As the energy sector is transforming, there is a growing consensus that sustainable energy is a catalyst for achieving most Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): it is crucial for better health, education, jobs, food production and conservation, as well as water use and quality.
This transformation involves decentralized solutions that are changing how people interact with each other and their energy providers. It influences the role of citizens not only as consumers but also as “prosumers” or energy entrepreneurs.
Access to energy
Access to energy is not just an end in itself. It is also a stepping stone to overcome two major challenges the world is facing:
mitigating climate change and degradation of natural resources
ensuring that all people everywhere are able to take charge of their own lives in inclusive and open societies
Where does energy come into the picture?
Traditionally, having access to energy often meant you had to live near a power grid or rely on diesel and kerosene or firewood. But the urgency of combating climate change, combined with technological advances and significant price reductions, has rapidly increased the availability and affordability of renewable energy. In addition, the move from centralized power distribution to decentralized off-grid and mini-grid systems powered by renewables is gaining strength. This would make much more energy available for disadvantaged communities and remote areas.
To move forward, policies must become more supportive while energy finance needs to fundamentally change. Currently, the main problem is not a lack of finance, but how finance flows – mainly to on-grid systems in higher income countries – while the greatest need is for off-grid systems in lower income areas.
Sumba: a frontrunner example of energy transition
The Indonesian island of Sumba is a frontrunner example of an ambitious and innovative energy transition. Hivos introduced the Sumba Iconic Island initiative in 2009, and it has since become living proof that decentralized sustainable energy systems positively affect green, inclusive growth. This initiative succeeded thanks to its multi-stakeholder approach with governments (local and national), private sector, and community-based organizations closely working together. Through decentralized mini-grid and off-grid solutions, the project has provided energy access for more people than ever before. In addition, Sumba stands as an inspiring example for local citizens and the Indonesian government of the opportunities renewable energy brings.
Leaving no one behind
Transitioning to decentralized energy systems will be one of the key success factors for achieving SDG7 before 2030. If we want to create sustainable and resilient societies, we have to focus on the millions that still lack even basic energy services, while also drawing attention to the current inequalities in global energy systems. In particular, we must empower women and youth to become entrepreneurs in the green energy transition.
Working alongside local partners on the ground, we can make sure that future energy systems are developed with the end-user in mind. This means creating more enabling environments for energy entrepreneurship and channeling both public and private finance into decentralized solutions for low-income communities and remote rural areas. In countries such as Kenya and Nepal, the government has already successfully implemented financial pay-as-you-go models with personalized repayment schemes. Yet these best practices need to materialize faster and on a much larger scale if we are serious about leaving no one behind.
Another decisive component for universal energy access is the presence of multi-stakeholder initiatives. Without partnerships, the transition will struggle to pick up speed. This is why Hivos led the creation of the Brooklyn Coalition in 2017 to accelerate the uptake of decentralized renewable energy. Uniting the governments of the Netherlands, Nepal and Kenya, private sector actors Schneider Electric and Selco, and the CSOs Hivos, ENERGIA and SNV, this coalition works to promote green societies where citizens are the driving force behind new solutions for their energy needs. Here, there is a big role to play for organizations that represent civil society at the UN’s High-level Political Forum (HLPF) review of SDG7.
Equally important is the interlinkage with other SDGs. Energy access is also vital for sustainable production, resilient water resources and inclusive cities. Providing energy for households, communities and workplaces forms the basis of thriving societies.
With great progress in many countries worldwide, there is good reason to be optimistic. Now, we must stress the continued need for enabling policies and investment in decentralized renewable energy solutions to complement grid systems and bring everyone along in the green energy transition.