Access to modern energy is a pre-requisite for socio-economic development. Yet, over 750 million people continued to live without electricity access in 2019 and many more had to contend with unreliable supply. The consequent economic and social cost is significant and a key argument for mobilising urgent action and investments to reach universal access by 2030 – as targeted under Sustainable Development Goal 7. An integral part of achieving the 2030 Agenda and building back better from the COVID 19 pandemic will be steps to catalyse rural economies, create local jobs and ensure resilient public infrastructure. Access to modern energy should be a central pillar of such recovery and will contribute to a more inclusive and just energy system in the long-term. Decentralised renewable energy solutions promise to play an essential role in reaching universal energy access in a timely manner. Linking decentralised renewables with livelihoods is an important step. It offers the opportunity to translate investments in electricity connections and kilowatt-hours into higher incomes for communities and enterprises, local livelihood opportunities and well-being for large populations in rural and peri-urban areas. However, it is not the only pre-requisite. Achieving this transformative change requires greater efforts than simply deploying decentralised systems or delivering units of electricity. It requires investing in an ecosystem that positions the diversity of people’s livelihoods (rather than technological solutions) at the centre of energy access efforts, and delivers tailored energy solutions, the financing, capacity and skills, market access and policy support to realise the full benefits of decentralised renewable energy.