The UN launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (now an independent organisation) in seeking to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 which calls for universal sustainable energy by 2030. A recent International Energy Agency (IEA) Assessment showed that there are 770 million people globally without access to electricity. The challenge in bringing electricity to this 770 million will be to do so in a sustainable manner that is compatible with the commitments made under the 2016 Paris Agreement’s pledge to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A substantial increase in energy access is unlikely to be achieved via grid expansion. The provision of additional electricity access has been hindered by high grid connection costs, unreliable infrastructure, low population density and high operational costs due to the remoteness of many of the communities without electricity. All of these factors cast doubt over the viability of providing affordable grid energy at a profitable margin and in a timely manner. This in turn has stifled investment.

Distributed energy and micro-grids provide a solution to the challenges of grid extension. A micro-grid is a self-sufficient energy system that serves a discrete geographic area. Micro-grids include one or more kinds of distributed energy sources that produce the power supplied to the micro-grid, such as solar panels, wind turbines or biomass generators.

The substantial fall in the cost of renewable energy generation and appliances, and the increased access to mobile digital payment services have made it realistic for consumers to purchase their own energy production units and, if they desire, become a 'prosumer' who produces surplus energy which can either be sold to other consumers on the micro-grid or sold to utilities and fed into the main grid.

The German village of Wildpoldsried is an example of what is possible – it has installed extensive renewable energy production to reduce its carbon footprint while generating a revenue stream for the locals. Wildpoldsried shows that if micro-grid technology is deployed effectively it can provide clean energy access for all whilst stimulating low carbon economic growth.

Clyde & Co is hosting energy and infrastructure-themed tables in The Chancery Lane Project's virtual legal hackathon, running from 23 September to 18 December 2020. This post is part of a series of updates posted during the hackathon on business-relevant climate initiatives and innovative solutions to some of the challenges arising from climate change in the Energy or Infrastructure industries.