Distributed-energy technologies such as micro-grids can provide an electricity-deprived citizen with power — and the ability to create income. This pathway to power delivery is a disruptive force that will forever change the relationship between electricity user and producer. It makes it possible for a citizen with little capital to bypass the heavy hand of bureaucracy and authoritarian dictators.
Providing electricity to more than two billion people within two decades is a daunting prospect. But emerging innovations in distributed energy technologies, combined with advances in the information and communication technologies (ICTs), including sensors and control devices for “off-grid” systems, make it possible.
These off-grid energy solutions hold enormous promise. They give communities the opportunity to leap-frog over technological time scales and improve their access to clean water, health care, food production and transport.
The big electrical grid has come up short in delivering electricity to the poor and the disenfranchised. Wireless mobile phone technology made building telephone land lines in emerging economies unnecessary. Decentralized energy technologies will do the same for electricity.
Low-cost clean-energy solutions and improved access to electricity can help bring the disenfranchised into the mainstream economy, possibly reducing migration pressures and conflict.
The promise of energy sector decentralization as a democratic force should neither be underestimated nor ignored for long.