Young-boys-with-light-largePhoto credit: Foundation Rural Energy Services

Despite the prevalence of cell phones today across the African continent, one in every two young Africans still does not have access to modern energy services. While the lack of electricity represents a significant challenge given the social, educational, and economic opportunities that come with reliable power, developing innovative ways to address these issues sustainably is also a significant entrepreneurial opportunity.

Harnessing the power of Africa’s entrepreneurial spirit, a diverse group of almost 600 African energy entrepreneurs within the global 1,700 member UN Foundation-led Energy Access Practitioner Network are delivering renewable energy via a range of micro-grid and off-grid solutions to millions of customers and communities across the continent.

Together, they are providing solutions like solar lanterns, small hydro plants, biomass gasifiers, and solar home systems as well as hybrid wind-solar-diesel micro-grids that power homes and businesses in Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and beyond. These are often needed to help reach low-income consumers in areas where it may be difficult or not feasible to extend the grid, particularly in the short-term. Together with ongoing grid extension work, they contribute significantly towards the UN’s global goal of achieving universal access to modern energy services by 2030, one of the three objectives of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

A Network of Innovation – Connecting Rural Africa

Solar photovoltaic solutions in particular are becoming increasingly relevant in rural settings due to the rapid decrease in the price of solar modules and reaching “grid parity” in pricing relative to diesel fuel, as well as their rapid deployment capability. New technology-enabled financing models also allow low-income consumers to “pay as you go” rather than purchase the system, increasing the affordability of the energy services. Tanzania-based Off Grid: Electric, a Practitioner Network member that uses a solar-as-a-service model, is experiencing rapid growth in this market, leveraging recent investment from U.S. residential solar giant Solar City to extend its services across Tanzania.

Another Network member, Innovation: Africa installs solar solutions for health centers and other applications in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To date their solutions have supported provision of light, clean water, food, and medical care benefiting more than 675,000 people.

Innovative partnerships are key in expanding energy access in rural areas. The World Wide Fund for Nature, Uganda and solar solution provider Barefoot Power are working together to demonstrate innovative ways of ensuring that over 110,000 households in Uganda’s Kasese district will have access to clean, affordable energy by 2020.

The Energy Access Practitioner Network is also a founding partner in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Power Africa “Beyond the Grid” initiative, which will help channel over US$ 1 billion into off-grid and small-scale solutions in sub-Saharan Africa, delivering electricity to an estimated 20 million households over five years.

These initiatives can draw on the strength already represented in the many practitioner network organizations like Innovation:Africa, Off-Grid Electric, and others. They deliver solutions in hard-to-serve contexts, tailoring an array of technologies and innovative business models to meet their customer’s power needs, whether large or small, residential, agricultural, or commercial.

They need our ongoing support, through appropriately tailored investment, through the partnerships and learnings that come through the “know who” as well as the “know how,” and through smart policies at national and regional level that can catalyze and support the growth of these creative, entrepreneurial enterprises to ensure that we can indeed power inclusive African growth and provide Sustainable Energy for All.