How to Keep the Lights on During the Energy-Access Challenge

Modern energy services are fundamental to human well-being, economic development and eradicating poverty. Yet more than 1.3 billion people globally lack access to electricity.

Despite that being such a staggering number -- just more than a seventh of the global population -- this need to address the significant lack of electricity is on the other hand an opportunity for all of us to create and innovate models that encompass sustainability and inclusivity.

The next few decades will see a transformational shift in the energy landscape whether we want it to or not, all while our population booms and cities across the world continue to burst at the seams.

Countries are trying to cope with these challenges. But with such fast-changing energy supply demands and trends, they are faced with the certainty of having to make major decisions in the next few years. The biggest and most far-reaching of these decisions will almost certainly be made by developing countries who are at the heart of the energy-access challenge.

At the international level, energy access is already a development priority. Importantly, Goal 7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals states we must "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all."

So how do we find energy to match such demands? By following the UN goal's guidance. One needs to create access to technology and other parts of the eco-system, such as finance and market linkages, to support the marginalized communities in a way that is affordable and suits their needs at their doorstep.

For countries with underserved populations that are grappling with this challenge, utilizing a decentralized and off-grid energy supply is a most pragmatic short- and long-term solution.

And then the second part of the challenge in achieving Goal 7: creating reliable and sustainable energy. Massively upscaling the use of renewable energy is the only way this can be done. Goal 7 acknowledges this with the aim to increase the share of renewable energy in the global mix by 2030.

Renewable energy, in particular solar, makes a lot of sense for many developing countries. Currently in India, 40 percent of the population are not connected to the grid. Yet the country has on average more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

Bijli -- Clean Energy for All is a project that SELCO Foundation partnered on with the international non-profit organization, The Climate Group. The project, supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and simultaneously enhance the lives of rural villagers in India by connecting them to clean energy.

Bijli connects rural villagers in three states in India to clean, affordable solar-powered micro-grids, stand-alone home-lighting systems and hand-held lanterns with mobile-phone chargers. And the benefits are already being felt by many.

Children can study later at night under better light conditions, and health concerns from indoor kerosene lamps are gone. It is even estimated that replacing all the kerosene, candles and battery-powered torches with solar power will save $5.6-7.6 billion in fuel costs and avoid 23.3 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

Furthermore, the option to sell these off-grid solutions has inspired entrepreneurism in the communities. Under-served, remote communities are not looking for sympathy. They are looking for contributions as partners and clients.

In Maharashtra State, where SELCO Foundation worked as part of the Bijli program, large numbers of people who previously had no access to electricity are now connected to clean energy. The repayment rate in the past two years has been more than 72 percent, an extremely high figure given the villagers' economic status. The rates will also go up if the tenure of the loan is extended.

But what is particularly interesting is how a renewable source like solar power is considered economically feasible in these regions, but often counted as too expensive in developed and OECD countries.

Renewable enterprises, though, still face a huge gap in meeting their financial needs. Affordable financing is key for scaling energy access. And in addition to finance, investments in technology and building local capacity are paramount for realizing the energy-access goal.

Increased collaboration is also vital to streamline resources and rapidly upscale these efforts, and that is why we've set up the Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN) in India with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

With such positive steps forward, one must remain ever optimistic about the energy future. This commitment to clean, sustainable and affordable energy access by the UN SDGs edges us ever closer toward ensuring everyone can enjoy the benefits of modern electricity.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 7.

To find out what you can do, visit here and here.