The long road to universal electrification: A critical look at present pathways and challenges

Nishant Narayan*, Victor Vega-Garita, Zian Qin, Jelena Popovic-Gerber, Pavol Bauer, Miro Zeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
91 Downloads (Pure)


Nearly 840 million people still lack access to electricity, while over a billion more have an unreliable electricity connection. In this article, the three different electrification pathways-grid extension, centralized microgrids, and standalone solar-based solutions, such as pico-solar and solar home systems (SHS)-are critically examined while understanding their relative merits and demerits. Grid extension can provide broad scale access at low levelized costs but requires a certain electricity demand threshold and population density to justify investments. To a lesser extent, centralized (off-grid) microgrids also require a minimum demand threshold and knowledge of the electricity demand. Solar-based solutions are the main focus in terms of off-grid electrification in this article, given the equatorial/tropical latitudes of the un(der-)electrified regions. In recent times, decentralized solar-based off-grid solutions, such as pico-solar and SHS, have shown the highest adoption rates and promising impetus with respect to basic lighting and electricity for powering small appliances. However, the burning question is-from lighting a million to empowering a billion-can solar home systems get us there?The two main roadblocks for SHS are discussed, and the requirements from the ideal electrification pathway are introduced. A bottom-up, interconnected SHS-based electrification pathway is proposed as the missing link among the present electrification pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number508
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Microgrids
  • Multi-tier framework
  • Rural electrification
  • SDG 7
  • Solar home systems


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