Distributed renewables for energy access (DREA)i systems are renewable-based systems (stand-alone off-grid systems as well as mini-grids) that can generate and distribute energy independently of a centralised electricity grid. DREA systems provide a wide range of services – including for lighting, consumer and productive appliances, cooking, space heating and cooling – in both urban and rural areas of the developing world. They represent a key solution for fulfilling modern energy needs and improving the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people presently lacking access to electricity or clean cooking solutions. For example, mini-grids and stand-alone systems are considered to be the least-cost option for providing electricity access to nearly half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.1

DREA systems already provide electricity access to more than 14% of the combined populations of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar and Rwanda.2 In 2017, the countries with the highest rates of electricity access from off-grid solar were Nepal (at around 11%), Mongolia (8%), Bangladesh (8%) and Rwanda (6%).3 ( See Figure 41.) Around 60% of the population in Papua New Guinea, and 35% in Vanuatu, relied on off-grid solar lighting systems that year.4

Because of their improved reliability, lower technology costs and the emergence of innovative financial schemes that improve accessibility, DREA systems are increasingly being considered as either a complement to, or in some situations a substitute for, traditional centralised approaches. Several countries, such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda, have developed integrated electrification strategies around both grid-based and DREA systems in their efforts to reach universal access in a cost-effective and timely manner.5

Figure 41

Note: Data in figure include solar home systems and mini-grids but exclude solar lights. Data are rounded to the nearest ones. Tier 1+ access technologies include small solar home systems (11-50 W), large solar home systems (>50 W) and mini-grids.

Source: World Bank. See endnote 3 for this chapter.

Similarly, many countries, such as India, Indonesia and Nepal, are adopting key policy measures to accelerate the transition to clean cooking fuels and technologies.6

Beyond the opportunity to accelerate energy access in many regions of the world, DREA systems offer social, environmental and economic co-benefits, such as:

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

improved lighting quality for households;

increased income and resilience for rural livelihood enterprises, including small and medium-sized businesses;

improved delivery of public services such as health care and education; and

reduced negative impacts on forests.7

In South Asia, 94% of off-grid solar customers reported improvements in their quality of life, and 11% of households using the systems saw about a 10% increase in their monthly incomes.8

The DREA sector is a

significant employer

in emerging economies and has wide, positive impact through formal, informal and productive use jobs.

In East Africa, 89% of off-grid solar customers reported improved health, and for 28% of customers their monthly incomes increased (by 14% on average).9 Among students using off-grid solar lighting in East Africa, the majority reported having much more time to dedicate to their education after the school day, as a result of longer and more reliable lighting hours.10

The rapid deployment of DREA systems has had a positive effect on job creation in many countries. The DREA sector accounted for some 95,000 formal jobs in India, 10,000 in Kenya and 4,000 in Nigeria.11 Overall, in East, West and Central Africa, as well as in South Asia, an estimated 370,000 people work full-time in the off-grid solar sector.12 ( See Sidebar 2.)

This chapter reviews the current status of and trends in the DREA sector in developing countries and presents an overview of the major programmes and initiatives launched or operational in 2019.

iSee Sidebar 9 in 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

iiSee Sidebar 9 in GSR 2015 on women and distributed renewables for energy access. ii



Access to Electricity

BOX 1. Energy-Efficient Appliances

Access to Clean Cooking Facilities



Access to electricity

Access to Clean Cooking Facilities



Access to Electricity

Access to Clean Cooking Facilities

Table 4. Distributed Renewables Policies for Electricity Access, Selected Countries, 2019

Table 5. Distributed Renewables Policies for Clean Cooking Access, Selected Countries, 2019