transition. Misunderstanding those needs when promoting a just transition can lead to detrimental effects on families and communities. Investors can mitigate this risk by engaging stakeholders about their environmental, workforce, and community concerns throughout the investment process, requesting stakeholder feedback on proposed program elements, and hosting periodic meetings to review progress and outcomes on ongoing projects. Actions and projects should be kept as transparent as possible for all partners and stakeholders to ensure meaningful local changes and economic benefits (25). Broadly, investors should ensure that the communities impacted by clean energy projects are involved in the decision-making process, with their needs and concerns understood by both project developers and financiers.
  • Efficiency Risk: The global nature of a just transition may raise concerns that the impacts can be achieved with fewer resources or at lower costs. Investors can mitigate this risk by adopting deliberate, targeted policy solutions and funds designed for specific communities (26).

Illustrative Investment

In December 2019, Arcadia, a software startup that allows households and businesses to connect to cleaner, cheaper energy options, raised USD 30 million in a Series C investment round led by existing investor G2VP and joined by Macquarie Capital and Macquarie Commodities and Global Markets, Mitsui USA, Seek Ventures, Energy Impact Partners, Box Group, and ValueAct Capital. The funding was used to expand Arcadia’s community solar coverage from its existing base of New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC to Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado, and Massachusetts. Arcadia provides solar energy options to households that cannot otherwise afford rooftop solar or that are not allowed to install rooftop solar. Currently, Arcadia powers around 2,500 homes in partnership with solar developers, with around 12 kW in installed capacity.

In August 2019, Bboxx, a next-generation utility, raised USD 50 million in Series D funding from Mitsubishi Corporation, a Japanese trading company, joined in this round by ENGIE Rassembleurs d’Energies, Bamboo Capital Partners, DOEN Participaties, and MacKinnon, Bennett, and Company. Bboxx has provided mobile-enabled, pay-as-you-go access to solar energy to more than one million people and installed around 200,000 solar home systems. This capital injection was focused on fueling Bboxx’s expansion across Africa and Asia. In all, the company has helped avoid over 600,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions and replaced around 1.7 million kerosene lamps.

In 2016, the City of New York launched a USD 10 billion Clean Energy Fund to advance the clean technology industry and make energy more affordable for consumers. The Fund operates four major portfolios: (a) Market Development, (b) NY-Sun, © NY Green Bank, and (d) Innovation and Research (27). Beginning in 2020, the NY-Sun program focused on environmental justice, with a total investment of more than USD 200 million allocated to benefit low- to moderate-income customers and disadvantaged communities. As of 2019, the NY-Sun Portfolio had increased solar-sector employment by 10% in New York to 10,740 full-time jobs. The Program’s Urban Homesteading Assistance Board Co-Ops Go Solar Project also brought solar energy to 643 households in multifamily affordable housing across New York City (28).

In November of 2019, PowerGen Renewable Energy raised $2 million in Series B funding from REPP. In addition to REPP, seven other investors joined the round including Shell’s New Energies business, Sumitomo Corporation, Omidyar Network, Acumen, EDFI ElectriFI, DOB Equity, and Micro-grid Catalytic Capital Partners. PowerGen builds and manages renewable energy smart grids with the goal of delivering clean, affordable, and reliable electricity to underserved populations in Africa. After closing their Series B round, PowerGen has connected more than 36,000 people to electricity for the first time in Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. Roughly 18,500 people and 3,500 micro-businesses have been connected as a direct result of REPP’s investment (29).

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

NESTA: 2
Does clean energy contribute to economic growth? Evidence from Nigeria

Maji, Ibrahim Kabiru. “Does clean energy contribute to economic growth? Evidence from Nigeria.” Energy Reports 1 (November 2015): 145-150.

NESTA: 3
Climate and health benefits of increasing renewable energy deployment in the United States

Buonocore, Jonathan J., Ethan J. Hughes, Drew R. Michanowicz, Jinhyok Heo, Joseph G. Allen, and Augusta Williams. “Climate and health benefits of increasing renewable energy deployment in the United States.” Environmental Research Letters 14, no. 11 (October 29, 2019). DOI: https://10.1088/1748-9326/ab49bc.

NESTA: 3
The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come

Nick Watts et al. “The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come.” The Lancelot 392, no. 10163 (December 08, 2018): 2479-2514. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32594-7.

NESTA: 3
Renewable Energy Benefits: Measuring the Economics

IRENA (2016), ‘Renewable Energy Benefits: Measuring The Economics’. IRENA, Abu Dhabi.

NESTA: 3
Beyond Connections: Energy Access Redefined

World Bank (2015), ‘Beyond Connections,’ World Bank, Washington, DC

NESTA: 2
Job creation during the global energy transition towards 100% renewable power system by 2050

Ram, Manish, Arman Aghahosseini, and Christian Breyer. “Job creation during the global energy transition towards 100% renewable power system by
2050.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 151, no. 3 (February 2020). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2019.06.008.

NESTA: 2
The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy: How the Economic Stimulus Program and New Legislation Can Boost U.S. Economic Growth and Employment

Pollin, Robert, James Heintz, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier. The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy: How the Economic Stimulus Program and New Legislation Can Boost U.S. Economic Growth and Employment. Amherst, MA: Center for American Progress, June 2009.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Interested in providing feedback on these IRIS metrics in the forthcoming public comment period? Request an invitation here and include “Clean Energy theme” in the box.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.