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Pathways for Clean Energy Access

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The CEM's Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) has prepared a new infographic outlining the key pathways to energy access. It depicts the range of clean energy technologies that can be applied in different energy access contexts, across the complete energy ladder.
Around the world, more than 1 billion people lack access to electricity, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Improving access to clean and affordable energy services for these populations will be a critical driver for poverty reduction as well as improved health and social outcomes.

Improving energy access is a complex challenge, so it’s no surprise that solutions designed to address it are also multi-faceted. Extending the central grid to many rural communities is often not economically viable, but these unserved populations can gain access to electricity through a growing range of technologies that provide increasing levels of service. 

Decentralized clean energy technologies such as off-grid solar lanterns, solar home systems and mini-grids displace dirty fuels such as kerosene and diesel. As component costs (e.g., solar photovoltaic panels, battery storage, and LEDs) fall and market shares increase, these clean technologies are bringing more modern energy services within reach for vast new segments of un- and under-electrified populations. 

The Clean Energy Ministerial's Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) has prepared a new infographic that outlines the key pathways to energy access, highlighting the range of clean energy technologies that can be applied in different energy access contexts. As the infographic illustrates, solar-powered lights are the first step on an energy ladder that extends from devices at one end of the spectrum to 24/7 power provided through mini-grids and the central grid. 

The Pathways to Energy Access Infographic is available in several formats:

Global LEAP is providing targeted support to help catalyze the development of commercial markets for many of these energy access solutions. 

Household Lighting Devices and Energy Systems 

An indoor lighting system. Photo courtesy of Global LEAP.
At the device level, Global LEAP is working with the Lighting Global program to provide a quality assurance framework for affordable solar-powered lighting devices. Since 2008, Lighting Global has enabled the sale of 7.7 million modern lights in Africa alone. Quality assurance helps strengthen consumer and investor confidence, which is essential to catalyze growth in the off-grid lighting market. 

Because un- and under-electrified populations need more than light, this quality assurance work is being expanded to larger solar home system kits that can support additional household energy needs, beyond lighting and device charging. 


At the community level, mini-grids and micro-grids are a critical pathway to energy access. The International Energy Agency projects that more than 40% of total investments made to achieve universal energy goals by 2030 must be directed to mini- and micro-grids. 

Renewable energy mini-grid. Photo: NREL

Mini- and micro-grids can be powered by a range of energy sources, including renewable energy sources alone, or renewables used in combination with fossil fuels. Mini-grids can vary in size from 100 kilowatts to megawatt-scale. 

Although mini-grid technologies are relatively mature, mini-grid development in energy access markets is ad-hoc and fragmented, which creates a major barrier to the scale-up and aggregation needed to attract private sector investments required to deploy mini-grids at the needed scale. To address these challenges, Global LEAP is supporting the development of a mini-grids quality assurance framework. It will define standard technical categories and uniform operational elements for mini-grids, and it will preserve flexibility by accounting for the different levels of service that are appropriate for different tiers of end-user needs. 

Central Grid Connection 

Connection to the central grid will continue to be an important pathway to energy access both in the short- and long-term, especially for dense population centers (e.g., in urban and surrounding “peri-urban” areas). A reliable central grid can provide sufficient power for homes, businesses, industry, and other services. However, the grid in many parts of the world is very unreliable, and in some cases distributed solutions such as mini-grids can be used to provide service that is as good or better than the national grid. 

Energy Efficiency’s Role in Meeting Energy Access Goals 

Energy service—not energy supply—accomplishes the human and environmental goals of energy access. While clean energy supply technologies can provide pathways to energy access, demand-side considerations are equally important in achieving energy access goals. Energy efficiency is a powerful and regularly overlooked demand-side driver of energy access, maximizing the delivery of energy service while minimizing the financial, social, and environmental costs of energy supply. 

High-quality, super-efficient off-grid appliances require less energy and reduce the size of the off-grid energy systems needed to run them, lowering costs considerably and making modern energy services affordable for a greater share of the world’s population. For example, emerging Global LEAP analysis shows that super-efficient off-grid appliances can reduce the price of solar home systems by up to 50% relative to conventional appliance packages. 

Industry networking at 2015 PlugFest event.
Because the nexus between energy efficiency and energy access is an area of tremendous opportunity, Global LEAP partners are working to support thriving commercial markets for affordable, super-efficient, high-quality appliances and equipment to support off-grid household, community, and income-generating end uses. This work includes the Global LEAP Awards program, which recognizes outstanding off-grid appliances in key product categories. In addition, Global LEAP organizes complementary industry networking events, and it hosted a 2014 “PlugFest” to help off-grid energy service providers and appliance manufacturers connect, identify interoperability barriers, and exchange information. 

By working on both sides of the energy access equation—supporting markets for both quality off-grid clean energy supply technologies and super-efficient off-grid appliances—Global LEAP and its partners are helping to transform the lives of households and communities around the world.

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