|| The number of people living without electricity access has, after several decades of dedicated effort, dipped below one billion in 2016. The world is steadily progressing towards universal
access to electricity, with the global electrification rate reaching 87% in 2016. Access rates in rural areas – where most of those without access live – have been growing rapidly and now stand at about 76% (WorldBank Group, 2018). Strong political commitment to the energy access agenda at the national and global level, combined with financing, local entrepreneurship and technological innovations, have set the stage for a final push towards universal electricity access by 2030 – a target within the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7).
Today we have the technologies and the solutions that can dramatically accelerate the growth trajectory of electricity access. Off-grid renewable energy solutions, including stand-alone systems and mini-grids, have emerged as a mainstream, cost-competitive option to expand access to electricity. Tremendous progress has been made in recent years as technology costs have plummeted, innovation in delivery models and financing has picked up, and a more diverse set of stakeholders, including communities, local entrepreneurs and the private sector, have become engaged in the sector. The number of people benefiting from off-grid renewable energy solutions grew six-fold between 2011 and 2016, reaching more than 133 million (IRENA, 2018a). Besides providing electricity services for households, off-grid solutions are also increasingly supporting public services (e.g., education, water and primary health care) and livelihoods (e.g., in agriculture).
Off-grid renewable energy solutions represent a viable electrification solution that is rapidly scalable, environmentally sustainable, can be tailored to local conditions and, importantly, has
the potential to empower rural communities, especially the youth and women. The next phase of expansion will require these solutions to play a fundamental role. It is estimated that by 2030, renewable energy sources will power over 60% of new electricity access, and stand-alone and mini-grid systems will provide the means for almost half of new access (IEA, 2017).
This brief takes stock of the opportunity at hand – detailing the dynamism and the innovations in the off-grid renewable energy sector. Building on IRENA’s growing body of work on the topic, it
highlights the latest trends and advancements, including innovations in delivery and financing models, and discusses the policy and regulatory measures governments are taking to harness the potential of off-grid renewables for meeting SDG 7 on energy, as well as several other SDGs.