Off-grid electricity: The next leapfrog technology?
In many parts of the developing world, mobile phone technology has leapfrogged traditional communications infrastructure, enabling remote people who have never had a land line to talk, transfer money and connect with the world through a handheld device. Today, off-grid electricity is emerging as the latest leapfrog technology, bringing light and the ability to power small appliances to hundreds of thousands of people who are not connected to an electricity grid.
Off-grid electricity, the focus of multiple OPIC-supported projects, was the subject of a recent piece in The Economist, which noted that “off-grid solar is spreading at an electrifying pace.”
“An industry that barely existed a few years ago is now thought to be providing power to perhaps 600,000 households in Africa,” notes the report, which says that off-grid connections could, within a few years, outstrip the rate at which people are being connected to the grid, if the current pace of growth continues.
It is not clear exactly how many people around the world have accessed electricity through an off-grid solution such as a home solar kit. However, a growing number of businesses are offering home solar kits and other off-grid solutions that are not only affordable to low-income families but also portable, easy to install and use … and sustainable. In many remote parts of the developing world, from India to Sub-Saharan Africa, off-grid electricity is also more cost effective than grid extensions.
The U.S. Power Africa initiative, an ambitious program to expand access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of people have none, recognizes the importance of off-grid solutions. The Power Africa Beyond the Grid sub-initiative is aimed at reaching the estimated 20 million African households that live off the grid. To date, more than one-third of the 19 Power Africa projects OPIC has committed have been small renewable or off-grid projects.