NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Renewable Minigrids Could Bring Energy to Billions of People

June 4, 2015

Distributed energy solutions, such as rooftop solar, should be the electrification solution for the 1.1 billion people who are not plugged into a national power grid, not just a stopgap measure, says global industry group Power For All.

Power For All argues that bottom-up distributed energy solutions should be the preferred solution for assuring universal access to electricity because they are faster, cleaner and cheaper than extending power grids to rugged or sparsely-populated regions. Why?

Figures released this week by the joint UN-World Bank energy access program — Sustainable Energy for All — lend credence to Power for All's argument.

  • From 2010 to 2012 some 222 million people — more than the population of Brazil — gained grid access for the first time. The growth outpaced global population growth almost 2 to 1, thus trimming the number not yet connected from 1.2 billion to 1.1 billion.
  • Those figures make electrification a bright spot. Little progress was detected in access to cleaner cooking fuels. Some 2.9 billion people were still cooking with biomass fuels such as wood and dung in 2012. 
  • Grid access expanded mainly in urban areas, and fully one-quarter of the growth was in India. In Sub-Saharan Africa — the region with the highest energy access deficits — electrification just barely outpaced population growth; electrification trailed demographic growth in half of the world's 20 least electrified countries.

Technology improvements and better management means equipment is cheaper and lasts longer. The sector has come a long way from even a decade ago, when well-meaning programs with under-engineered products and minimal customer service came up short.

Source: Peter Fairley, "Renewable Minigrids Should Be the End Goal for Rural Poor," Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Spectrum, May 22, 2015. 


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