Is Renewable Energy Available To Everyone?

Is renewable energy available to everyone?

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind power have seen tremendous growth in recent years as costs have declined and technology has improved. However, access to renewable energy is not yet equitable across all communities. While great progress has been made, there is still work to be done to ensure renewable energy access for everyone.

This article will examine the current state of renewable energy adoption, how costs and technology advances are making renewables more accessible, and where inequities still exist in renewable energy availability. We’ll look at discrepancies between rural and urban areas as well as developing and developed nations. Finally, we’ll discuss solutions to increase equitable access to renewable energy in the future.

The main thesis is that renewable energy is becoming increasingly available globally, but access is not yet fully equitable across all populations and geographic regions.

Current Renewable Energy Landscape

There are five main types of renewable energy in use today: solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass. Each harness a different natural resource to generate energy without depleting reserves or producing harmful byproducts.

Solar energy converts sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic cells. It accounted for 3% of total U.S. energy consumption in 2018 [1]. Solar farms can generate energy at utility scales, while rooftop solar panels allow households to generate their own electricity.

Wind power harnesses the kinetic energy of wind to spin large turbines that generate electricity. In 2018, wind supplied 6% of U.S. energy [2]. Onshore and offshore wind farms have expanded rapidly due to falling costs.

Hydropower uses flowing water – in dams, waves, or tides – to spin turbines connected to generators. It was the largest renewable energy source in the U.S. at 7% in 2018 [1]. However, most suitable dam sites are already utilized.

Geothermal energy taps into reservoirs of hot water or steam under the earth’s surface to drive turbine generators. It provided 0.4% of U.S. energy in 2018 [1], but has potential for growth. Enhanced geothermal systems can extract heat from dry rock through hydraulic fracturing.

Biomass converts organic matter like plants, wood, and waste into energy through combustion, anaerobic digestion, or other processes. It supplied 5% of U.S. energy in 2018 [1]. Second generation biofuels and biogas from landfills have significant potential.


Growth of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy production has increased substantially over the past few decades. According to The Strategist’s Handbook, renewable energy generation has grown at an average annual rate of over 5% since 1990. Some key statistics:

  • Global renewable energy consumption increased over 600% between 1990-2019.
  • The share of renewables in global electricity generation jumped from under 20% in 2000 to almost 30% by 2019.
  • Solar PV capacity grew over 3,000% and wind capacity grew over 900% from 2009-2019.

This rapid growth is driven by falling technology costs, government policies, and increased investment in renewable energy projects around the world. The expansion of renewables signals a global shift away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable energy system. However, work remains to be done to achieve full decarbonization and ensure equitable access to clean energy.

Cost of Renewable Energy

The costs of renewable energy technologies like solar and wind have declined dramatically over the past decade, making them more affordable and accessible options.

According to an Energy Information Administration report, the average installed cost of solar photovoltaics has dropped over 70% since 2010. Onshore wind costs have declined 30-40% over the same period. These cost reductions are driven by economies of scale, improved technologies, and global supply chain growth.

As a result, renewable power purchase agreement prices have fallen below the operating cost of coal plants in most of the world. In places with good renewable resources like sun and wind, new renewable energy is now the lowest cost option for new electricity generation capacity.

Declining renewable energy costs have made them an affordable way to supply electricity even in developing markets. Falling costs will continue to enable wider renewable energy adoption worldwide.

Renewable Energy Access Inequality

There are significant disparities in access to renewable energy between high and low income regions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “energy accessibility is the idea that all Americans should be able to obtain clean power from affordable, reliable, and sustainable sources.”

However, low-income communities face barriers to accessing renewable energy technologies like solar panels, which can help make energy more affordable. As the DOE notes, “Low-income communities face barriers to accessing energy technologies which help make energy more affordable, such as solar photovoltaic (PV)” (

Research shows that poor energy access is strongly tied to having a low income. Wealthier regions and households are much more likely to have access to electricity and clean cooking fuels compared to poorer regions (

This inequality in energy access between high and low income areas presents a major challenge in making renewable energy truly available to everyone.

Rural vs Urban Access

According to the Rural Renewable Energy Project in Sierra Leone, lack of infrastructure in rural areas is a major barrier to renewable energy access. Rural communities often lack access to electricity grids, limiting their ability to adopt renewable solutions like solar that connect to the grid. Building standalone systems like microgrids can be expensive and difficult to maintain in remote areas.

Research shows a large gap in renewable energy adoption between urban and rural areas. For example, one study of solar adoption in the southeastern United States found much lower rates of installation in rural counties compared to urban and suburban areas (Tidwell, 2021). Factors like low population density, poverty, and lack of financing contribute to the rural-urban divide.

Rural communities face unique challenges in transitioning to renewable energy, from siting issues to lack of technical expertise. Targeted policies and investments may be needed to improve renewable energy access and equity between urban and rural populations.

Developing vs Developed Nations

Developing nations have significantly less access to renewable energy compared to developed nations. According to the UN report, only 22% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity1. In contrast, countries like Denmark, Iceland and Sweden generate nearly all their electricity from renewable sources2. This energy access inequality exists for several reasons – developing nations lack the infrastructure and financing required to build large-scale renewable energy projects. Historically, they have relied more on fossil fuels which are cheaper but not sustainable. The growth of renewables has been slower in developing countries compared to developed nations that have the means to invest heavily in clean energy. Bridging this gap requires global initiatives that provide developing nations funding and technologies to improve renewable energy access.

Solutions for Equitable Access

There are several solutions that can help provide more equitable access to renewable energy, especially for rural and low-income communities:

Policy changes like subsidies, tax credits, and rebates can incentivize renewable energy adoption. For example, policies could provide extra incentives for installing solar panels in low-income neighborhoods, or give rural co-ops grants to invest in community solar farms (source).

Microgrids and distributed renewable systems allow localized, small-scale energy production. Rural towns or neighborhoods could install solar+storage microgrids rather than relying solely on the main grid (source).

Community-owned renewable projects give residents ownership and control over their energy supply. Rural co-ops, community centers, churches, etc. can develop solar/wind projects and share benefits (source).

Workforce training programs prepare low-income and minority communities for renewable energy jobs. This enables wealth creation and makes the renewable sector more inclusive (source).

The Future of Access

As technology advances and costs continue to decline, renewable energy has tremendous potential to reach more people globally. Solar and wind power are now cost competitive with fossil fuels in many markets, making decentralized renewable energy solutions financially viable for rural and remote areas (Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Consultant). With supportive government policies and funding, renewable mini-grids and off-grid systems could provide electricity access to the hundreds of millions still living without power.

Projects demonstrating the viability of decentralized renewable systems are already underway, like the solar lighting initiative bringing electricity to rural communities in Sudan (Women lead a transformative solar lighting project in rural Sudan). With the potential for plummeting future costs, renewable energy access could feasibly extend to even the most remote villages and households. But continued progress requires policies that encourage renewable energy investment and favor decentralized electrification over extending the grid. The energy transition presents an unprecedented opportunity to leapfrog the traditional grid and provide access to those still waiting for basic electricity services.


Renewable energy has come a long way in recent years, with dramatic cost reductions and exponential growth in capacity. However, access remains highly unequal, with rural and developing areas lagging far behind. While urban and developed areas reap the benefits of clean, affordable renewables, many communities still rely on polluting fossil fuels. Bridging this renewable divide will require policies and investments aimed at upgrading infrastructure, incentivizing distributed renewables, and financing renewables for low-income homes. Although there are still challenges, the inexorable march of technological progress gives hope that renewable energy access can be made universal. With smart solutions and political will, clean energy could be put within reach of all people for a more equitable and sustainable future.

To achieve universal access, citizens and policymakers must advocate for reforms that encourage renewable deployment in underserved areas. Utilities need to adopt distributed energy models allowing households to become prosumers. Financial tools like green banks and microloans can make systems affordable. With the right strategies, renewable energy’s reach can extend to empower communities everywhere. The transition will require sustained effort, but will lead to a brighter, more just clean energy future.

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