Access To Energy


Energy is the bedrock of inclusive economic growth. People rely on energy for cooking, heating and lighting. Businesses and farms need energy to improve productivity and generate growth. Households rely on energy for essential community services such as basic healthcare, sanitation and education.

Around 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity
Energy is critical to all these activities – yet well over two billion people lack access to reliable and affordable power. Of this number, around 1.4 billion people go without access to electricity altogether.

On current trends more than a billion people will still be without energy by 2030. The International Energy Agency estimates that the cost of providing enough for everyone to power a few lights, fans and mobile phones, will exceed $700 billion over the next 25 years. The question we ask is can we do this faster?

85% of the world’s energy poor live in remote, low-density rural areas
The economic and geographic characteristics of the world’s energy poor mean we will need vastly different thinking to provide universal access to energy. 85% of the world’s energy poor live in remote, low-density, rural areas and it simply isn't viable to run centralised electricity grids over these distances. We need new ways to meet their growing demand for energy in ways that accommodate inconsistent income patterns.

Building a viable market for affordable off-grid energy solutions 

© G Goodwin 2014

Shell Foundation has been working since 2002 to increase the provision of energy to the poor through the innovation and scale-up of decentralised energy solutions, such as solar lighting, biogas, biomass gasification, and the sale of low-cost energy products.

We are supporting a small portfolio of pioneers to make modern energy products (like off-grid electricity and consumer finance) available in rural areas – working together to validate new models, build new value chains and achieve financial viability.

These partners, including Envirofit, d.light and Husk, are now generating significant socio-economic and environmental benefit across the world and changing the way that energy is delivered globally.

As this work has matured, we have co-created new dedicated market-enablers – pioneer enterprises and intermediary institutions who remove barriers to scale for start-up and growing energy businesses serving low-income communities, and build the infrastructure necessary to accelerate the growth of inclusive energy markets.

These enablers address critical blockers such as:

  Our early-stage partners are pioneering diverse solutions to enhance access to energy by the poor. Collectively, they have benefited 54 million people to-date – creating over 40,000 jobs and saving 8.2 million tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere – and are growing rapidly across Africa, Asia and Latin America.  


Energy is a critical enabler of almost every aspect of life, yet billions lack this basic prerequisite for sustainable development. Approximately 2.6 billion people continue to rely on biomass – wood, dung and charcoal – for cooking and heating, using traditional fires and inefficient stoves causing four million deaths each year. Two billion of the world’s poorest people lack any type of reliable and affordable power.

By 2030, more than 2.7 billion people will still rely on traditional fuel for their energy needs

Without access to modern energy, people face high fuel costs to meet their basic needs. In parts of Africa low-income consumers spend up to 40% of their income on fuel.

Beyond the household, lack of energy in off-grid communities severely limits community services such as education and healthcare. Over one billion people are served by health centres without electricity for lighting, refrigeration of medicines and cleansing equipment. 50% of primary school children in the developing world, 291 million young people, go to schools without electricity.

Energy is also fundamental to earning potential and economic growth. There is an urgent need for modern energy services to enhance the productivity of rural small businesses, particularly within sectors with outsized social value such as agriculture and transport. Limited access to modern energy severely restricts earning potential. Mechanical tools, irrigation systems and refrigerating units, for example, all require affordable and reliable power to enable their users to meet market demand, as do basic retail outlets. Powering and charging basic electrical devices, including mobile phones, radio and television is also important.
  The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2030, more than 2.7 billion people will still rely on traditional fuels for their energy needs – mainly in Africa and Asia – and over one billion people will still lack access to reliable electricity. 85% of this un-met demand will be from people living in rural areas.  


1.4 billion people across the world have no access to electricity, according to the World Bank, while another 600 million have unreliable access.

Shell Foundation is working with a range of pioneers to develop decentralised energy solutions to serve low-income consumers

Despite projected improvements in grid infrastructure, and commitments from a huge range of public and private actors, providing enough energy for 2 billion rural customers to meet their basic needs using existing technology would cost in excess of $700 billion and take over 25 years to accomplish. Could greater strides be made, at a quicker pace and for significantly less investment?

Since 2002, Shell Foundation has worked with a small portfolio of social enterprise pioneers to identify and test a range of decentralised, off-grid energy solutions to serve rural low-income consumers in Asia and Africa in ways that are both financially-viable and scaleable.

A variety of solutions are needed to meet the diverse range of energy needs at household, community and enterprise level; for example new products that use traditional fuels (wood, charcoal and waste) more efficiently, accelerating innovation in off-grid energy technology (like mini-grids and solar home systems) and new services to enhance productivity of rural SMEs and farmers.

Having selected India and Africa as the initial focus of our activities (home of over 30% of the world’s energy poor), our portfolio of partners now deliver economic, social and environmental impact across emerging markets globally.

They include:



A pioneering energy business that designs and distributes affordable solar systems for lighting and power across the world.



A global business that designs, manufactures and distributes more efficient cookstoves to reduce fuel usage, harmful emissions and cooking time for low-income customers.


Husk Power Systems

An off-grid electricity provider that builds power plants and micro-grids in rural India running on agricultural waste and solar power.



To-date our partners have enhanced access to energy for 54 million people – creating over 40,000 jobs and saving 8.2 million tonnes carbon from entering the atmosphere – and are growing rapidly across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Building any type of enterprise is not easy. Doing so while trying to serve the bottom of the pyramid, working in tough operating environments, while developing brand new business models and structures is exceptionally difficult. Most of our partners have to build entire value chains from scratch – and through the course of our combined efforts we have uncovered several barriers to scale that exist across the energy sector.

India-family-(1).jpgProblems relating to rural distribution, consumer financing and a lack of working capital affect every type of energy business seeking to serve low-income communities, constraining their growth.

To tackle these barriers to growth at an industry level, Shell Foundation partnered with a range of social entrepreneurs to co-create independent ‘market-enablers’ – specialist intermediaries that support businesses to serve the energy poor in rural and peri-urban markets, and build vital market infrastructure to catalyse an inclusive energy sector on a global scale.

Together with our partners we have created new supply chain and distribution models and developed new financing solutions to enable the replication of these models and to improve affordability for consumers. These include:


Supply chain and distribution models:

  • Dharma Life: a specialist rural distributor that makes socially-beneficial products available to low-income communities in India by training and empowering a network of village-level entrepreneurs
  • responsAbility Energy Access Fund:    a dedicated fund to provide working capital to energy product companies in order to activate distribution channels and new routes to market globally

  Financing solutions:
  • IntelleGrow: a specialist financier that provides debt finance to early-stage energy and infrastructure SMEs in India that would not otherwise be able to raise growth capital
  • The BIX Fund: an innovative financing facility to address the gap between registering and executing carbon programmes and monetising revenue from environmental credits


Early-stage product and business development:

  • Factor(E): an early-stage technology accelerator that provides R&D, engineering and business expertise as well as appropriate seed capital to commercialise social impact technology aimed at the the Bottom of the Pyramid
  • Sangam: an early-stage accelerator fund that provides skills support and equity funding to early-stage energy enterprises with the potential for high growth that provide modern energy services to the poor in India


Industry Facilitation:

  • Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves:  an industry body that provides regulation, capacity-building support and international advocacy in order to accelerate the growth of a viable global market for clean cookstoves




Subscribe to the Shell Foundation newsletter

Subscribe to this report