It was a pleasure speaking with everyone last week on the topic of technology in developing markets – specifically on the role of technology in off-grid electricity and energy access, which is often the foundation for many other pillars of Maslow’s hierarchy, including health, communication, irrigation, etc.
For a brief summary of my presentation, I’ve bulleted out the primary points here:
- The issue/challenge: About 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.7 billion people lack access to clean cooking facilities, with over 95% of those impacted living in Sub-Saharan Africa and Developing Asia. One billion people are served by health facilities without electricity.
- While developing countries are investing in grid infrastructure and expansion, there are large portions of the population that will not have access to electricity by 2030 – this is where off-grid technologies and renewable energy solutions play a major role
- Trends in the off-grid energy industry:
- Shift in mindset – organizations like the UN are directing efforts towards the issue of energy poverty and successfully bringing these challenges to the forefront
- Increased private sector involvement – the private sector recognizes an immediate $37 billion industry in off-grid electricity/energy services
- Advances in technology – Advances in energy and IT technology have driven down costs and made solutions more affordable – the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for wind and solar installations has fallen by over 50% since 2008
- Increased mobile connectivity and adoption of mobile money – Sub-Saharan Africa and Developing Asia have leapfrogged telecommunication technology – average mobile phone penetration across 40 sub-Saharan African countries has reached 31%5 while mobile phone penetration in the Asia Pacific region has reached 89%
- Types of off-grid energy solutions
- Improved cookstoves
- Household-level devices – small solar lanterns ($10 – $50), etc.
- Household-level systems – solar home systems ($100 – $250), etc.
- Micro-grids/mini-grids – community-level utility systems, more complicated, $3-$10 per watt installed for solar systems
- What does all this mean?
- Technology is enabling innovative business models and energy solutions to bring electricity to parts of the world that are not currently served by and may never be served by large grid infrastructure. The future impacts are not clear, though energy is the foundation for further economic development, improved healthcare systems, improved education, improved agriculture, etc. – the impact of technology will be massive and change the way we think about electrification and development.