In South Africa, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa, strong urbanization trends lead to people settling in ever less suitable informal locations, which are often considered ineligible for basic service provision. This study explores how access to basic energy services can be provided to informal urban households in South Africa that are ineligible for grid electrification. This is done through a multi-criteria sustainability analysis of current and alternative ways of accessing energy services. The case of the Western Cape Province is explored, showing that barriers for electrification can be overcome in some cases, given that there is political will at the local level to do so. When electrification is unviable, off-grid electricity alternatives combined with support for access to modern cooking fuels may provide short or medium-term solutions. This study further suggests that governmental efforts of meeting basic energy needs must be persistently oriented and structured towards access to energy services, as opposed to supply of electricity.