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PEAKS topic guide: designing a framework for power sector analyses

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Exploring the importance of electricity for sustainable development

Elizabeth Gogoi

Elizabeth Gogoi

This topic guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the importance of electricity to the achievement of wider sustainable development goals, in addition to looking at the major challenges and opportunities in providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern electricity for all households and firms. It targets development agencies interested in supporting developing country governments to achieve UN sustainable development goals relating to energy access. 

It provides a basis to identify entry-points for improving the performance of the power sector in a partner country, and is relevant for a wider set of stakeholders, including policy-makers and practitioners, engaged in strengthening the performance of power sectors.

The presented topic guide is organised around key steps to examining the power sector of a partner country. It starts by making the case for the power sector as essential to economic growth and poverty reduction, and outlines the major performance problems facing the sector in developing countries. 


Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for households and firms is an essential ingredient to achieving wider sustainable development goals. The current level of energy poverty in developing countries is holding back economic and inclusive growth and poverty reduction efforts. In 2012, governments worldwide renewed their commitment at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to a set of goals related to ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal – SDG 7). 

The world is currently falling short of meeting this ambitious target. Across all dimensions of sustainable energy for all – energy access, efficiency, renewables – the rate of progress during 2010-12 falls substantially short of the rate that would be needed to meet the targets by 2030. However, the picture is not uniform, and some countries are making particularly impressive progress.

Achieving the SDG target requires significant technical, financial, institutional and political constraints facing the power sector in developing countries to be overcome. The problems are country specific, and the solutions need to be designed based on the local context. However, development agencies have an important role in supporting partner countries to improve the performance of the power sector, particularly with regards to technical assistance, institutional reform, human capacity building and learning from relevant experiences internationally.

Our approach

We created the topic guide to examine the power sector of a partner country. We examine why the power sector is essential to economic growth and poverty reduction, and which major performance problems the sector faces in developing countries. We then  provide an overview of the power sector, unpacking the different segments and stakeholders in the power value chain, which is  necessary for technical understanding of how electricity is generated, transmitted and distributed, as well as presenting some of the technical challenges facing the sector. We conclude by presenting some of the underlying financial, institutional and political barriers, which need to be addressed to improve performance in the power sector. In addition, the topic guide outlines the key opportunities for addressing and overcoming these barriers which donor agencies could consider supporting.

The topic guide aims to be an easy-to-read document, explaining complicated technical, financial and political issues to non-specialists. It avoids or explains technical jargon as much as possible, uses case studies to highlight critical issues, and provides links to additional resources and information. The topic guide intends to present a neutral and unbiased picture of the power sector, although focusing on issues of particular relevance to the UK’s aid policy. It provides a framework for analysing the problems facing a particular power sector, without being prescriptive of the solutions required


The topic guide is intended to help development agencies, particularly DFID, to understand and diagnose the most critical performance problems facing the power sector in a particular developing country, and design programmes to support structural reform.