Global Campaign Tackles Energy Access in Africa

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Power for All is a non-profit that is working to bring much more energy access to people in Africa. William Brent is the Director of Communications, Media & Content for the organization. He generously answered some questions about its work in Africa.

Britain’s International Development Minister Grant Shapps announced new UK support to Power for All, what does this support look like in the most practical, concrete terms?

Power for All is working closely with the UK’s Energy Africa program, which has set a goal of getting a dozen African countries to support the accelerated deployment of off-grid solar. Nigeria and Sierra Leone are already on board. Our funding is for mobilizing the private sector and civil society in those 12 markets, and in doing so helping to create the policy and financing environment needed to achieve energy access for the 620 million Africans without it. Specifically, we will engage key decision-makers to remove market barriers. No two markets are alike, and the campaign has created specific action plans for each.

What are some specific clean energy successes your organization has been connected with?

The fact that Power for All exists is already a huge success. It signifies that the market for off-grid renewable energy has gone mainstream, and now has a seat at the table in determining how the world develops a modern energy infrastructure that is equitable and sustainable. Distributed technology is ready to scale, and the financial world has finally woken up to the huge market potential for distributed solar, wind, biomass, micro-hydro and mini-grids. As a collective  industry voice for this $500 billion opportunity, our main job (and metric of success) will be to highlight the successes of the entrepreneurs, companies and countries blazing a new path to democratized energy.

What are some of your goals for the next three to five years?

2016 will be a watershed year for distributed renewables in emerging markets. Our immediate goal is to elevate the profile and collective influence of the sector globally and in key markets such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Additionally, we will recruit champions to carry the Power for All message at the highest-levels of energy policy and finance. That message is that energy access doesn’t have to wait until 2030 and cost $700 billion. It can happen by 2025 and cost 1/10th of the amount by scaling off-grid renewables. More than that, off-grid renewables are an engine for economic and job growth, and a magnet for investment.

How many partners does your organization have?

Power for All requires the action of many. We have committed to sign up at least 100 partners over the next year, including private businesses, multinationals, investors, industry groups, NGOs and even national governments. We expect to easily exceed that goal given the momentum of the off-grid renewable sector right now. Power for All started with a handful of partners, including Off Grid Electric,, Sierra Club, d.light, GOGLA, Practical Action and Greenlight Planet. We’re seeing huge interest from the sector, and are adding new partners every week.

What can individuals do to support clean energy development in Africa?

Power for All believes that the market should do most of the work in supporting the scaling of off-grid renewables. That said, impact investing and social enterprises have a transitional role to play in priming the pump, and individuals can financially support those entities. You can also sign up at We will be rolling out a series of actions in coming months that both organizations and individuals can participate in.

Are you expecting that the coming clean energy explosion in Africa will birth a new generation of entrepreneurs?

It already has. We estimate that 7,000 to 20,000 new businesses will need to be created to achieve universal energy access by 2030. Many great entrepreneurial ventures are already innovating new off-grid business models that are taking off, such as mobile pay-as-you-go solar and mini-grids. The level of talent that this sector is attracting is truly staggering. These are the people who will lead the next major revolution in energy services. We’re also seeing that this is much more of an inclusive movement, with women playing a much more significant role than the traditional energy industry.

Which Africans most need clean, renewable sources of electricity?

2 of every 3 Africans – 620 million people – don’t have access to ANY meaningful sources of electricity. They all need it. Most of them live in rural areas that will never see grid extension. And by 2030 there will be another 450 million people in Africa under the age of 15. We need solutions that can reach people fast. And an often forgotten aspect of energy access is the multiplier effect it has in achieving many other development goals – poverty reduction, access to clean water, education, healthcare and climate action

Will you focus on specific areas like electrifying remote village areas that are currently not near a grid, or that lack the funds for a grid connection?

The off-grid solutions that Power for All is advancing are best suited for rural areas, especially as the technology costs continue their rapid decline. But we are also starting to see mini-grids gather steam, which have the potential to serve peri-urban communities. The grid in some urban centers is so unreliable and expensive that city dwellers are looking for other options as well, but our focus will be in remote areas that are likely to never see the grid reach them.

Do you have any sense of the number of jobs that will be created in Africa as more and more clean electricity technology is installed and becomes operational?

We’re collaborating with other organizations on more quantitative data to show the potential of the sector. Job creation is one key metric, and although comprehensive up-to-date data is still being pulled together, some strong indicators are already emerging about the huge potential. For example, a 2013 report from IRENA estimated 4.5 million jobs in the off-grid renewables-based electricity sector by 2030. Similarly, a UNEP study estimated that 15,000 new jobs have already been created in Africa due to off-grid solar lighting markets and that the sector could grow to half a million jobs in West African countries alone.

Image Credit: Corrie Wingate, Solar Aid

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Jake Richardson

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3 thoughts on “Global Campaign Tackles Energy Access in Africa

  • There are plenty of extremely poor people in Africa and India for whom market solutions will not work: disabled people for instance. PAYGO assumes a mobile phone, which may be out of reach. Philanthropy needs to shift and narrow its focus, as business is now quite capable of meeting the needs of the billions of not-quite-so poor.

    • Where are the modern day philanthropists who are actually doing stuff?

  • With solar and wind power not everyone will have to move out of their ancestral homelands and into some unforgiving city.

    Tech makers should consider making more cheap, ruff-n-tuff devices for folks who live in rural and remote areas of the world.

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