No Electricity An Entry Point for Solar

As hard as it may be to imagine, not long ago the entire world lived without electricity. Without power, the most essential need in the home was light - to be able to see between sunset and sunrise. In order to meet this challenge, the pre-electrified world tried several different methods - candles, followed by whale oil, followed by kerosene.1 But none of these could compete with the ease and convenience of electric light at the flip of a switch. And so when grid electricity arrived in rural America, communities were said to hold a mock funeral for their kerosene lanterns, during which lanterns were buried while the local boy scouts played taps. Indeed, an American farmer from the 1920s probably best captured the taste for electricity when he said at a Sunday gathering:

Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this. The greatest thing on Earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.2

Today almost all inhabitants of industrialized countries have the convenience of grid electricity. But for the inhabitants of many emerging markets, it is a very different experience. The number of people without electricity is estimated at 1.64 billion - more than five times the population of the US, or 27 per cent of the world's population - and of this, four out of five households are in rural areas.3 The problem remains particularly acute in South and Southeast Asia, where the number is more than 1 billion, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is roughly 500 million people. And this does not include the many, many more people who have a connection to the national electricity grid but who suffer chronic, unscheduled blackouts. Indeed, when the author asked a farmer in South India how often he experienced power cuts, the farmer quickly shot back, 'Better you ask me how often I have any power at all.'

It is not that governments in emerging markets have not had bold ambitions. The Sri Lankan Government would not have been alone in using slogans like 'Electricity for All by 2000';4 nor would it have been alone in missing the target. But the fact of the matter is that extending the national grid to remote and dispersed rural households, which initially have very low electricity demand, is a costly affair. In areas such as western China, the Amazon or the Himalayan foothills, the cost of a rural connection can be seven times that in the cities.5 On this basis some have even concluded that complete grid electrification in many emerging markets is, and always will be, too expensive.6

When faced with these high costs, governments have tried more decentralized approaches, such as setting up village-scale electricity grids powered by diesel generators. This is where a local distribution grid connects all the

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