Tiers, Markets, Sustainability: Trends in Rural Off-Grid Electrification
SDG 7 – Universal access to electricity – is to be achieved within the current decade. Despite significant progress, we are however off-track to meet the target, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase of the people without access to electricity in the region for the first time since 2013, and a decline of energy access by 2% or 13 million people in 2020 compared to 2019. Current policies on electricity access will be unable to outpace the region’s population growth.
Off-grid funding is significantly lower than funding for the main grid, and only one quarter of all funds for electricity access are targeted at connecting residential customers. Yet, off-grid electrification solutions present a viable and sustainable option for access to electricity for more than 50% of SSA’s population.
The majority of off-grid products sold and installed are still only meeting Tier 1 or below of ESMAP’s Multi-Tier Framework, despite plug-and-play solar home systems (SHS) having gained significant traction over the last decade. More and more mini-grid companies are also delivering access to electricity that is close to, or even better than, grid quality.
Within the off-grid sector, key market trends beyond a reduction in the cost of technology are improving companies’ effectiveness in delivering reliable and affordable electricity to customers. Some of the current trends include productive use, the digitalisation of the sector, and the drive for SHS companies to offer increasingly diverse products and services.
The future of the off-grid space is determined by the leveraging of digitalised solutions and existing value chains to sustainably industrialise rural areas, and provide integrated electrification solutions that are renewable, technology-agnostic and demand-based.
Sector coupling that leverages synergies between the rural electrification and industrialization sectors, conducive regulatory frameworks, an enhancement of the role of women as active agents of change and the creation of mechanisms that enable scalable circular economy principles in remote rural areas are all identified as pre-requirements for timely achieving SDG7.
These key market trends in the off-grid electrification sector should be considered together with a set of sustainability indicators to accelerate the deployment and maximise the impact of off-grid electrification projects. The session will focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the largest gap towards universal access.