The London-based Overseas Development Institute has produced new research showing the value of off-grid power over centralized grid generation in assisting the world’s poor gain access to energy.

The ODI’s report highlighted the benefit of funding such as solar-home systems and clean energy microgrids, and the knock-on effect on economic development. There are currently in the region of 1 billion people, mainly in Africa and South Asia, living without electricity.

Overseas Development Institute
The United Nations has set a target for everyone to have access to sustainable, affordable energy by 2030 and the report is the first attempt to develop a framework that can quantify the financial, educational and environmental dividends for households that get quick access to clean, off-grid power.

At the same time, if households in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya replace kerosene lamps with solar-powered lighting they could each save about $10 a month, said report author Andrew Scott.

“Add that up for a year, and you’re getting to quite a significant freeing up of income that could be used for other purposes,” he said, adding the figure varies according to country, household consumption and fuel prices.

In addition, cutting kerosene use brings large reductions in black-carbon emissions, equivalent to as much as 330 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year in Ethiopia.

The three countries studied together account for more than 180 million people living without electricity, according to clean energy groups Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and Power for All which backed the report.

Rachel Kyte, CEO of SEforALL, a body set up to help reach the UN energy goal, said data on how people are held back by staying in the dark is a powerful weapon to persuade governments to act fast.

“When you walk into that minister’s office … you’ve got to be able to say … this is the opportunity cost to your people of not helping them get access to affordable, reliable, clean energy now,” she said on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Bonn.

Kristina Skierka, CEO of Power for All, a campaign that promotes decentralised renewables in countries including India and Nigeria, said these energy sources could be provided in weeks or months – far faster than connecting people to national grids, which often rely on fossil fuels.

“It’s a lack of knowledge,” she said. “These governments care about people having better lives … We want to close the information gap.”