“Energy Access Outlook 2017” – the latest report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) – shows that in 2016 more than half of the world’s population without energy access (588 million people) lived in Sub-Saharan Africa, where national electricity grids reach only 43% of the citizens.
“Mission Innovation”, an initiative launched at COP21 in Paris in 2015, gathers for its part 23 members (22 countries and the EU) committed to double their public investments in clean energy research and development for a total of approximately 30 billion dollars once a year until 2021.The member states that joined this initiative help find investments for the selected projects, usually through public-private partnerships. One of the seven goals detected by these stakeholders is to ensure “access to renewable energy for off-grid communities”; it aims at developing solutions capable of providing cheap, reliable and renewable energy to families and communities who are not connected to national grids.
In the framework of its “New Deal” for energy in Africa, the African Development Bank (AfDB) aspires to achieve 75 million new off-grid energy connections by 2025; this will be possible thanks to a great number of partners’ investments.
Furthermore, the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA), which is hosted by the renewable energy department of AfDB, is a multilateral fund established by the governments of Denmark, United Kingdom, United States and Italy for the purpose of facilitating investments in energy efficiency projects and renewable energy production. Against this backdrop, nearly 1 million dollars have been allocated to Zimbabwe on a 20 MW photovoltaic off-grid solar system project. This installation is intended to provide hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises with a reliable electricity, thus contributing to the development of both rural and urban areas in the country. This project will enable the recipient SMEs to hire 3,790 men and 4,166 women, in addition to the annual removal of 33,000 tons of CO2.
For its part, in 2014 Power Africa – an initiative launched by the U.S. government – has developed a sub-programme called “Beyond The Grid”. It aims at obtaining private sector credit to promote off-grid small-scale solutions on the continent with a view to achieving 25-30 millions of new energy connections by 2030. Furthermore, the town centre of Bujumbura could take advantage of its partnership with a member company of this programme to implement the green electrification of the Burundian capital by means of solar lanterns.
“By spreading our investments in commercial-scale projects to involve off-grid solutions, we hope to have a positive impact on the lives of millions of people, in Burundi and throughout Africa”, said the C.E.O of the company involved in the project. Moreover, Power Africa cooperated with Sweden to launch a rural electrification programme called “Beyond the Grid for Zambia”; its goal is to ensure energy access for 1 million people.
In addition, the U.S. Government also supports a programme presided over by the non-profit organisation ArcFinance; its name is REMMP (Renewable Energy Microfinance Programme), and it aims at integrating crowd-investing into renewable energy projects in favour of underprivileged populations. In Uganda – where 81% of the population is disconnected from the grids – REMMP contributed to the supply of Solar Home Systems to remote rural communities, thus providing 12,000 local users with energy.
For its part, French Development Agency (AFD)’s credit line, SUNREF, helps private players in the southern countries develop their affordable and sustainable energy access projects by obtaining funding from local banks. For example, thanks to SUNREF East Africa support, a company specialising in avocado oil production, Olivado, managed to fund a biogas plant construction in its Kenyan subsidiary, located in the Central Highlands (in the east of the country). This branch employs more than 1,300 local farmers, and has now become totally autonomous for its electricity needs thanks to avocado waste.
In the same way, the Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency, and investments in clean technologies. Launched in 2010 by the governments of Finland, Austria and United Kingdom, this programme operates in East and South Africa. Likewise, another project has been developed within this partnership in Qangwa, in the northwestern district of Botswana; it will soon allow the off-grid solar power supply of an entire 500 households rural community.
It should be noted that the list of initiatives aimed at promoting off-grid systems goes on, which shows the strong potential of these autonomous solutions to eventually implement energy access in Africa. “The question is not about wondering if universal access can be implemented through off-grid solutions,” declared Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), last year on the occasion of the third International Off-grid Renewable Energy Conference. “But about detecting the means to implement such solutions as fast as possible”.