Ministerial Roundtable, Catalysing off-grid renewable energy deployment – Towards universal electric

15 January 2017 |Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

On 15 January 2017, during IRENA’s 7th Assembly in Abu Dhabi, government officials from around the world gathered for a Ministerial Roundtable to discuss the best way to sustainably bring electricity access to people and gain substantial socioeconomic benefits, through off-grid renewable energy.

Over a billion people in rural and peri-urban areas live without electricity, and another 2.9 billion rely on traditional fuels for cooking and heating. Affordable electricity access to these people will enable increased productivity, higher incomes, improved food and water security, enhanced access to healthcare and education, and a host of other benefits towards developing communities and raising people out of poverty.

During the Ministerial Roundtable, several governments recognized the substantial socio-economic benefits on offer and the advantages offered by off-grid solutions in terms of scale, pace and livelihood-impact, and demonstrated the will, targets, and plans to support off-grid renewable energy deployment. Speakers said that to accelerate the pace of off-grid renewable energy deployment, planners need to rethink solutions and approaches for electrification, and develop integrated planning processes that consider the viability of grid-based and off-grid. They emphasised that governments need to look at access from a ‘delivery of services’ perspective and not the number of mega-watts alone, and that focusing on education, health and productive end-uses will enable customisation of energy solutions and maximise socio-economic impacts.

These outcomes from the Ministerial Roundtable echoed those from last September’s the 3rd International Off-grid Renewable Energy Conference (IOREC), held in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2016 and organized by IRENA in partnership with the Kenya Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, and the Alliance for Rural Electrification. Key findings and recommendations from IOREC 2016 were launched at the Ministerial Roundtable.

The delegates highlighted that efforts are needed to accelerate the pace of off-grid renewable energy deployment, and this requires an enabling environment hinged on tailored policy and regulations, customised financing and business models, capacity building, and innovative technology solutions. At IOREC 2016, IRENA released a major report focusing on policy and regulatory design for mini-grid development, along with a report focusing on ongoing and future technology innovations in renewable mini-grids.

The discussion also highlighted that besides the generation technology, innovation on the appliance side, including those for productive uses and public services, have the potential to transform the lives of millions with new economic possibilities and social inclusion. As an example, IRENA’s earlier work demonstrated the wide range of benefits that could be realized from deploying decentralised renewable energy solutions in the agri-food chain.

Access to affordable and long-term financing for end-users and entrepreneurs was highlighted as key for catalysing growth in the off-grid renewable sector. In particular, the importance of unlocking asset-based financing for rural consumers and levering on microcredit delivery was emphasised to be important. The importance of innovative financing tools, including provision of guarantees for de-risking private sector investments and local currency loans, was also highlighted.

The Ministerial Roundtable concluded with an emphasis on the importance of partnerships and collaboration. In achieving the objective of universal access to electricity, partnerships and international cooperation, as well as peer-to-peer learning, which will be key to maximise the efficiency and impact of efforts and resources.

The outcomes of the Ministerial Roundtable were reported back to the Assembly, and will further feed into IRENA’s future work on policy and regulatory analysis, entrepreneurship promotion, data and information gathering, tools development and country-level support.

To learn more about the Ministerial Roundtable, visit IRENA’s newsroom.