A four-step plan for quickly building access to energy in remote, rural areas

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The United Nations has established Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) as a key initiative for ensuring access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for all by 2030. Today, one in seven people on the planet still have no access to energy, with most of these families living in the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2030, 674 million people will still lack access to energy. Therefore, all of us have a significant challenge ahead of us if we are to close this significant gap.

After many decades of struggling with limited access to rural populations, inefficient government programs, insufficient financing and technological barriers, conditions are ripe for helping the global community to make major strides towards achieving the SDG 7 goal. In fact, much progress has already been made. Since 2009, over 23 million people have benefited from Schneider Electric Access to Energy initiatives alone, many of which involve the deployment of new, modern microgrid technologies. According to IEA Energy Access Outlook 2017, microgrids are becoming the most cost-effective way to expand energy access in remote areas.

Bold ideas for driving rapid progress

A convergence of bold ideas is rapidly driving successes across the globe and we are encouraged to believe that the SDG 7 goal is attainable. These ideas are “bold” because they involve reversing the trend of “business as usual” and leverage the experience that Schneider Electric has attained over the years of implementing energy systems in remote environments.  For example, Schneider Electric is developing a “multi-energy” plant for irrigation, fish farming, and farming transformation. This solution, called Villaya Agri-Business, uses a solar thermal and photovoltaic power plant to capture and store energy and to reuse it to produce electricity and heat simultaneously. It can supply micro-industries in rural areas, especially food production, processing and storage plants. This multi-energy plant stores energy in batteries with a 10-year lifespan.

Recent projects have been launched in rural West Africa, involving feasibility studies, equipment installation, and user training. These projects will progressively offer up to 100,000 people access to electricity for irrigation, lighting, fish farming, farming transformation, and the provision of drinking water without CO2 emissions.

When implementing such projects, Schneider Electric is seeing breakthroughs in four key areas—government regulation, financing, technology, and training—that now open the doors to accelerated microgrid-driven rural electrification. As such, we propose four bold ideas for accelerating the global Access to Energy mission:

  • Bold idea 1: Promote government regulatory policies that facilitate progress – Governments must embrace reforms that include simplified microgrid licensing requirements and procedures, up front communication of planned main grid expansion to microgrid locations, appropriate tariff structures and public funding, integrated national energy planning, and increased capability to support microgrid implementation.
  • Bold idea 2: Adopt innovative financing mechanisms that accelerate electrification investments – New, more creative financial scenarios are beginning to emerge that are enabling a transition to more sustainable and less costly projects. By instituting mechanisms that lower the cost of capital, the cost of energy to people without current access can be lowered. Energy business models become more attractive as risks are spread across more stakeholders. Then, the benefits multiply as electrification ushers in more prosperity within the local economy.
  • Bold idea 3: Leverage technological innovation to drive electrification and business growth – New technology trends surrounding small off-grid / microgrid solar systems (often referred to as decentralized solar systems), are driving down prices and are prompting a reexamination of how access to energy can be quickly and cost effectively spread to those areas of the globe in need. New digital energy services are driving easy, low cost remote operation and monitoring of microgrid systems that are now being delivered pre-built and pre-tested. In addition, these systems are now being maintained more and more by trained, skilled local operators.
  • Bold idea 4: Drive vocational training and entrepreneurship to bolster microgrid-driven economic activity – Training initiatives will develop skilled local technicians and entrepreneurs who will contribute significantly to reaching the universal energy access goal. In fact, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the entire distributed renewable energy value chain—including sales, installation, service, appliances, operations and management—is projected to create 4.5 million jobs globally by 2030. These millions of jobs are likely to spread across thousands of small and medium-sized businesses.

Schneider Electric’s contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)

Schneider Electric takes its commitment to Access to Energy programs very seriously. By 2020, we are committed to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, of “Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere” and “Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all”. Between 2025-2050, we commit to benefitting 50 million additional people with our Access to Energy offers and to training 1,000,000 underprivileged people in energy management.

To learn more about how Access to Energy programs can achieve success, download our new white paper “How New Regulatory, Financial and Technology Bold Ideas Can Grow Microgrid-driven Access to Energy”

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  • Hans-Werner Bussmann

    6 years ago

    This is a very important contribution. Decentralized electricity will most likely in a leap development where it is implemented. However, it needs better coordination of all existing initiatives, creating models for training centres and funding of related start-ups. Would appreciate contact with Mr. Gilles Vermot Desroches. Hans-Werner Bussmann (13 years of personal experience in Africa in German foreign service)

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