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Solar power for the poor: facts and figures

by David J. Grimshaw — last modified Jan 10, 2013 07:30 AM Sci.Dev
Solar power could help alleviate rural poverty. David J. Grimshaw and Sian Lewis shine a light on its progress, potential and pitfalls.
Solar power for the poor: facts and figures

Improving access to solar power for the rural poor faces many hurdles

Increasing access to energy is critical to ensuring socioeconomic development in the world's poorest countries.

An estimated 1.5 billion people in developing countries have no access to electricity, with more than 80 per cent of these living in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. [1] 

The problem is most acute in remote areas: 89 per cent of people in rural sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity, which is more than twice the proportion (46 per cent) in urban areas. [1]

For these people, even access to a small amount of electricity could lead to life-saving improvements in agricultural productivity, health, education, communications and access to clean water.

Options for expanding access to electricity in developing countries tend to focus on increasing centralised energy from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, by expanding grid electricity. But this approach has little benefit for the rural poor. Grid extension in these areas is either impractical or too expensive.

Neither does this strategy help tackle climate change. Power already accounts for 26 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and while most of this comes from the developed world, by 2030 developing countries are predicted to use 70 per cent more total annual energy than developed nations.[2]

There is therefore a clear need for pro-poor, low-carbon ways to improve access to electricity in the developing world — solar power could be one such solution.

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