Closing the electricity access gap in times of COVID-19

Kenya solar lighting

The off-grid solar sector has continued to grow over the past years, and stand-alone solar systems are increasingly recognized as an important element in the fight against energy poverty.

As we face the global impact of the COVID-19 virus, ensuring sustainable development of the off-grid energy sector is of vital importance. Access to electricity in off-grid areas allows people to communicate (by powering cell phones, radio and TV). This allows them to stay informed on preventive measures to minimize the spreading of the virus and increase the resilience of communities, for example, by ensuring food security by powering agriculture. Also, access to energy helps communities to deal with the challenges stay-at-home measures can bring.

Now more than ever, we need to ensure that energy access interventions leave no one behind and that we keep the lights on. Close to one billion people around the world have no access to electricity. The Sustainable Development Goal 7 that aims to achieve universal access to energy by 2030, is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in remote, low-income rural communities where off-grid solar companies face additional difficulties to engage.

Call to Action

Recognizing the energy access challenge in remote and vulnerable communities, SNV with support from GOGLA and SEforAll launched a Call to Action in 2017 to accelerate the development of off-grid solar markets in these areas. The aim was to provide affordable modern electricity services in rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on the dissemination of entry-level, quality solar products to low income communities, applying a market-based approach.

Results so far

In the period 2017-2019, SNV contributed to more than 1.4 million people, gaining access to quality off-grid solar products across several African countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. Results Based Financing (RBF), de-risking private sector investment to engage in new markets, played a critical role in the delivery of these results. Particularly in Kenya and Tanzania, SNV supported off-grid solar ecosystem development, providing a solid foundation for further scaling of the market. Affordability was particularly addressed by focusing on low-cost, quality Pico PV products, as well as Pay-As-You-Go modalities in the solar home system industry.

Following SNV’s experience designing and implementing RBF facilities in the off-grid solar sector to reach the last mile, similar approaches were adopted in several other countries. Meanwhile, RBF has become a preferred mechanism for donors, private and financial sectors to accelerate the dissemination of off grid energy solutions in emerging markets.

New initiatives

Several new initiatives were established to support off-grid solar market development, with a focus on vulnerable, hard to reach communities. In 2019, the Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project (KOSAP) was launched, a flagship project of the Ministry of Energy, financed by the World Bank, aiming to provide electricity and clean cooking solutions in the remote, low density, and traditionally underserved areas of the country. SNV in partnership with SunFunder Inc. are the Facilities Managers of KOSAP, managing a USD 48 million facility (RBF paired with debt) that aims to incentivize the private sector to establish operations in these remote areas.

In Mozambique, SNV manages the DFID-funded BRILHO programme, a five-year GBP 22.8 million initiative (2019–2024) to catalyse Mozambique’s off-grid energy market to provide clean and affordable energy solutions for the country’s off-grid population. Solar home systems and mini-grids are key areas of support for the BRILHO programme. BRILHO offers selected companies a unique mix of structured non-reimbursable funding and specialised support, to de-risk business initiatives that aim to achieve competitive commercial returns and provide off-grid energy solutions to low-income markets. Alongside, BRILHO supports the sector ecosystem development by improving access to information, setting quality benchmarks and advocating for a better regulatory framework.

Productive use of energy

As part of the Energising Development (EnDev) programme, SNV continues to support the off-grid solar sector in Tanzania and Kenya, with a particular focus on productive use of energy (PUE) applications. SNV is also leading EnDev’s learning and innovation initiative on PUE. We will concentrate  on energy solutions in agricultural value chains, building on SNV’s extensive track-record in agriculture. Amongst others, SNV is working on energy-agriculture nexus solutions as part of the Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) project and the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD).

The COVID-19 crisis is expected to have a significant impact on the economic situation and food security in the countries in which we operate. Productive use of energy in agriculture (e.g. solar irrigation, cooling and drying) is expected to become of increasing importance in our work, to ensure reliable and stable local supply of food. And in turn contributing to people’s resilience to effects of this current pandemic and future challenges.

Joining efforts in response to COVID-19

Recognizing the need for a joint effort to counter the impact of COVID-19 on the off-grid energy sector, SNV has joined a Call to Action launched by the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE) that presents a roadmap for the sector to survive and flourish in the wake of the current crisis. The Call to Action puts forward actionable recommendations for governments, funders and philanthropies to act decisively, to ensure a future for the sector and achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.