As we move towards a more digitized community, access to energy remains crucial for both individual well-being and national economic development. Let’s take reference from what the United Nations shared. According to the UN Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, access to energy is considered a key factor in reducing poverty. That echoes our own experience in many countries, where we have seen the availability of reliable energy transforms people’s lives in substantial ways.
For us, access to energy is not just about enhancing economic productivity, but more an enabler of long-term society-wide benefits, ranging from reducing poverty and improving health to enhancing educational opportunities. In addition to boosting the standard of living, it can also play a significant role in promoting and achieving environmental sustainability.
Pandemic has pushed back progress
According to the International Energy Agency, in 2019, the number of people without access to electricity fell to a record low of 770 million. While that is an encouraging trend, we should not ignore the fact that progress remains uneven. Fully 75% of those without power are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa the proportion of people without electricity is set to increase, pushing many countries further away from achieving the United Nation’s goal of universal access by 2030, despite the region itself has ample energy resources, from traditional fossil fuels to renewables.
Compared with urban areas covered by the grid, electrification rates in rural and remote off-grid areas are still low. While some stand-alone, solar-powered systems and mini-grid solutions are now on the market, the affected communities still face tremendous challenges in terms of finding the funds to buy them and building up the expertise to operate them.
Empowering local communities
As a global specialist in energy management with operations in over 100 countries, Schneider Electric is committed to empowering everyone to make the most of energy and resources. In practical terms that means building bridges to sustainability with innovation.
With our comprehensive product and solutions portfolio, we consistently bring reliable, affordable, and clean stand-alone solar lighting mobile charging technologies, and mini-grid solutions to communities with diverse needs. In 2009, we launched the “Access to Energy” program to improve the quality of life for people lacking access to electricity. The program includes providing energy services training to develop local competencies. There are also joint investment initiatives to support entrepreneurial efforts that promote access to energy, and partnerships that create innovative and effective business models tailored to a community’s unique situation.
Likewise, the “MiCROSOL” project – a collaborative effort between Schneider Electric and eight other industrial partners and research organisations – is aimed at developing a single, standard and modular technology for simultaneously producing electricity, drinking water and heat. The primary targets are micro-industries located in rural areas of countries with high levels of sunshine, especially in Africa. It really is an inspiring example of how an innovative mindset can be applied to solar thermodynamics.
Another Access to Energy solution, “Villasol,” is a solar-powered micro off-grid facility for decentralised rural electrification. Among other things, it supports domestic, entrepreneurial, and community needs such as schools, health centres, water supply and public lighting – all without any connection to the national grid.
Involve Local, Think local, Train Local
When it comes to driving access to energy, each project and solution has its own unique value. We have to avoid the temptation to take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The keys to success in any rural electrification project are studying the specific scenario and evaluating the unique local circumstances. That puts you in a good position to address the challenges with tailored solutions that leverage effective business and financial models as well as the best technology.
In our experience, the most successful projects are those that actively engage with the local community. They are also more sustainable. Making it actually happen calls for empowering local people and organisations, such as providing training to give them the skills and long-term competencies they need to develop and maintain energy access solutions.
Taking these ideas to heart, the Schneider Electric “Access to Energy” program concentrates our efforts on three complementary initiatives, with the goal of improving the situation in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa and developing parts of Asia. The initiatives include:
- Funding entrepreneurs who contribute to the development of small businesses, and investing in companies that participate in electricity supply and access
- Creating business models, distribution channels, and innovative energy access offers
- Developing training for energy sector jobs
There is no doubt that energy is an essential ingredient in promoting well-being for people and economic development in the wider community. Unfortunately, millions all over our planet still lack access to what so many of us take for granted – a reliable supply of electricity.
In addition to creating major day to day difficulties, that lack also cuts them off from many of the opportunities and advantages in today’s digital world. That makes tackling the challenge of providing access to energy for all a top global priority for everyone — governments, private sector companies, and technology pioneers and providers like Schneider Electric.