Solving complex development issues doesn’t usually come with a quick start manual. New findings, however, suggest that delivering electricity access to 1 billion rural poor may be an exception.
It is now well understood that universal electricity access by 2030 (a core part of U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 7 -SDG 7) can only be achieved if decentralized renewable energy (DRE) — green micro-grids and rooftop solar paired with storage and ultra-efficiency appliances — gets adequate finance to reach scale quickly. And that can only happen if leaders overseeing international finance and national policy undergo a major shift in mindset.
A report released by Power for All in April not only identifies the most important national energy policies needed to kick-start ending electricity poverty for 1.1 billion people, it also offers governments in low energy access countries a framework for implementing those policies effectively, in particular by integrating DRE (also known as distributed or “off-grid) solutions into overall energy market and infrastructure design.
The report centers on new quantitative and qualitative analysis from the Platform for Energy Access Knowledge (PEAK) — a joint project between the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), University of California, Berkeley and Power for All. PEAK examined the policies of five high-growth DRE markets — India and Bangladesh in Asia, and Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia in East Africa — to identify shared policies that correlate to growth.
“Decentralized renewable energy is the key to unlocking SDG 7. We’ve not only identified the policies necessary to jumpstart that process, but for the first time outlined specific actions that help national governments successfully implement these policies,” said Rebekah Shirley, Power for All research director and co-author of the report. “Energy access is possible, but only with political will and leadership at the national level.”
The Power for All report, titled “Decentralized Renewables: From Promise to Progress”, identified five policy levers that correlate to high-growth for DRE:
- Reduction of import duties and tariffs on DRE related products
- Support for the availability of local finance through loans and grants and microfinance
- Establishment of energy access targets or national commitments to electrification
- Establishment of rural electrification plans or programs that incorporate DRE
- Technical regulation through established licensing procedures for mini-grid operators and through adoption of quality standards for products and services
Sierra Leone is a case study of what is possible.
A year ago, the government of Sierra Leone embarked on a vision to achieve power for all, signing the first Energy Africa compact with the UK government. This resulted in the launch of the Sierra Leone Energy Revolution, a bold initiative to accelerate access to 250,000 homes by end of 2017 and provide universal electricity access by 2025.
An Energy Revolution Taskforce was established and spearheaded by Power for All to encourage multi-stakeholder collaboration to foster a market that could achieve these targets, as well as ensure sustainable DRE growth. And while the situation in every country is unique, Sierra Leone offers a successful roadmap for how other countries with the political will can spark their own energy revolution.
The taskforce, which was the mechanism for implementation of commitments by governments and stakeholders, became a platform for market activation: establishing the country’s first trade association, the Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL); Africa’s first quality-linked VAT/tariff exemption; demand creation and awareness campaigns that led to market growth (including a school campaign by Oxfam IBIS), and development of a micro-finance association to unlock local finance.
Power for All also facilitated media workshops to share knowledge about DRE with reporters and editors, convened access-to-finance workshops (which resulted in an innovative new MFI financing mechanism), and regular government training sessions.
In the past six months, Sierra Leone’s DRE market has grown over 10 times in size and attracted a dozen key DRE companies like Azuri Technologies, Barefoot Power, Mobile Power, Ignite Power, Greenlight Planet, d.light, and TOTAL (Awango).
Based on the success of in-country market activations like the one in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Nigeriathe report offers a clear roadmap for the actions other energy-poor countries can take to replicate success. And action is needed, according to the recently released 2017 Global Tracking Framework, which concluded that the world is far from being on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7.
The report makes three recommendations on policy implementation and process, including:
- Setting the target: set clear goals for decentralized renewables in national policies and rural electrification plans
- Ending the implementation gap: institute decentralized energy in integrated energy planning so that grid extension, mini-grids, and standalone systems are given equal consideration
- Instituting collaborative policy design: DRE multi-stakeholder-led policy-making that includes government, private sector, funding and civil society actors
In order to measure progress, Power for All also created an Energy Access Target Tracker (EATT), which for the first time indexed the 48 energy-poorest countries and their national energy access targets, and determines which are best prepared to achieve universal electrification and which are not. Currently, more than two-thirds of the countries lack a rural energy access target, while more than 75 percent lack targets for distributed renewables. The 48 countries together account for 540 million rural unelectrified, more than half of the global total.
DRE, already providing energy services to 60 million Africans, is poised for further growth thanks to huge reductions in cost, increasing access to finance, innovative business models and new ultra-efficient appliances. But true scale will only happen if national policies are put in place in all energy-poor countries. Several national governments are showing the way. Now is the opportunity for others to follow.
William Brent is the Director of communications at Power For All, promoting the campaign all over the world. One of “The Top 100 People Shaping Cleantech on Twitter”, he is a recognized leader at the intersection of distributed renewable energy and integrated marketing and communications. William was also a foreign correspondent and editor for many years, and still contributes regularly to leading media outlets.