Enabling Affordable Transition in the Global South

1st December, 2021

“Net-zero by 2050” has become the mantra of a generation trying to tackle to climate change, as a growing number of governments and businesses around the world pledge to somehow become carbon neutral within three decades. This is no mean feat, even for a country in, let’s say, the Nordics, with developed infrastructure, deep pockets, and a population willing to pay a premium for the benefit of the planet. However, for many developing countries that lack significant grid coverage and widespread electricity access, there are many hoops to jump through before ambitious carbon reduction targets can be made a priority.

The UN has identified basic energy access for 100% of the world’s population as one of their Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. In 2019, global progress towards that target was at 90%. That progress, however, is not equally distributed across the world: globally, 759 million people lack access to basic energy, and as many as 1.1 billion people lack access to modern electricity services. Although this number is shrinking steadily, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed many of the gains made in recent years.

So Why Does Electrification Matter?

Stable and reliable electricity changes everything – for the individual, community, and society. Suddenly, you are able to light your home to enable working after dark, charge a smartphone, power household appliances that save hours of work every single day or keep food hygienic and edible. Many communities that are yet to have access to electricity rely on heavily polluting fuels – such as kerosene, biomass, and coal – to cook, impacting not just climate change through CO2 emissions, but also air quality.

As medical and technological research has progressed over the past century, electricity has become more than a nice-to-have within health care. Indeed, electrification is essential to power modern therapeutics and diagnostics. Vaccines, too, need a complex chain of cold storage from production to deployment, where electrification is the key enabler. But today, more than 70% of sub-Saharan African health facilities lack reliable electricity access, and 25% have no electricity at all. In many places there are either no available grids, or only grids that would not be able to handle the additional load that further electrification would entail.

The challenge is immense, but solved at scale, the economic benefits multiply and can ripple through communities, countries and regions.

Renewables Are Growing Quickly

But if the present looks challenging, the future shows enormous potential. Renewable energy today accounts for 67% of sub-Saharan Africa’s energy consumption, and 17% globally. Investment in clean energy in the region is growing rapidly: it jumped to $7.4 billion in 2018, up from $2.3 billion in 2017. Thanks to increasing capital flows, renewable energy capacity in Africa could reach 310GW by 2030, which would make it the world’s largest producer of green energy, according to the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA).

However necessary the growth of renewable energy is for fighting climate change, its increased share of total energy production poses new challenges to the power grid, particularly during peak production and consumption periods. Inherent intermittency of most affordable renewable alternatives exacerbates existing challenges such as congestion and power deficits.

What About Storage?

Enter energy storage – the missing link in the renewable energy system. In fact, even today, when renewable energy access across Africa is only in its infancy, poor storage availability contributes to an energy deficit estimated to be holding back Africa’s growth by 2 to 4% per year.

By storing energy that is produced when it is abundant, inexpensive, and green, the world can take the necessary steps away from fossil dependency and save money at the same time. Storage allows individuals and communities to leapfrog the glacial process of central infrastructure development in areas that are often remote and inaccessible, and set up so-called microgrids, where extending access would otherwise not be possible, nor make financial sense.

So, what are microgrids? Basically, microgrids are decentralized electrification systems based on local generation, (for example, solar or micro-hydro), with battery storage, a control room and local distribution lines. Done right, with the right technology and data management systems, a microgrid can effectively manage generation, storage, and distribution of power to whole communities. They can provide affordability, reliability, and capacity to support communities and areas that need more power than just solar panels alone can offer.

Decentralized renewable energy solutions are set to be part of the solution to the energy access problem. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, microgrids have received more than $250 million in public debt commitments, set to leverage over $4 billion in total investment. According to the IEA, microgrids and solar home systems are expected to account for more than half of new electricity access by 2030.

Smart battery solutions enable microgrids and help empower more communities. Polarium’s energy storage solutions allow people to increase their utilization of renewable energy even during grid outages. We are proud to support a transition to a sustainable, fossil-free future, where electrification is not necessarily dependent on state investment into costly infrastructure projects, and where consumers can optimize production as well as energy consumption.


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