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A Special Series for the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information.

We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.

Learn more about the 2015 Skoll World Forum, sign up to our newsletter to be notified of the live stream, view the 2015 delegate roster and discover what themes and ideas we'll be covering this year at the event.


Let’s Tap Solar’s Flexibility to Increase Access to Energy

Let’s Tap Solar’s Flexibility to Increase Access to Energy

March 26, 2015 | 3312 views

Access to energy is a precondition for higher human and economic development. Yet energy poverty is still pervasive: 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and 2.6 billion people don’t have clean cooking facilities. More than 95 percent of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing countries in Asia, and 84 percent live in rural areas.

Energy paves the way to opportunities: better livelihoods, education, health, and quality of life. Without access to energy, people have little hope of achieving these things.

There are many surprising energy inequities in the developing world:

  • India is one of the fastest growing economies, but still has over 300 million people without electricity and another 700 million who rely on archaic cooking fuels like charcoal and kerosene.
  • Nigeria, the largest oil producing country in Africa, is second to India in the number of people living without electricity – around 80 million, and 117 million who use archaic cooking fuels.
  • Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of coal by weight and the eighth largest exporter of natural gas in 2011, has around 130 million people who rely on archaic fuels.

In a world where rapid progress in R&D is pushing the boundaries of technology, it seems grossly unjust that there are many who continue to live under such poor conditions.

Decentralized solar power generation can be part of an effective grassroots solution to local energy needs. But the technology is only part of the equation – a corresponding ecosystem needs to be developed to fully its potential.

Challenges remain in scaling solar solutions on the ground, because the ecosystem is fragmented. Problems include poor access to end-user credit, the lack of a skilled workforce, high costs of enterprise financing, a lack of grassroots-level R&D, and crippling government policies. These barriers discourage entrepreneurs and the promising ideas of local energy enterprises.

A collaborative approach that plugs gaps in the ecosystem is the need of the hour. Approaches are emerging that combine effective delivery models with technology suited to local contexts, in order to serve previously unreachable populations via individual and community ownership, public-private partnerships and mobile payment systems.

These approaches need to be coupled with a support system that fuels new ideas and eases the working conditions of local enterprises, who are better placed to understand the needs of underserved communities.

For those living in slum areas, remote villages, conflict zones, and hilly terrains, decentralized energy sources can be a more feasible solution not just for lighting but also for other purposes – powering machines (sewing machines, water pumps), cold storage (fridges to store fish and vegetables), educational tools (computers, tablets, projectors), and so on.

To effectively deliver a solution one must also devise suitable payment schemes, logistics and inventory management, and after-sales service. There needs to be a skilled workforce to market, install, and service solar power systems.

Providing sustainable energy solutions through diverse sources like decentralized solar are a crucial aspect of any integrated energy planning. The modularity of solar allows this flexibility. We don’t need to get stuck in thinking about energy solutions solely as centralized systems.


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