Inactive windmill used as platform for solar panel to pump water into corrugated dam, near Fraserburg in the Northern Cape. Source: dpreezg @123rf.com
Off-grid and decentralised renewable energy systems are emerging as the go-to for facilitating energy access and resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where the bulk of the world’s unelectrified citizens find themselves.
Globally the percentage of people who have access to electricity has risen gradually in recent decades, but the latest figures in IRENA’s Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report 2022 say more than 733 million people remain without basic access.
A new report from IRENA – Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics 2022 – shows that off-grid renewables are growing despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report provides statistics covering 2012 to 2021, looking at mini-grids, biogas for cooking and lighting, off-grid solar lights, pumps and home solar systems across Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Oceania, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
For the most part statistics on the use of off-grid renewables go unrecorded, but IRENA have drawn extensively on the work done by global association for the off-grid solar energy industry, GOGLA in partnership with IFC Lighting Global and the Efficiency for Access Coalition on the Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report.
Dennis Akane, IRENA Associate Programme Officer, Statistics: “IRENA’s Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics publication captures the major trends in off-grid renewable energy deployment that are often unrecorded in countries. It is an essential tool for monitoring and measuring the role of off-grid renewables to achieve the energy transition and universal energy access by 2030.”
Off-grid renewables improving people’s lives
Rural communities with no access to electricity often use polluting and expensive lighting sources such as kerosene lamps or candles, the fumes of which can cause serious health problems. At the same time, a lack of electricity in health centers can result in disastrous outcomes for patients.
With support from policymakers, private investors, and end users alike, the number of people using off-grid solar lights has increased dramatically from 15.4 million in 2012 to 112 million in 2021.
In Africa alone, the number of people benefitting from off-grid solar lights has reached 52.6 million in 2021, according to the report.
Over the years, interventions to improve access to energy have focused on electricity and have often neglected non-electricity household energy needs, especially for cooking. The use of inefficient stoves is a major contributor to indoor pollution, which has detrimental impacts on the health of women and children.
While large numbers of people still depend on wood and charcoal for cooking, the use of biogas as a clean cooking solution has been expanding across African and Asian countries, improving living conditions and helping to reduce the effects of climate change. As of 2021, over 122 million people benefit from biogas for cooking, the report shows.