Energy Access for Sustainable Rural Development: Literature Review on Distributed Renewable Energy for Rural Electrification in Africa
Access to electricity is a key mechanism for the improvement of living standards and community ser-vices such as healthcare and education, for the reduction of poverty and enhancement of gender jus-tice. However, in 2016, 14 % of the world’s population still lived without electricity, mostly located in rural areas of economically poor areas. Off-grid and mini-grid systems are summarised under the term ‘distributed energy systems’ or ‘decentralised energy systems’ and provide a fast and cost-efficient method for rural electrification. Applicable technologies include solar photovoltaics, wind power, small hydropower and energy from residual biomass. Those small-scale renewable energy systems offer significant reductions in fossil fuel combustion and entailed emissions of greenhouse gases. This paper reviews distributed renewable energy systems and concentrates on energy services for electricity generation in rural Africa. Whereas political uncertainty and a lack of access to investment capital are major barriers for implementing these services, the systems’ contribution to energy security, their flexibility, affordability, modularity and environmental sustainability are driving forces for their expansion. Investment and payback times are often very much lower than those of large-scale centralised systems with their highly expensive and vulnerable networks.