Energy access: key to economic and societal development

ARE Forum focuses on integrating remote communities into economies

By Claire Marchand

Electricity access is one of the key drivers for economic development, better healthcare, increased safety, education, as well as efficiency gains in agriculture and manufacturing.

African girls using a smart tablet Electronic devices can use LVDC produced by renewable sources directly, without conversion

In an ideal world, everyone would be connected everywhere to efficient power grids that deliver electricity 24/7. However rural areas in many countries around the world can sometimes be so remote that connection to the main grid would be too complex and/or too expensive to install. In these circumstances, renewable energy off-grid applications provide the most suitable energy solution. 

Affordable solutions

Basic, affordable and immediate technical solutions exist that can bring electricity to those populations that would otherwise have to remain without a grid connection for years. 

Through its Affiliate Country Programme, the IEC has been a leading force in advocating electricity access for all, promoting the technologies, such as solar, wind or hydro power, which can be deployed in decentralized rural electrification systems, as well as promoting the relevant IEC International Standards. The latter provide the technical foundation that facilitates the building of effective, efficient, safe and affordable off-grid infrastructure and guide their design and installation. 

IEC 62257 on rural electrification

In 2013, the IEC, together with the World Bank Group, the United Nations Foundation, the US Department of Energy, research laboratories, universities and industries entered into a public/private partnership to provide developing countries with access to important technical documents. IEC TS 62257: Recommendations for renewable energy and hybrid systems for rural electrification, issued by IEC Technical Committee 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems, is a series of Technical Specifications that outline international best practice solutions to support energy access in developing countries across a range of technologies. 

Through this partnership, the IEC offers discounts to qualified stakeholders purchasing documents in this series. 

A “direct current” world

Over the last 20 years, several mega-trends have created a groundswell of demand for low-voltage direct current (LVDC). The need to mitigate the effects of climate change has seen a renewed focus on energy efficiency and sustainability, taking power generation increasingly towards renewable sources and away from fossil fuels. In addition, the cost of energy generation from solar photovoltaics (PV) has become more accessible, while LED lighting has made the conventional incandescent lamp a thing of the past. These trends challenge the traditional model of electricity distribution via alternating current (AC). Also, many of the technical issues that blocked the development of DC are no longer an obstacle. 

Without realizing it, today we live in a “direct current” world, with most of our electronic devices already being able to use current that is produced by renewable sources directly, without conversion. Everything – from electric vehicles, renewable energy technology, kitchen appliances, lighting, transport, smartphones and tablets to systems with data and embedded electronics, i.e. the internet of things (IoT), smart homes, smart cities, etc. – runs on DC. 

The IEC has recently set up a Systems Committee, SyC LVDC, tasked with providing systems level standardization, coordination and guidance in the areas of LVDC and LVDC for electricity access. 

Essential partnerships

The IEC is not alone in its endeavor to provide electricity access to everyone everywhere. Over the years it has partnered with other international organizations to promote specific initiatives and projects in this field. Among them are the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), a nonprofit organization working with leaders in government, the private sector and civil society to drive further, faster action toward achievement of one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 7, which calls for universal access to sustainable energy by 2030. 

The ARE Forum

From 13 to 15 March 2018, IEC representatives will attend the fourth ARE Energy Access Investment Forum – Integrating Remote Communities into Economies – in Catania, Italy. 

Since its first edition in 2015, the Forum has become a key event where the clean energy off-grid sector gathers together to learn more about upcoming support schemes and initiatives by the public sector as well as the latest industry trends and product and service innovations from the private sector. 

ARE collaborates with SEforALL through specifically-tailored interventions and the fourth ARE Energy Access Investment Forum has been identified as a key deliverable to enhance global efforts to promote a level-playing field for decentralized clean energy technology and business solutions. 

The ARE Forum is organized in collaboration with Renewable energy solutions for Africa (RES4Africa) and the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP). 

Registration is still open and the complete programme is available on the ARE website 

off-grid solar PV in India Solar PV off-grid systems are a backup against daily power cuts in India, offering clean energy 24 hours a day (Photo: Sun&Wind Energy)
African girls using a smart tablet Electronic devices can use LVDC produced by renewable sources directly, without conversion
The Magiro Micro Hydro Power Project in rural Kenya The Magiro Micro Hydro Power Project in rural Kenya (Photo: Climate Action Challenge)