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Bringing (solar) power to the people
Solar home systems can help to bridge the electrification gap in developing countries—if certain conditions are met.
About a billion people have no access to electricity. While progress in lessening that figure has been steady, it is still likely to be at least 870 million in 2020. Expanding the grid is part of the answer to the question of how to bring power to these people, but it is not the only one. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which make up 90 percent of the world’s unelectrified population, are also exploring off-grid solutions, including solar home systems (SHSs). So are countries in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, which account for most of the remaining unelectrified population. The global market for SHSs has grown 23 percent a year since 2012, representing more than four million units installed.
Solar systems can serve homes that are too remote, that are too poor, or whose energy consumption is too low to make a grid connection economical (see sidebar “What a solar home system does”). They can also be useful for households connected to the grid whose power supply is still unreliable. Our assessment of the 39 countries that represent more than 90 percent of the unelectrified population found that, based on projected grid expansion, population growth, and consumers’ ability to pay, as many as 150 million households could benefit from SHSs by 2020 (Exhibit 1).