Mini-grids take centre stage in achieving SDG goal 7 for Africa
Providing access to reliable and affordable energy is essential to economic growth within Africa. Despite years of progress toward improving energy access, COVID-19 set back advances leading to a decline in energy access across the continent. It is estimated that up to 30 million people lost access to electricity due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. Slow progress and disruptions caused by COVID-19 means that Africa is not on track to achieving SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy). Approximately 90 million people per year will need to receive energy access, with approximately $200 billion required to make this happen in Sub-Saharan Africa(SSA) to meet the SDG7. This feat can not only be accomplished through extending central grids; however, we believe that decentralised renewable energy (DRE) will play an important role in achieving this goal.
Mini-grids and household solar systems are expected to account for 50% of new connections in Africa. Supporting the planning and deployment of mini-grids projects is thus critical to advancing energy access within SSA. The Growing Government Engagement in Energy Access (GGE-EA) project, funded with UK Aid from the UK government via the Transforming Energy Access Programme, aims to support the deployment of mini-grids through building the capacity of rural electrification officials in SSA>
Between 21-23 March, CLUB-ER and AfLP travelled to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to attend the ARE Energy Access Investment Forum as part of the GGE-EA project. The forum brought together more than 400 players from across the public and private sectors, development finance institutions and energy and climate investors. The event aimed to facilitate partnerships between businesses and investors to accelerate DRE investment. Over the three days, speakers reflected on key issues of scaling up investment to meet the energy access challenge, driving productive use of energy (PUE), upskilling producers and users, digitising and data availability, and many more.
One of the key themes emerging from the event was ensuring that demand for energy is matched with affordable and reliable supply. Albert Fuchet, from Schneider Electric, in their keynote speech outlined the importance of affordability, awareness and availability as key elements for implementing DRE. Beyond simply providing energy access, ensuring that consumers could afford to purchase electricity for their needs, were aware of their productive use options and could be provided with reliable access is essential to the sustainability of mini-grid projects.
Many private and public sector players highlighted that supply and demand were often misaligned for mini-grid systems. On one hand, consumers were not utilising enough energy, highlighting the need to drive PUE. Barbara Izilein, Senior Advisor to MD/CEO of REA Nigeria, highlighted how in some instances, communities were accustomed to not having electricity and as such, communities needed to buy into the idea of PUE as a new income stream.
On the final day, various public-private sector dialogues were held to discuss challenges faced by both sectors and opportunities to address these. These dialogues included sessions focused on: West Africa, Mozambique, East Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Central and Southern Africa, Nigeria, Southern Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo. These sessions hosted representatives from rural electrification authorities (REAs) as well as businesses working within the region. Both parties were given the opportunity to share their progress, reflect on challenges, and discuss opportunities for collaboration.
Public-private sector engagements are a key workstream of the GGE-EA project. GGE-EA supported the attendance of 21 representatives from various CLUB-ER member REAs across the continent (providing funding support for 10 of these members). These participants appreciated the project and event organisers for facilitating opportunities to meet and engage with other actors across Africa’s mini-grid sector. In addition, Hary Andriantavy, the project lead from CLUB-ER, chaired one of the streams of these dialogues. Experiences from the event and new connections made will play an important role in the delivery of the GGE-EA – helping to shape future public-private engagements and providing key opportunities for the project’s work to establish a reliable database in mini-grids.
Through building the capacity of public sector officials and decision-makers, GGE-EA seeks to create an enabling environment in governments for the large-scale implementation of mini-grids to facilitate enhanced energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). GGE-EA is implemented in partnership between CLUB-ER and the Africa Mini-Grids Community of Practice (AMG-COP) of the Africa LEDS Partnership (AFLP) at SouthSouthNorth. This project is funded with UK Aid from the UK government via the Transforming Energy Access Programme