Bold actions are necessary to unlock the potential for economic empowerment by eradicating energy poverty (UN Sustainable Development Goal 7) by 2030. This will require a sustained commitment to significant levels of new investments. Delivering on the promise of universal energy access and improved life quality has eluded policy-makers and governments over the past seven decades. Affordability of energy services for every global citizen, spanning vastly diverse regions and local contexts, requires the development and massive diffusion of technologies that offer “point-of-use” options combined with new business models. Social innovations and flexible governance approaches will also need to be integrated with technological advances. The scope and scale of developmental change span large-scale grid systems to decentralized distributed resources at community levels to the households. We recommend a global network of “energy access innovation centers” dedicated to providing a dynamic “extension service” that bolsters the entire supply chain of talent and expertise, design and operational requirements of system deployment and capacity to embed low-cost, high-performance next-generation technological solutions in the field. To meet the needs of those at the base of the economic and social pyramid, the dual challenges of economic development and transition to a low-carbon energy future make clean energy access the quintessential challenge of the 21st century.