For well over 1 billion people around the world, obtaining access to the energy required to meet very basic needs remains a daily struggle. In many rural areas of developing countries as well as some urban slums and peri-urban areas, connections to central electric grids are economically prohibitive and may take decades to materialise, if at all.1 Moreover, grid connectivity does not fully address the need for access to sustainable heating and cooking options.2
Distributed renewable energy (DRE)i systems – power, cooking, heating and cooling systems that generate and distribute services independently of any centralised system, in both urban and rural areas of the developing world – already provide energy services to millions of people, and numbers continue to increase annually. DRE systems can serve as a complement to centralised energy generation systems, or as a substitute. They offer an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the transition to modern energy services in remote and rural areas, while also offering co-benefits. Such co-benefits include improved health (through the displacement of indoor air pollution), a contributons to climate change mitigation, as well as positive effects on income growth, women’s empowerment and distributive equity.3 They can provide affordable lighting, enhance communications and facilitate greater quality and availability of education.4 DRE systems, as well as the hybridisation of existing mini-grids, may also reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports.
This chapter provides a picture of the current status of DRE markets in developing countries and presents an overview of the major networks and programmes that were operational in 2015.
Status of Energy Access:
The two most common ways to measure energy access are through 1) metrics related to electricity, and 2) metrics illustrating the level of dependence on solid or traditional fuels, such as biomass, for cooking. Approximately 1.2 billion people around the world (17% of the global population) live without electricity and 2.7 billion people are without clean cooking facilities (38% of the global population), the vast majority of whom are in the Asia-Pacific region and in sub-Saharan Africa.5 (→
Numbers and trends differ greatly by region. → In Africa, nearly 60% of people have no access to reliable electricity.6 To put this number in perspective, the entire continent of Africa has about 150 GW of installed power generating capacity, uses about 3% of the world’s electricity (mostly within South Africa) and emits only about 1% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.7 With 45 GW of installed capacity, the entire electricity supply of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) is less than that of Turkey.8 The official electrification rate for sub-Saharan Africa is 32%.9
In Asia, China and many industrialised countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, have made great strides towards electrification. However, in other countries in the region, comparatively high percentages of national populations remain without access to modern energy. India, for example, is home to more people without reliable access to electricity networks (237 million, or 19% of the population) than any other country worldwide.10 Bangladesh has approximately 60 million people without electricity access (39% of the population), Pakistan has 50 million people without access (27%) and Indonesia has 49 million people without access (19%).11 In addition, more than 840 million people in India rely on firewood, dung cakes, charcoal or crop residue to meet their household cooking needs, along with an estimated 450 million people in China, 140 million in Bangladesh, 105 million in Pakistan and 98 million in Indonesia.12
Although the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has an electrification rate of almost 92%, in some individual countries, high shares of the population still lack access to modern energy. In Yemen, for example, 54% of the population (or 13 million people) does not have access to electricity, and 8 million people lack access to non-solid fuel for cooking.13
Similarly, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, 95% of inhabitants have access to grid electricity; the 22 million people without access are concentrated largely in seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua and Peru.14 About 35 million people in the region (14% of inhabitants) do not have access to clean forms of cooking; in Haiti, 92% of the population use conventional cooking fuels and devices, while Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua have access rates of less than 50%.15
i See Sidebar 9 in GSR 2014 for more on the definition and conceptualisation of DRE.
Distributed Renewable Energy Technologies and Markets
People in rural and remote regions generally acquire improved access to energy in three ways: 1) using isolated devices and systems for power generation at the household level as well as for heating, cooking and productive uses; 2) through community-level mini- or micro-grid systems; and 3) through grid-based electrification, where the grid is extended beyond urban and peri-urban areas. Each of these models has advantages and drawbacks.
Advantages of more-centralised models include generally lower per kW costs in areas of higher population density, a higher load diversity and suitability for industrial use. Advantages of more-distributed models include applicability to small and remote communities and urban areas, reduced transmission and distribution losses, the allowance for direct and local private investment, local employment, and increased security of supply, as well as, in some cases, improvements in reliability, speed of deployment, local spill-over costs and reduced environmental burdens.16 DRE systems also have benefited from trends of decreasing system sizes, improved system costs and enhanced affordability linked to efficient appliances. This section focuses on the first two (distributed) means of improving energy access.
At the household and community scale, DRE technologies include small-scale solar PV and stand-alone lighting systems; wind, biodiesel generators, and micro- and pico-hydro stations for electricity generation; and solar and biomass heating and cooling units and cooking devices. Many of these technologies provide productive or mechanical energy for commercial purposes as well. For the purposes of this section, renewable energy-based micro- and mini-grids also qualify as DRE technologies.Figure 26. World Electricity Access and Lack of Access, by Region, 2013
According to the most recently available data, an estimated 26 million households (or 100 million people) worldwide are served through DRE systems, including some 20 million households through solar home systems, 5 million households through renewables-based mini-grids (usually powered by micro-hydro), and 0.8 million households through small-scale wind turbines.17 (→i Markets for DRE systems continue to grow rapidly. In some countries, DRE systems already have comparatively high market penetration.18 (→
Globally, some 44 million off-grid pico-solar products had been sold by mid-2015, representing a market of USD 300 million annually.19 As of end-2015, approximately 70 countries worldwide had some off-grid solar capacity installed or programmes in place to support off-grid solar applications.20 The largest market for off-grid solar products was sub-Saharan Africa (1.37 million units sold), followed by South Asia (1.28 million units sold).21
The smallest distributed solar PV systems are pico-PV systems (1–10 W→), which can power small lights, low-power appliances or mobile phone charging stations. These systems typically decrease in size as the efficiency of appliances that utilise the generated power improves. They replace kerosene lamps, candles and battery-powered flashlights and are the most widely used DRE technologies by far. Worldwide, some 20 million branded pico-solar products (mainly portable lights) had been sold by mid-2015, most of which are concentrated in India and sub-Saharan Africa.22 (→ In sub-Saharan Africa the market for solar portable lights has grown by 90% annually for the last four years.23 In India, 3.2 million solar lanterns had been sold or distributed by the end of 2015.24 In Pakistan, women are putting solar lanterns to productive use to start new businesses and become entrepreneurs.25
Solar home systems (SHS) (10–500 W) generally consist of a solar module and a battery, along with a charge control device, so that direct current (DC) power is available during dark and cloudy periods. SHS provide electricity to off-grid households for lighting, radios, television, refrigeration and access to the Internet. This sized system also can be used for non-domestic applications such as telecommunications, water pumping, navigational aids, health clinics, educational facilities and community centres. For higher power demands (e.g., 500–1,000 W), larger solar panels, additional battery capacity and inverters to supply alternating current (AC) power may be needed; the advantages of such systems lie in their ability to power more-sophisticated electric appliances.26
As of early 2015, more than 6 million SHS and kits were estimated to be in operation worldwide, with Asia being the largest market by far.27 (→ The SHS market in Bangladesh – the largest worldwide – has grown at an astounding average of 60% annually over the past decade, with 60,000 households being connected to a SHS every month.28 As of early 2015, India, China and Nepal had installed over 2 million systems collectively.29 In Latin America, some 13,600 SHS (884 kW) were installed in Guyana.30 The SHS market also has started to boom in Africa, particularly in East Africa. In 2014–2015, M-KOPA sold about 300,000 SHS in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and the company targets a total of 1 million households by end-2016.31
Micro- and pico-hydropower stations as small as 1 kW continue to be constructed, providing local communities with affordable electricity. Typically, such hydro systems can be built on existing dams and operate reliably for at least 20 years, requiring minimal maintenance.32 It is estimated that in 2015, more than 600 micro-hydro plants were providing electricity off-grid to rural areas of Indonesia, while in Nepal, around 1,300 micro-hydro plants and 1,600 pico-hydro systems were in operation for a combined capacity of 27.7 MW.33
Biogas systems continued to be adopted for electricity supply in 2015, with Asia leading in total installations.34 (→ Vegetable oil, jatropha and animal waste may be used as biogas feedstocks to substitute for diesel fuel in power generation in small-scale applications, while agricultural residues (e.g., rice husks, straw, coconut husks, shell, corn stover, etc.) may be used for commercial-scale power generation.
i The DRE Dashboard of the REN21 Renewables Interactive Map (www.ren21.net/dre) presents all DRE market data collected for 2014 and 2015.
Small-scale wind turbines (≤ 100 kW) often are used to produce electricity for farms, homes and small businesses; off-grid applications include rural electrification, telecommunication and hybrid systems with diesel and solar PV.35 Total installed capacity reached 343.6 MW in China by the end of 2014, almost 6 MW in Argentina (2011), 2.4 MW in India (2012) and 0.7 MW in Morocco (2012).36
DISTRIBUTED RENEWABLE ENERGYFigure 28. Market Penetration of DRE Systems in Selected Countries
The use of DRE in the cooking and heating sector also continued to flourish in 2015 due to advances in technology, increased awareness of deforestation and increased government support. At the end of 2014, it was estimated that, worldwide, some 28 million households had adopted clean cook stoves, most of which were in Asia and Africa.37 (→ The social enterprise Envirofit International had sold 1 million cook stoves across 45 countries as of November 2015.38
In addition, the use of biogas for cooking continued to gain prominence in 2015. For example, Bangladesh installed more than 36,000 biogas cook stoves in 2015 through its domestic biogas programme, to reach a total of 90,000 in operation.39 In Africa, nearly 60,000 bio-digesters were operating in 2015 across Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.40
The year 2015 also saw the continued expansion of DRE for other applications, such as energy for productive and commercial uses as well as for public services such as street lighting or health care.41 →
It is estimated that at least a few thousand mini-grids were in operation as of 2015, with primary markets in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Mali and Morocco.42 In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a 250 kW solar mini-grid powering 60 street lights and 450 buildings (homes, schools and a healthcare facility) was finished in 2015.43 A number of mini-grid projects also were launched in Africa, including the integrated Kalangala Infrastructure Services Project in Uganda, a single solar-based 1.6 MW mini-grid.44
Investment and Financing
The year 2015 saw closure of a number of financing agreements to support DRE development worldwide. In India, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Asian Development Bank agreed to invest or provide financing for USD 41 million in off-grid energy infrastructure, USD 15 million in clean energy “beyond the grid” and USD 6 million for SHS.45 Also in Asia, the UK-based Impact Investment Fund finalised a USD 2.1 million package to support the activities of Sunlabob Renewable Energy (Lao PDR).46 The African Development Bank launched its “New Deal for Energy in Africa”, targeting 75 million off-grid connections by 2025.47 In addition, the Millennium Challenge Corporation agreed to provide a USD 46 million grant for off-grid electrification in Benin.48
Investments in distributed solar systems continued to grow in 2015. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that roughly USD 276 million was invested in off-grid solar companies (solar lanterns and home systems) during the year, bringing the total since 2010 to more than USD 511 million.49 Pay As You Go (PAYG) companies received 87% of all such direct investments in 2014 and 2015.50 For example, Off Grid Electric raised USD 70 million in debt financing in 2015 to kick-start its partnership with the Tanzanian government to provide solar electricity to 1 million households over three years. Other market leaders in off-grid solar – including M-KOPA, Nova Lumos, BBOXX, Mobisol, Fenix International and Greenlight Planet – each raised investments of USD 10 million or more in 2015.51 (→ As part of the Power Africa initiative (discussed in the section on programmes, below), the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) also agreed to provide Kenya and Nigeria with more than USD 20 million in loans to promote solar energy in 90,000 households.
Moving away from solar to micro-grids, the company Powerhive (United States) secured a loan of USD 6.8 million to build 100 solar-powered micro-grids (which will power about 20,000 households and businesses), and Enel Green Power (Italy) announced that it will invest USD 12 million for the construction and operation of a 1 MW portfolio of mini-grids in 100 villages.52 The International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched a USD 5 million programme to develop a market for mini-grids in Tanzania to increase access to energy, while in Mozambique, Energias de Portugal (EDP) secured USD 1.95 million to finance a 160 kW hybrid solar/biomass mini-grid to power 900 households, 33 productive users and 3 community buildings.53
To promote the use of clean cook stoves, more than USD 400 million has been mobilised in the past five years.54 In 2015, under the Enhanced Livelihoods Investment Initiative (ELII) (a three-year, minimum USD 10 million investment initiative), BURN Manufacturing (Kenya) secured an investment of USD 800,000 to bring clean cook stoves to smallholder and plantation workers on tea estates in Kenya and Tanzania.55 Early in 2016, OPIC committed to finance USD 4 million of Envirofit’s activities to expand the use of clean cook stoves.56 Carbon finance also continued to gain momentum as a commercial pathway to generate revenue to scale up the deployment of clean cook stoves; by mid-2015, 57 projects using carbon credits had distributed 6.8 million clean cook stoves in 27 countries.57
In addition to debt capital and equity financing from investment funds and development banks, crowdfunding continued to increase in popularity in 2015, with many institutions managing crowdfunding campaigns to release new products or expand into new areas.i Countries with low rates of energy access, such as Tanzania and Uganda, have implemented a number of micro-grids with funds from companies such as SunFunder.58 A crowdsourcing model launched in 2015, “Gridmates”, is a web-based platform that aims to expand access to DRE globally by crowdfundingii.59 In Nepal, Gham Power teamed up with other local solar companies and Global Nepali Professional Network to launch a new campaign called Rebuild with Sun, which has a crowdsourced Indiegogo campaign that raised USD 150,000 for solar power systems and micro-grids.60
In December 2015, an array of new financing and investment initiatives was launched at the COP21 in Paris. For example, the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), which aims to achieve universal energy access on the continent, plans to install 10 GW of additional renewable energy capacity by 2020, and 300 GW by 2030.61 France will double investments across Africa in renewable energy projects – ranging from wind farms to solar power and hydroelectric projects – to USD 2.2 billion between 2016 and 2020.62 The International Solar Alliance, with members from 120 countries, aims for large-scale solar PV expansion in the tropics and beyond, and has a goal to raise USD 400 million from membership fees and international agencies.63 In December 2015, the European Union launched the ElectriFI Initiative, a tool with initial funding of USD 83.5 million that supports investments in clean energy services.64
i Crowd-sourced platforms such as SunFunder, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, RocketHub and Pozible have become increasingly accessible in recent years through the Internet.
ii Gridmate users donate hours of energy via PayPal.
Industry Development and Business Models
In addition to enhanced investment and positive market trends, 2015 saw the continued maturation of innovative business models. The use of mobile payment systems and scratch cards continued to flourish, especially as energy companies began to collaborate with the telecommunications industry to design and implement solutions (such as Mobisol, a company that combines solar energy with an affordable payment plan via mobile phone) that result in modern energy services and business opportunities for people in rural areas.65 In India, SunEdison and Omnigrid Micropower Company are electrifying rural villages by pairing commercial solar customers with telecom companies that need to power their cellular towers. A solar-powered mini-grid is first built to power the phone tower, on which additional mini-grid capacity is developed that can be sold to local villagers.
The year 2015 also saw the launch in East Africa of the “Powerhive” business model, which combines solar PV arrays, battery storage and smart metering systems with mobile telecommunications and payment applications.66 M-KOPA uses charging outlets for mobile phones as a key part of its business model in Africa. More than 280,000 homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda used M-KOPA’s solar systems with mobile payment and charging configurations during the year.67
The market for PAYG solar – micro-payment schemes that have become more popular in recent years – continued to grow in 2015.68 Under PAYG schemes, customers typically pay a small upfront fee for a solar charger kit, a portable system and a control unit that can be used for powering LED lights and charging devices such as mobile phones. They then pay for the energy they need, either in advance or on a regular basis depending on consumption. It is estimated that by the end of 2015, the PAYG model had been commercialised by some 32 companies operating in nearly 30 countries.69 (→ It is most prominent in East African countries (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) and in India, but it is quickly developing in other regions as well.
Examples of successful PAYG operations include Simpa Networks (India), SolarNow (Uganda), MKOPA (Kenya), Off Grid Electric (Rwanda and Tanzania) and Azuri (spread across sub-Saharan Africa). Greenlight Planet (in East and West Africa, and South Asia), a market leader that has commercialised about 3 million solar lighting systems, launched its PAYG model in early 2015. In Tanzania, Off Grid Electric is installing off-grid solar devices for more than 10,000 households and businesses per month using this model.70
Another category of business model focuses on bundled packages that sell not only energy equipment but also integrated services, from simple solar lamps with radios and mobile phones to aspirational products such as televisions. In Nicaragua, Barefoot Power sells a small plug-and-play home system, which can provide lighting services to households, charge a cell phone and power a portable DVD player.71Figure 34. Number of Pay As You Go Enterprises byCountry/Region
Government policies in developing countries are one of the most important factors for the deployment of DRE technologies.72 Robust policy frameworks that address a wide range of market issues – from regulations and financing to business support and training – can lead to rapid transformations in energy access.73
Policies that support DRE deployment include auctions, dedicated electrification targets, initiatives related to clean renewable cooking, and fiscal and other incentives that focus on specific renewable energy technologies (e.g., exemptions on VAT and import duties). An array of national governments across Africa, Asia and Latin America announced the expansion of existing targets and policies for DRE systems or the creation of new ones during 2015. Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania all removed VATs on solar products in 2014–2015. India successfully removed excise duties on off-grid solar systems in 2014, and, in 2015, Uttar Pradesh (the Indian state with the most people lacking access to energy) announced plans to waive its VAT on solar energy equipment as well.74 (→
In Africa, Rwanda approved its new energy policy, which included a target of reaching 22% of its population with DRE systems by 2017/2018, thereby increasing its off-grid power generation to 22 MW. Even before this policy was approved, Rwanda had partnered with Mobisol and the EU to provide solar PV systems to 49,000 households and 1,000 schools by 2019, representing a total installed capacity of 7.9 MW.75 Tanzania announced a target of 1 million solar installations by the end of 2017, which is expected to supply solar electricity to 10% of the nation’s population and to create over 15,000 solar jobs.76 Ghana launched a PAYG home solar programme in collaboration with Azuri Technology to provide electricity to 100,000 households.77 Mali is promoting the sale of 1,500 solar kits with the support of local banks, which will offer special loans to users.78
In Asia, the Philippines announced plans to build 150 to 200 micro-hydropower plants to provide electricity to people in remote regions, with a goal of increasing the country's hydro generating capacity by 50 MW.79 Bangladesh declared its intention to install up to 6 million SHS by 2018 and plans to finance the installation of about 1,550 solar irrigation pumps by 2017.80 India announced plans to install some 8,960 solar agri-pumps in the state of Maharashtra by the end of 2015; in addition, 500 solar-powered mini-grids are to be installed by the end of 2016 through the state’s Smart Power for Rural Development programme, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation.81 In early 2016, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh introduced its “Mini-grid Policy” encouraging the development of solar/biogas/biomass mini-grids of up to 500 kW with an array of incentives, including a 30% investment subsidy.82
In Latin America and the Caribbean, Guyana announced plans to install 6,000 SHS in its hinterland communities.83 Under the National Photovoltaic Household Electrification programme, Peru intends to install 12,500 solar PV systems to power 500,000 households to ensure that 95% of its population has access to electricity by the end of 2018.84
Beyond policy developments of individual countries, dozens of international actors – including at least 30 programmes and around 20 global networks – were involved in deploying DRE in 2015. → New major DRE programmes were announced in 2015, in addition to the continued operation and expansion of existing ones. Most programmes focused on the provision of electricity, although there was notable activity in the cooking and heating sectors. There also was continued momentum towards partnerships that involved either supranational actors (such as the United Nations) or multiple donor countries or sectors supporting a single programme.
Perhaps the most significant change affecting the global policy environment relates to the United Nations’ announcement of new “Sustainable Development Goals” as part of a post-2015 agenda for development practitioners. Goal 7, adopted as one of the 17 key goals, states that universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services needs to be ensured by 2030, among other targets.85 This is in line with the UN’s other major energy platform, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), which also calls for universal energy access by 2030.86
Energising Development (EnDev), an energy access partnership that is financed by six donor countries, continued its operations into 2015.87 Since 2005, EnDev has helped 14.8 million people obtain sustainable access to modern energy services in Africa, Asia and Latin America by training 37,000 stove builders, craftspeople, vendors and solar PV technicians.88 In support of the Government of Rwanda’s efforts, EnDev offered a subsidy of up to 70% on investments in privately owned and operated mini-grids of up to 100 kW.89
The Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG) also continued to expand its reach. PIDG mobilises private sector investment to assist developing countries in combating poverty, including through the provision of infrastructure that is vital to boosting economic growth.90 From 2010 to 2015, it supported over 1,000 micro- and small-scale enterprises, 900 of which are actively delivering products and services to their communities. PIDG created approximately 3,000 jobs; reached over 4 million beneficiaries with energy products and services, such as improved cook stoves, briquettes, solar phone charging and solar lighting; and changed how small enterprises do business through enterprise-to-enterprise linkages, marketing and promotional events, business planning, product improvement and standardisation.91
In 2015, the United States continued its commitments to DRE systems through a variety of programmes and agencies. Two years after its original launch, Power Africa – a partnership between the US government, African governments, multilateral and bilateral partners, and the private sector – announced expanded commitments to increase generating capacity and electricity access across sub-Saharan Africa. OPIC mobilised an additional USD 1.4 billion in private capital directed at energy access projects in Africa and announced an additional USD 1 billion commitment through 2018.92 In addition, USAID placed more than 25 advisors across sub-Saharan Africa to advance power sector transactions and provide technical assistance to improve the enabling environment for private sector investment.93
Electricity was not the only area that saw activity. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) had provided improved stoves to an estimated 24 million households – most of which are fuelled by renewable energy (although some by liquefied petroleum gas) – by the time it celebrated its five-year anniversary in 2015. In 2014, GACC projected that it would reach 63 million households by 2016.94 Its partner network grew from 19 in 2010 to more than 1,300 in 2015.95 Through GACC’s activities, by 2015, 28 countries were actively engaged in the development of International Organization for Standardization-approved standards for clean cook stoves; 16 GACC-supported cook stoves and fuel testing centres were operating in 14 countries around the world; and over 300 stoves had been featured in GACC’s Clean Cooking Catalogue.96 In addition, since the GACC’s founding in 2010, 19 new investors have deployed more than USD 60 million, and USD 265 million in carbon finance has been directed to the sector.97
The year also saw the creation of entirely new multilateral programmes and networks. In late 2015, the United Kingdom announced a new multilateral programme called Energy Africa in an effort to accelerate the expansion of household solar energy throughout the continent.98 The Energy Africa campaign, a multi-donor effort to be managed by the UK’s Department for International Development, seeks to overcome financial hurdles and market failures that are preventing firms from raising capital by testing new approaches and reaching poor and rural customers. It aims to overcome the policy and regulatory barriers to household energy access, for example by drawing African countries into the compact to accelerate clean energy access.99
In September 2015, the international Stiftung Solarenergie (Germany) started the Solar Entrepreneur Network for Decentralized Energy Access (Sendea), which seeks to enable solar entrepreneurs to create their own companies. Operating in East Africa and Asia, Sendea intends to establish solar villages for social impact, awareness creation and training; to implement a revolving fund to finance products for end-users; and to train solar technicians in technology, management and finance.100
The Path Forward
The demand for DRE systems remains a matter of prime social and economic significance for billions of people around the world. In many developing countries, political instability and corruption make it difficult to access financing for DRE projects, slowing advances despite positive technology developments.101 However, when backed by strong financing and investment, coupled with robust policy frameworks, DRE systems have proven to be both a reliable and affordable means for achieving access to modern energy services. DRE systems will only continue to grow more reliable and affordable as technological improvements and innovative business models enable them to spread to new markets. DRE systems stand at the centre of global efforts to induce a paradigm shift towards poverty eradication, green economies and, ultimately, sustainable development.