BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Solar lightbulbs, mini power grids, and batteries could soon supply energy to disadvantaged, rural regions that old-fashioned transmission lines and centralized coal-fired generators will never reach. But while prices of renewables have tumbled, and some say the technology offers lower-income countries the chance to leapfrog over more cumbersome ways of delivering energy, significant challenges remain — particularly around how to finance energy access for the poor.

Most of the world’s energy-poor populations live far from electricity networks. That includes about 57 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa, or 588 million, who remain without access to electricity according to the International Energy Agency; and just over 1 billion worldwide, the United Nations estimates. The U.N.’s seventh Sustainable Development Goal aims to close that gap by 2030, ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services.

That, however, requires a sharp shift in focus from building new power links to existing grids — which is how most new energy access has been provided until now — to setting up small and nascent off-grid technology powered mostly by solar, hydro, and wind.

“In rural areas of Africa, if you would like to do it in the European fossil fuels way, that means huge public land, huge cables across the continent — and that will never happen,” European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told Devex.

“But today, with decentralized grids, if I have a couple of solar panels, we can deliver the energy anywhere.”

With a steady fall in prices over the past decade, mainstream on-grid solar and wind energy is increasingly able to compete with fossil fuel rivals without the need for government support.

Read more at Devex