University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) Professor Anton Eberhard has been appointed to the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty – a new initiative which aims to accelerate access to electricity to millions of under-serviced homes and businesses quickly and cost-effectively.
The commission, which will be launched officially at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York in September, will operate under the joint chairpersonship of The Rockefeller Foundation President Dr Rajiv J Shah, former US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and African Development Bank president Dr Akinwumi Adisina.
The commission will draw on the combined expertise of energy experts around the world to accelerate the UN goal of universal electricity access by 2030.
Almost one-billion people globally lack access to electricity and hundreds of millions more struggle with erratic and limited service. Many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have low levels of generation and limited network infrastructure that delivers insufficient, unreliable and unaffordable power to existing customers.
However, according to the commission, technology innovation in the energy sector is opening up new opportunities to reach previously under-served populations.
“The world of energy is changing faster than we can imagine,” says Eberhard, who directs the Power Futures Lab at the UCT GSB.
“For example, distributed energy resources have become financially viable, offering new opportunities to get energy to those who need it most. Rapid proliferation of low-cost digital communications technologies, combined with steep drops in the cost of solar photovoltaic technology, batteries and energy efficient appliances, is driving rapid innovation in off-grid electrification across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia,” he says.
However, at the same time, innovative decentralised electrification businesses have shown that customers deemed unviable by traditional utilities do, in fact, represent a highly addressable market and now large energy companies and infrastructure investors are seeking opportunities to expand into this global market.
“A coordinated approach to grid and off-grid planning and investment has the potential to unlock new public–private partnerships that can dramatically bend the curve on ending energy poverty,” he elaborates.
Further, according to Eberhard, the greatest potential for improvement in the energy system lies in targeting the distribution of energy.
“Currently, off-grid solutions in the form of small-scale standalone solar systems and larger community minigrids have started to fill the void left by the incumbent distribution companies in many low access countries,” he explains.
He further mentions that commercial and residential standalone systems have proliferated largely without subsidies in rural and urban settings but are beyond the financial reach of many bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers.
The commission aims to coordinate the commercial, technological and regulatory development of three delivery modes – grid, minigrid and standalone systems.