Access to reliable, affordable and clean energy is a cornerstone of sustainable development. Despite this 1.2 billion people continue to have no access to electricity and a further 3 billion are energy poor. Often cited reasons for the lack of progress include the technological and financial difficulties associated with bringing electricity to rural areas due to low population density, as well as political, institutional and social barriers.
The lack of progress in rural areas in the developing world is consistent with the role of ‘the rural’ in the seminal models and theories found in the development economics literature. These theories and models see the rural sector essentially as an input of labour and resources to the urban sector, which is considered the engine of economic growth and development. Despite this, many countries have successfully provided electricity to their rural populations and improved development outcomes. Many of these cases have largely passed under the radar of current energy for development practitioners. As will be seen later in this report, successful cases of rural electrification and development have, by and large, benefited from a holistic and integrated development framework or guiding vision. This is akin to the smart villages concept.
This technical report seeks to draw out lessons from theory and successful country-case studies of rural electrification and development to reflect on what needs to be done to make smart villages a reality and meet the twin goals of providing electricity access to all and improving rural development outcomes.