Distributed renewables for energy access (DREA)isystems are renewable-based systems (stand-alone and off-grid systems as well as micro- or mini-grids) that can generate and distribute energy independently of a centralised electricity grid. DREA systems provide a wide range of services – including lighting, electricity for appliances, cooking, heating and cooling – in both urban and rural areas of the developing world. They can play a key role in fulfiling energy needs and improving the livelihoods of millions of people living in rural and remote parts of the world.

Already, an estimated 5% of the population in Africa and 2% of the population in Asia – or nearly 150 million people across these two regions – benefit from energy access through off-grid solar systems.1 Among the 20 so-called high-impact countriesii, Bangladesh has an off-grid solar access rate of around 9%, Mongolia of 8% and Nepal of 6%.2 ( See Figure 39.)


150 million

people across Africa and Asia benefit from energy access through off-grid solar systems.

DREA systems traditionally have provided basic services such as lighting and cooking to off-grid communities. However, because of their reliability, short installation time, improved cost-benefit ratio and the emergence of financial schemes that reduce upfront cost, DREA systems are being considered increasingly as either a complement to or, in some situations, a substitute for centralised power generation. DREA systems have the added benefit of reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports. In remote areas with low population densities, DREA systems are often the fastest and most cost-effective means for providing people with electricity, making these systems a compelling proposition for rapidly achieving energy access goals.3

DREA systems offer an opportunity to accelerate the transition to modern energy services in remote and rural areas while also offering social, environmental and economic co-benefits, such as:

reduced chronic and acute health effects, especially for women and children;

improved lighting quality for households;

increased school retention and improved grades for children;

increased income for small and medium-sized businesses (including farmers); and

reduced negative impacts on forests.4

This chapter reviews the current status of and trends in DREA in developing countries and presents an overview of the major programmes and initiatives launched or operational in 2018.

Figure 39
Source: World Bank. See endnote 2 for this chapter.

iSee Sidebar 9 of GSR 2014 for more on the definition and conceptualisation of DREA. Note that since 2018 the GSR has used the acronym DREA to distinguish from distributed renewable energy (DRE) that has no link to providing energy access.i

iiThese 20 countries account for more than two-thirds of the people living without electricity and four-fifths of the people who rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating. The high-impact countries, as identified in the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework report, are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.ii