Rural and vulnerable populations in developing countries can benefit now from decentralized renewable energy, rather than waiting years or decades for expensive connections to future electricity grids, Sustainable Energy for All and Power for All reported last week, in a study released during the UN climate conference (COP 23) in Bonn.
“Households in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Kenya—which were used as report case studies—can save hundreds of dollars, equivalent to the average annual income of between 61,800 and 406,000 people, depending on the country and time frame to deliver universal access, by bringing electricity access forward through use of solar to power household services like lighting and mobile-phone charging instead of kerosene or costly external phone-charging services,” SEforALL notes.
“Another benefit from decentralized services is more time for studying—equivalent to the time spent in school each year of between 142,000 and two million students,” depending again on country and time frame, the release states.
The three countries differ in their incomes, demographics, and electrification rates, but together account for about 180 million of the billion people around the world with no access to electricity.
By curtailing the use of kerosene, the plan would reduce the three countries’ black carbon emissions by 330 million tonnes, equivalent to taking 60 million (internal combustion) passenger cars off the road for a year. And shifting to decentralized renewables would deliver electricity access far sooner than centralized grid projects.
“It’s a fraction of the time. It takes weeks, if not days,” so that introducing local solar services “will have an exponential effect on jobs and revenues,” said Power for All CEO Kristina Skierka. “Default approaches to electrification that rely on slow, expensive, fossil fuel-powered centralized generation are out of date and out of time.”
By contrast, “the Energy Access Dividend challenges business-as-usual by valuing ‘time to access’—for the first time specifying the opportunity cost of large-scale projects that may never reach the one billion people around the world who still have to live without the benefits of electricity. Properly supported, decentralized renewable energy can deliver socio-economic dividends faster and at a lower cost.”
“For many decision-makers, the default is building grids. It’s pernicious, and it’s expensive. It’s positively possible to bring solutions to these communities more quickly,” agreed SEforALL CEO Rachel Kyte.
“Denying those gains by not prioritizing solutions to energy access risks holding back whole generations,” she added. “Decentralized renewable energy is an attractive option for closing the energy access gap quickly, especially for remote rural areas,” delivering “prosperity and education outcomes as well as other services energy provides.”