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Emergence of the Off-Grid Sector to Fill Energy Access Gaps


Globally, access to electricity has increased significantly over the past few decades, but the most recent data from Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report 2022 show that more than 733 million people still lack even basic access. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which experience some of the largest disparities in energy access rates worldwide, off-grid and decentralized energy systems have developed as a substitute to support energy access and resilience in a flexible and adaptive fashion.

The new report “Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics 2022” published by IRENA demonstrates that the use of renewable energy sources that are not connected to the grid is continuing to increase, despite the constraints posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This report contains statistics for the period of 2012–2021 encompassing mini-grids, biogas for cooking and lighting, off-grid solar lights, pumps, and home solar systems spanning Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

“The Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics release by IRENA captures the significant trends in off-grid renewable energy installations that are generally unreported in countries. According to Dennis Akande, Associate Programme Officer for Statistics at IRENA, “It is a crucial tool for monitoring and quantifying the role of off-grid renewables to achieving the energy transition and universal energy access by the year 2030.”

In rural areas where there is no access to electricity, people frequently resort to using polluting and expensive lighting sources like kerosene lamps or candles. The fumes from these sources can cause serious health problems; meanwhile, a lack of electricity in health centers can result in disastrous outcomes for patients. However, with backing from politicians, private investors, and end users alike, the number of people utilizing off-grid solar lighting has climbed substantially, from 15.4 million in 2012 to 112 million in 2021. According to the analysis, the total number of people in Africa who benefited from off-grid solar lights in 2021 reached 52.6 million.

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Over the years, efforts to promote access to energy have primarily focused on increasing access to electricity and have frequently disregarded the non-electrical energy demands of households, particularly those relating to cooking. The use of stoves that are not energy efficient is a major contributor to indoor pollution, which has negative effects on the health of women and children. Although a vast number of people still rely on wood and charcoal for cooking, the use of biogas as a clean cooking solution has been spreading across African and Asian countries. This has improved living conditions and contributed to the reduction of the consequences of climate change. According to the findings of the survey, there will be more than 122 million people using biogas as a source of fuel for their kitchen stoves by the year 2023.

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