Decentralised energy sector emerges to plug access gaps

off-grid solar

Globally, the percentage of people having access to electricity has risen gradually over recent decades, yet more than 733 million people remain without basic access. According to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), off-grid and decentralised energy systems have emerged as an alternative to facilitate energy access and resilience in a flexible and adaptable way, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which face some of the world’s biggest gaps in energy access rates.

The report – ‘Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics 2022‘ – shows that off-grid renewables continue to grow despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing statistics for the period 2012–2021 and covering mini-grids, biogas for cooking and lighting, off-grid solar lights, pumps, and home solar systems across Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

“IRENA’s Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics publication captures the major trends in off-grid renewable energy deployment that are often unrecorded in countries. It is an essential tool for monitoring and measuring the role of off-grid renewables to achieve the energy transition and universal energy access by 2030,” said Dennis Akande, IRENA’s associate programme officer for statistics.

Rural communities with no access to electricity often use polluting and expensive lighting sources such as kerosene lamps or candles, the fumes of which can cause serious health problems; while a lack of electricity in health centers can result in disastrous outcomes for patients. With support, however, from policymakers, private investors, and end users alike, the number of people using off-grid solar lights has increased dramatically from 15.4 million in 2012 to 112 million in 2021. In Africa alone, the number of people benefitting from off-grid solar lights has reached 52.6 million in 2021, according to the report.

Over the years, interventions to improve access to energy have focused on electricity and have often neglected non-electricity household energy needs, especially for cooking. The use of inefficient stoves is a major contributor to indoor pollution, which has detrimental impacts on the health of women and children. While large numbers of people still depend on wood and charcoal for cooking, the use of biogas as a clean cooking solution has been expanding across African and Asian countries, improving living conditions and helping to reduce the effects of climate change. As of 2021, over 122 million people benefit from biogas for cooking, the report shows.

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