Electricity Technology Needs for Energy Access
The provision of electricity to people with little or no current access to it is being achieved through a combination of conventional utility grid extension, solar lanterns or small solar home systems, or mini-grids using AC or DC power. Recent years have seen much innovation in other barriers to more widespread energy access such as with product quality, financing, business models, and more. However, technology innovation specifically for energy access has been minimal and users are usually left in technology “silos” wherein hardware for one system cannot be readily transferred to another one. Except for grid extension, the technologies involved are understood to have limited applicability beyond energy access and ambitions for innovation are kept low. Energy access is usually characterized by electricity with high cost per kWh, and customers with low financial resources. This makes it critical to make the best possible use of availability electricity. This and other characteristics such as low-cost, simplicity, flexibility, and safety require technology not available today. In this paper, we review required or desirable technology characteristics for a high-functioning technology foundation for energy access. We then show how the proposed system of “Local Power Distribution” (LPD), a network model of power, could well fulfill these requirements. LPD digitally manages all power distribution links, enabling plug-and-play operation. A key method of making LPD feasible for energy access is that it can also deliver useful services for people in industrialized countries, enabling the technology to be first sold there in order to gain enough market size to drive down prices to a level feasible for energy access. Precedent for such “universal technology” is already apparent in the globally widespread use of USB for charging mobile phones, and mobile telephony itself. New cabling and connector standards are also needed, along with less expensive and higher capacity digitallymanaged power links. The paper reviews these and lays out a technology and market path from today to widespread use of LPD around the globe.