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Off-Grid Sector Emerges to Plug Energy Access Gaps

Globally, the percentage of people having access to electricity has risen gradually over recent decades, yet more than 733 million people remain without basic access, according to the latest figures...

Globally, the percentage of people having access to electricity has risen gradually over recent decades, yet more than 733 million people remain without basic access, according to the latest figures in Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report 2022. Off-grid and decentralised energy systems have emerged as an alternative to facilitate energy access and resilience in a flexible and adaptable way, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which face some of the world’s biggest gaps in energy access rates.

IRENA’s new report Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics 2022 shows that off-grid renewables continue to grow despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report provides statistics for the period 2012–2021 covering mini-grids, biogas for cooking and lighting, off-grid solar lights, pumps, and home solar systems across Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

“IRENA’s Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics publication captures the major trends in off-grid renewable energy deployment that are often unrecorded in countries. It is an essential tool for monitoring and measuring the role of off-grid renewables to achieve the energy transition and universal energy access by 2030,” said Dennis Akande, IRENA’s Associate Programme Officer, Statistics.

Rural communities with no access to electricity often use polluting and expensive lighting sources such as kerosene lamps or candles, the fumes of which can cause serious health problems; while a lack of electricity in health centers can result in disastrous outcomes for patients. With support, however, from policymakers, private investors, and end users alike, the number of people using off-grid solar lights has increased dramatically from 15.4 million in 2012 to 112 million in 2021. In Africa alone, the number of people benefitting from off-grid solar lights has reached 52.6 million in 2021, according to the report.

Over the years, interventions to improve access to energy have focused on electricity and have often neglected non-electricity household energy needs, especially for cooking. The use of inefficient stoves is a major contributor to indoor pollution, which has detrimental impacts on the health of women and children. While large numbers of people still depend on wood and charcoal for cooking, the use of biogas as a clean cooking solution has been expanding across African and Asian countries, improving living conditions and helping to reduce the effects of climate change. As of 2021, over 122 million people benefit from biogas for cooking, the report shows.

How Do Solar Batteries Provide Power During Blackouts?

Off-grid renewable energy

Here is why a battery is an essential part of  portable solar kit:

1) Backup Power for Blackouts

Depending upon its size and capacity – as well as your electricity usage – a battery is vital if you want to keep yourself covered during blackouts.

Most batteries are designed to last at least 2-3 hours in case of an emergency; if you reduce your power usage to only the most essential appliances, the battery can last significantly longer.

2) Using Solar Energy Whenever You Need To

Through a battery, you can use solar power even during the night or on overcast days when sunlight is in scarce supply.

Batteries allow you to maximize your solar power usage, and, as a result, minimize your energy bill and your dependence on the National Grid system. You can charge your battery during the day when the sun is available. Then, post-sunset, you can turn the battery on and make use of the energy stored earlier in the day.

If you do not have the battery storage, you will have to depend upon the utility company’s power whenever there is no access to sunlight. Any excess energy produced by your portable solar panels will either be lost or returned to the grid and you may or may not receive credits against it.

3) Targeted Solar Energy Usage

Energy use spikes across the board in the afternoon and evening as people return home and begin using their lights, computers, and other electronics.

However, as you can expect, the best time to produce and store solar energy is the midday, when the sun is at its peak.

To use this in your favor, make use of the sun's power during the day by storing it until you can put it to good use in the evening. If you use solar electricity in this way consistently, you should expect your savings to increase dramatically.

Any access energy stored by the batteries can either be used every day after the sun goes down, or retained for an emergency event such as power outages caused by inclement weather.

What is a solar generator?

What is a solar generator

First off, a solar generator isn’t really a “generator.” It’s a large rechargeable battery pack (not that different from the devices you might carry around to charge your phone while traveling), integrating an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with surge protection and an inverter and line conditioner to power your AC devices.

These devices are known as “solar generators” because they’re designed to be charged using a solar panel, making them suitable for long-term use in emergencies or off the grid (they can also be charged from a wall outlet). A wide range of battery capacities are available, from large models that can keep critical appliances going and the lights on during an emergency, to lightweight models more suitable for camping or tailgating.

In order to supply power to a wide range of devices, solar generators offer a variety of AC outlets, 12V DC ports, a standard cigarette lighter port and 5521 barrel-type ports, in addition to Anderson power ports. The more sophisticated, higher-power generators may also have 125V 30A outlets for powering an RV. Some solar generators can directly integrate with home generator transfer panels to power AC circuits.

Solar generators also come with USB ports for charging phones and small devices. The number of USB ports varies from two to four on smaller units and can be as high as six to eight on larger units, with a mix of USB-A 2.4v and 5V ports and USB-C with power delivery (PD) ports from 18W to 100W capacities.


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