To achieve universal energy access for more than a billion people living in energy poverty by 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated in 2010 that it would would cost $700 billion and take 20 years. Even as the United Nations and member states have identified universal energy access as an imperative, the prospects for achieving it are dim. Last month the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All Forum released an update that admits little progress has been made.

If the current framework is failing, it is time to challenge the $700 billion mindset.

Power for All, a global campaign founded by businesses and NGOs – including d.light, GOGLA, Greenlight Planet, Off-Grid Electric, Practical Action, and Solar Aid – challenges the conventional wisdom that we need to spend the equivalent of the GDP of Saudia Arabia to achieve universal access. Power for All advances decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions as the fastest, most cost-effective and climate-resilient approach to universal energy access. Together, we know we can end energy poverty before 2030, for one-tenth of the cost that experts predict.

How do we know? Together the Power for All founders – all focused on decentralized renewable energy – are already providing energy to nearly 15 million customers; that is more than some of the largest electrical utility companies in the world. Our sector’s success is based on giving customers in rural un-electrified areas (who account for the vast majority of those without access) an opportunity to create their own power at a scale they can use, and a price they can afford. The result? A revolution in the way power is generated, used and paid for.

A growing range of proven, scalable off-grid options – encompassing a wide range of distributed generation and decentralized renewable energy solutions, including pico solar, pay-as-you-go home systems, mini-grids and mobile solar farms – are immediately deployable and widely affordable.

At the same time that the $700 billion mindset has failed to drive change at an acceptable pace, the DRE sector has been hard at work creating a new paradigm that is democratizing energy access through social enterprise. Energy consumers have proven in large numbers that they can and will pay market prices for modern power solutions. The under-electrified want to be active participants in creating energy access for themselves, their families, and their communities.

What’s more, evidence suggests that DRE, based on an achievable growth rate, can deliver universal energy access in half the time for 10 percent of the cost predicted by the IEA.

Power for All’s predictions rest on leveraging the power of the market to rapidly sell quality energy access products and services to the energy impoverished at a scale they can use and price they can afford. To achieve this, we must challenge the $700 billion mindset and the policy framework behind it. The cost, timelines, and recommendations proposed by the IEA excuse the slow growth in access to power, and must be questioned in order to create a new paradigm for change.

We must pursue better, faster paths to universal energy access: market-based distributed solutions that directly engage the energy impoverished in creating their own renewable energy and controlling their own destinies. We all have a role to play. The ecosystem of universal energy access – industry, governments, donors, NGOs, investors and energy consumers – all need to respond to specific calls to action that will advance decentralized renewable power and help bring power to millions by 2025:

  • Include decentralized renewables in energy policy: Governments can facilitate the market with policies such as reducing tariff barriers on renewables (duties and value-added taxes) and including distributed renewables in national energy policies.
  • Mobilize capital for the entire value chain: Investors, multi-lateral agencies, banks and global finance initiatives can accelerate the market by earmarking funds specifically for decentralized renewables, including financing for pay-as-you-go and distribution.
  • Focus on market-building and policy grantmaking: Development agencies and foundations can accelerate universal energy access by directing funds toward sustainable market-building that directly engages the energy impoverished in creating their own energy.
  • Drive higher quality and efficiency: The broader decentralized renewable sector can accelerate access by ensuring high-quality, affordable, clean and safe products and services; expanding the range of efficient devices; and making energy access more affordable.
  • Choose renewable, distributed, democratized power: Energy consumers who choose renewable and decentralized power – ranging from zero net energy buildings to solar home systems – grow legitimacy for the sector and the solutions needed to deliver universal energy access.

By focusing on these key accelerators that will help leapfrog “business as usual” energy delivery – just as mobile phones leapfrogged landlines in the developing world – we know we can achieve universal energy access in half the time for a fraction of the anticipated costs. Energy access doesn’t have to wait.