Transitioning Remote Communities to Renewables

1 / 4

Electricity access is a basic need

All communities need access to reliable, efficient, and modern amenities; provision of electricity being one such.

Access rates are extremely low in comparison to global averages for low income and developing nations. In the least developed countries (LDCs) the average access rate is just 56%.

In addition, extending energy access to rural populations does not happen at the same pace as their urban counterparts – global averages show that 98% of urban residents enjoy electricity access compared to only 85% of their rural neighbours.

Reaching the last mile communities

Remote communities include: 

Mountain populations: around 720 million, or 12% of the world population. Population growth patterns in the mountain ranges – increasing in western Asia and southern Asia, low or declining in eastern Asia and Europe, moderate in the Latin America.

Small Islands populations: 57 island states, the total population of SIDS is estimated at 65 million.

Indigenous populations: estimated 476 million indigenous people worldwide across 90 countries, accounting for 6% of world-wide population.

Displaced populations: The number of refugees and internally displaced people is constantly increasing worldwide, currently estimated at 94.7 million.

Remote Rural populations: Scattered settlements with few households living in remote areas of rural settings.

Settlements with no access to grid electricity

Remote communities reside in settlements that are challenged by difficult, not easy to access terrains – mountain regions, small, isolated islands and deep forest settlements. Poor or lack of infrastructure limits the provision of essentials such as electricity.

The refugee communities or tribal and indigenous settlements with little exposure to development, are often characterized by low population densities, low electricity demand, and low incomes.

Resulting inaccessibility means they heavily rely on off-grid energy sources such as candles, torches or use of diesel.

Decentralized renewable solutions are widespread

Off-grid energy systems, both mini-grid or standalone, operate independently of the main power grid. This offers an opportunity to power remote and unserved communities.

Mini-grids powered by solar, hydro, and biogas technologies provided electricity access to 11 million as of 2021.

The off-grid systems can be custom-fit and designed to meet the specific and low electricity needs of its consumers.  The choice of tapping into a local clean energy source helps communities to reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels and increase resilience.

Community-centred models ensure long term, sustained operations

Community-centric models for electricity provision have shown to be sustainable across regions as they ensure ownership and long-term operations.

Involvement entails co-designing projects, setting realistic tariffs, identifying and providing land for infrastructure, providing construction labour, being actively involved in setting up the management structure, and overseeing the operations and maintenance (O&M) of mini-grids.

Daily DRE system operations differ across communities

There are many Institutional structures for operations and maintenance of the DRE systems. Some examples include:

  • Solar co-operatives: Co-operatives provide energy-as-a-service to its members as in refugee settlements and neighbourhood host community settlements
  • Village federation and technician associations: Clusters of villages are managed by a central federation, whose governance also helps to increase synergies and provide for common services.
  • PV electrification committees: Groups or individuals assess household electricity demand, are trained in Solar Home System installation and maintenance, and collect and deposit the fee for maintenance from end users

Renewable technologies provide electricity access to the last mile communities

Given its modular, scalable and distributed nature, and low costs, solar PV technology for off-grid solutions has been increasingly deployed where solar resource potential is abundant.

Hybrid Renewable Energy Sources (HRES) is integrated with renewables as the primary source, along with batteries and diesel generators as backup. Allowing for the variable nature of renewable energy sources, hybridisation ensures a reliable and continuous supply.

Deployment of DRE solutions creates jobs

Building capacities and skills of local youth, women, and individuals of minority groups in remote communities, helps them take on job roles in the technical and financial management of the DRE systems.

Locals can hold various roles, technical ones in micro utility services, electric co-operatives, or members of the technicians’ associations.

They can hold accounts and managerial roles, in collection of service fees, budget planning and management of DRE systems. Mini-grid operators can in addition be skilled in managing productive use loads: brick making, and oil pressing units.

Projects in remote communities require innovative financing

Up-front costs for electricity access projects to remote communities are generally financed through government programmes or donor-driven grants.

To scale up and provide for enhanced tier services to remote communities, a shift to market-based solutions and innovative financing is needed.

Innovative financing mechanisms – blended grant-debt capital, patient capital (debt & equity), purchase of International Renewable Energy Certificates (IRECs).

Remote communities reap the benefits of renewables

The Renewable Energy for Remote Communities – A Guidebook for off-grid projects, captures the lessons learnt from nine different case studies in which electricity provision using renewables to remote communities is unique in its location and delivery mechanism. 

Serves as a guide to the success factors that provides for last-mile electricity access.

For example, in remote rural villages of Sarawak state, Malaysia, Sarawak Energy, provides electricity access to very remote villages using off-grid solar PV-based solutions as an approach to achieve total electrification by 2025. The project has been ongoing since 2016, not only electrifying the villages but also empowering the community and creating jobs. Read more

IRENA supports the remote communities in reaching the last mile

IRENA in partnership with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has launched the Global Initiative for Transitioning Remote Communities to Renewable Energy.

To promote the widespread use and deployment of renewables in remote and isolated communities helping them reduce the use of polluting fossil fuels as they make the energy transition.

IRENA facilitates the initiative through:

  • Creation of knowledge products that help with decision making and investments needed for extending access to such last mile communities.
  • Conducting (in partnership with Governments) country specific viability assessments for DRE solutions to power households and productive uses in remote, off the grid settlements.
  • Provide platform to exchange knowledge and share ideas on clean energy transition of remote communities.

Explore more on this topic

Browse these Related publications:

1 / 4