A recent report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that universal energy access is possible by 2030 and solar technology will be at the forefront of the effort. In order to reach near 99% of the global population having electricity, solar power microgrids and off-grid installation will be needed.

Reaching 99% in the IEA’s ‘Energy for All Case’ will cost $28 billion per year through the end of 2030.

The IEA points out that there is much the world is already doing to grow access to electricity. The number of people without electricity fell to 1.1 billion in 2016. Since 2000, 1.2 billion have gained access. And 500 million of those were in India. Broadly, Asia, China, and India have done much to increase electrification globally. Of those 1.2 billion – 70% got their electricity from fossil fuels. However, the IEA says that to get to the poorest and most disconnected people – distributed generation from solar power and energy storage is expected to shift into higher gear.

Currently, in the ‘New Policies Scenario’ section of the report, the IEA sees $24 billion a year being spent on policies that they believe will bring global electrification to 99% across Asia and in Latin America and 95% in the Middle East. In sub-Saharan Africa, the access rate grows to 59%. The IEA sees 60% of these people gaining access through renewables.

To get to 99% the IEA believes an additional $28 billion a year need be spent. The large majority of that money would need to be spent in sub-Saharan Africa. And much of it would be focused on removing fossil fuel cooking from inside of homes.

Several weeks ago, India made a pledge to electrify every home in the country by December 31, 2018. A battery pack plus 200-300W of solar will be added per house that isn’t currently connected to the grid. Plus five LEDs, a fan and a DC power plug.

The IEA says the significant price falls associated with solar and energy storage are helping to drive these changes – meaning the policy side of the work is being greatly supported by the business side. Solar makes so much sense for some areas, it’s already economically feasible to sell directly to customers simply because traditional power infrastructure is not possible. It is expected that many portions of Africa will skip over landlines, favoring solar; much like they did with skipping landline phone service and favoring mobile adoption.

“This is such an untapped market,” says Laurent Van Houcke in a recent BBC interview, chief operations officer of BBOXX, a London-based company that brings off-grid energy to the developing world. “There are massive opportunities for entrepreneurship, as well as great possibilities for impacting lives.”

They manufacturer hyper-efficient solar-powered chargers. In just four years, they have brought power to around 130,000 homes and businesses in 35 countries – by 2020, they’re aiming for more than a million.

Electrek’s Take

Why build up a global infrastructure when off grid and microgrid energy makes so much more sense in so many places? It makes a lot of sense in these rural areas – just like cell phones skipped the infrastructure.

A pretty amazing thought came to me while writing this. For an extra $30 billion a year, not chump change of course – but small relative to the global GDP of $80 trillion when we think that the whole planet could be wired for electricity.


Header image of a yurt that I visited while traveling across China in 2008.

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