Over one billion people globally lack access to electricity, and over 3 billion people globally rely on solid fuel and kerosene for cooking and heating[1]. While progress is being made in connecting greater numbers of people to electricity grids, this level of infrastructure is prohibitively expensive in areas of low population density, with over 80% of those lacking access living in rural areas. Lack of access to electricity also disproportionately impacts the poor, with 80% of those who lack access to electricity having incomes of less than $3 per day[2].

Lack of access to electricity has many negative externalities, including negative impacts on climate due to the emission of greenhouse gases, the environment through degradation of land and habitats, health and well-being through use of fuels such as kerosene or solid fuels for cooking and lighting, and impacts on the quality of education due to children being unable to read or study in evenings. Low income consumers also often pay a ‘poverty premium’ for their energy, with the price of fuels such as diesel being up to 30% more expensive in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa[3].

Out of necessity, rather than an intentional effort to have a positive environmental or social impact, innovations have been developed by low income communities to increase access to energy utilizing renewable sources such as solar and wind power. Whether intentional or not, increasing access to energy via renewable sources has significant benefits due to the avoided emission of greenhouse gases in low- and middle-income countries. There is also the potential for innovative technologies or models to find application in higher-income countries.

These innovations seek not only to increase access to energy, but to offset or avoid existing expenditures on non-renewable sources. Some of these approaches may have the potential to become commercially viable if combined with innovative business models.


The Energy Initiative identifies individuals and communities that are developing innovative approaches to power generation, and connects them with the expertise, knowledge, and tools to design commercially viable business models and build profitable enterprises. We work with faculty, students, and other collaborators across the University of Michigan campus, and beyond to increase access to energy in low- and middle-income countries, and to develop innovative models or technologies that can reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources in higher-income markets.


Programs & Projects

Knowledge Sharing

  • Closing the Circuit: Accelerating Clean Energy Investment in India

    Knowledge Resource: Energy

    December 2018

    In September, 2018 WDI and the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University released a paper exploring opportunities for greater alignment between clean energy enterprises and investors operating in India. The paper, “Closing the Circuit: Accelerating Clean Energy…
  • Accelerating an Impact Industry: Lessons from the Clean Cookstove Industry (Kenya, Bangladesh)

    Global Impact Speaker Series: Energy

    November 2018

    WDI reviewed and documented lessons learned by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (the Alliance) since its inception. The Alliance is a public-private partnership hosted by the United Nations Foundation that aims to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and…
  • Making Money by Fighting Poverty

    Knowledge Resource: Base of the Pyramid (BoP), Energy, Finance/Microfinance, Healthcare, Sanitation, Scaling Impact

    November 2016

    In an article published in the November 2016 issue of ISE Magazine, WDI's Ted London and Colm Fay discuss how standardized frameworks can help create sustainable businesses for the base of the pyramid in developing countries. This article is provided…
  • Focusing on the Next Generation: An Exploration of Enterprise Poverty Impacts on Children

    Knowledge Resource: Agri-business, Agriculture, Assessment/Measurement, Base of the Pyramid (BoP), Energy, Healthcare, Housing

    December 18, 2013

    Assessment of the role BoP ventures can play in alleviating poverty on children age eight years and younger. This article aggregates impact findings across the six ventures including businesses that sell a product to the BoP, businesses that sell a…
  • Access to Clean Lighting and Its Impact on Children: An Exploration of SolarAid’s SunnyMoney

    Knowledge Resource: Assessment/Measurement, Base of the Pyramid (BoP), Energy

    December 18, 2013

    Case study on the impact of SunnyMoney on alleviating poverty on children age eight years and younger. SunnyMoney sells a wide range of solar products to BoP communities with limited access to electricity in Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, and Zambia and…



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