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Member Spotlight – December 2016 | Energy Access Practitioner Network

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Member Spotlight – December 2016

Member Spotlight: REN21

RE-THINKING ENERGY ACCESS
Laura E. Williamson, Communication and Outreach Manager, REN21

REN21 is the global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network that connects a wide range of key actors. REN21’s goal is to facilitate knowledge exchange, policy development and joint action towards a rapid global transition to renewable energy.

Much of the world faces the twin challenges of providing modern energy services and mitigating climate change. The provision of basic energy access to over one billion people around the world and the subsequent economic development triggered are likely to lead to a significant increase in energy demand.  Meeting this demand calls for a major energy shift and must be driven by the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency if we are to achieve 100% energy access.

Clean energy, defined as renewable energy and energy efficiency, is playing an increasingly important role in the provision of energy services worldwide.  Renewable energy technologies are mushrooming across the globe at an unprecedented rate while the growth in the global economy is starting to decouple from energy-related carbon emissions as a result of the adoption of energy efficiency measures and technologies.[i]

REN21 GSR 2016: Solar India – Woman cleaning solar panel. Photo credit: DfID.

REN21 GSR 2016: Solar India – Woman cleaning solar panel. Photo credit: DfID.

However, providing energy access is not a one-off approach; rather, it consists of a myriad of approaches.  Nowhere can this be more clearly illustrated that in the power sector. Here access can involve grid-connected renewables, off-grid renewables via mini and micro-grids and stand-alone systems such as solar home systems (SHS). These systems can be used individually or in combination and can be coupled with energy efficiency on both the supply and demand sides.

This article touches briefly on these approaches and sketches out why providing universal electricity access involves a complete rethink of the power sector both in how electricity is generated and how it is used.


Rapid renewable energy growth, particularly in the power sector, is driven by several factors, including the improved cost-competitiveness of renewable technologies, dedicated policy initiatives, better access to financing, energy security and environmental concerns, growing demand for energy in developing and emerging economies, and the need for access to modern energy. Consequently, new markets for both centralized and distributed renewable energy are emerging in all regions of the world.

REN21 GSR 2016: Solar India Engineers. Photo credit: DfID

REN21 GSR 2016: Solar India Engineers. Photo credit: DfID

Grid integration of high shares of renewables power, in particular variable renewable energy, is technically feasible.  It however needs to be planned and designed in a holistic manner, taking into account technical and institutional issues, regulatory and policy frameworks and market design.

Mini-grids are becoming a key player for cost-effective and reliable electrification of rural areas. The IEA estimates that 36% of total investments towards achieving universal access by 2030 will be targeted towards mini-grid efforts, with the vast majority (over 90%) coming from renewable energy generation.[iii]  Mini grids are rapidly emerging as a viable option for providing energy services in sub-Saharan Africa and South and East Asia,[iv] and the hybridization of mini-grids is increasingly popular, especially in countries that have been powering their existing mini-grids with diesel.

Photo credit: World Bank

Photo credit: World Bank

Micro and pico-hydro stations (1kW) also offer a very affordable source of electricity for many communities.  Many countries or states are currently developing mini-grid policies to regulate the sector and support its development through incentives and schemes.

Off-grid stand-alone/isolated renewable energy systems are no longer considered as an expensive option for energy access due, in large part, to rapidly decreasing costs and the development of innovative and IT-supported business models. According to the most recent data, some 20 million households are powered by solar home systems, and 0.8 million households are supplied by small-scale wind turbines.[v]  Coupled with the explosive growth of companies selling solar pico-PV systems across Asia and Africa,is the rising level of investment in off-grid companies. Investment has increased considerably in recent years, reaching USD 276 million in 2015.[vi]  The cumulative investment total since 2011 is USD 511 million.[vii]  ren21-4

Once overlooked, energy efficiency is being seen increasingly as a key tool in delivering modern and clean energy services. Energy efficiency offers the unique opportunity of enhancing the deployment of renewable energy and pursuing energy access objectives.

Demand-side energy efficiency reduces peak loads, thus lowering considerably the level of investment required to meet high energy demand at peak hours.  This reduction in demand allows more people to be supplied with energy services with the same power production capacity.  Energy efficiency also lowers energy costs, providing households with the option to spend less on energy services or move up the energy ladder. Perhaps most importantly, energy efficiency options for energy access can complement renewable energy, as they permit greater levels of services for the same power levels.

Supply-side energy efficiency measures can reduce technical losses due to inefficient equipment and poor maintenance and non-technical loses usually attributed to theft and the underpricing of electricity. Non-technical losses also reduce the quality of electricity supply to end users, which has implications for economic and social development.

 

Photo credit: REN21

Photo credit: REN21

Grid-connected, off-grid renewables, and energy efficiency have been seen traditionally as three separate options. Today it is necessary to interlink them, ensuring that all the relevant institutions are involved to design the policy and regulatory frameworks and finance mechanisms. It is also necessary to demonstrate to decision makers in developing countries as well as development banks, the finance world and investors that:

  • renewable energy can provide a reliable basis for power supply, regardless of its variability;
  • the integration of high shares of renewable energy is possible;
  • distributed renewable energy markets are growing and represent an increasing share of renewable energy and energy markets; and
  • off-grid renewables and energy efficiency can help meet energy access objectives in more rapidly.

Providing universal access for all involves a complete rethink of how energy is generated and used.  The nexus of renewable energy, grid-connected and off-grid, and energy efficiency offer the opportunity to rethink and re-design how we generate and provide energy to power those services needed to ignite the necessary innovations and create the required environment to tackle energy poverty.

REN21 invites all players to participate in the collaborative effort to produce a comprehensive Renewables Global Status Report that illustrates the developments in the distributed renewable energy (DRE) sector.  If you would like to contribute, please fill in the DRE questionnaire (see below) or contact us  GSR@ren21.net

The online questionnaire is available at REN21+: http://ren21plus.ren21.net/. Please follow the user instructions available at: http://bit.ly/2eO0U3j 

 


[i]https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WEO2015SpecialReportonEnergyandClimateChange.pdf

[ii] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2016 http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment/energyaccessprojections/

[iii] IEA, 2011

[iv] http://www-cif.climateinvestmentfunds.org/sites/default/files/events/kenya-action-learning/mini-grid-background-in-global-setting.pdf

[v] IRENA 2015

[vi] REN21 Renewables Global Status Report 2016, Paris.

[vii] Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Global Off-grid Lighting Association and Lighting Global