The Beam interview series, edition 41: Akinwumi Adesina
CleanTechnica publishes some of The Beam interviews and opinion pieces every week. The Beam magazine takes a modern perspective on the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.
A regular supply of power, which is taken for granted in developed countries, is still a luxury in Africa in the 21st century. Some 137 years after Thomas Edison developed the light bulb, the continent is still in the dark. Yet its energy potential is enormous, in particular with almost unlimited solar resources.
Recently, Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) visited Mobisol (read Mobisol’s CEO interview here and a recent update here), a company that offers solar home systems to off-grid populations in Africa. The goal of the visit was to discuss how AfDB could support Mobisol in its mission to electrify Africa.
The main mission of the AfDB is to spur sustainable economic development and social progress for the continent, contributing to the fight against poverty. Within AfDB’s “Sustainable Development Goals” developed in 2015, Goal 7 was particularly at the heart of the visit: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. By providing solar energy to rural populations, companies like Mobisol also help other goals defined by the AfDB such as to ensure healthy lives, support the empowerment of women and combat climate change and its impacts.
Anne-Sophie Garrigou, journalist at The Beam, met with Akinwumi Adesina during this visit. Together, they talked about the challenges of the off-grid sector in Africa and the development of renewable energy, as well as the impact of Trump’s political decision (cutting financial international aid) on the continent.
What would you say are the main challenges that the off-grid sector faces in Africa today?
I think whether we talk about off-grid, mini-grid or grid, the fact is that 645 million people don’t have access to electricity in Africa. The majority of those live in rural areas. As I have always said, Africa can not develop in the dark. You need electricity for small- and medium-sized enterprises to work, you need electricity for hospitals, and you need electricity for kids to go to school and learn. Electricity access is a lifeline for Africa’s present and future.
When I became President of the African Development Bank, we decided that electricity would be a priority. Our goal is to reach universal access to electricity over the next 10 years. Now of course trying to do that, we set ourselves a lot of targets. The first is to connect 130 million people through the grid systems, the second is to connect 75 million people to the off-grid systems and the third is to provide some 175 million access to clean energy for cooking.
When it comes to the off-grid systems, we have a number of companies like Mobisol that are doing a fantastic job. Now, the main challenges that companies like Mobisol face is the access to finance for them to be able to operate. The second challenge is the consumer of electricity themselves, which are often poor households, or as we say “at the bottom of the pyramid,” therefore they need access to consumer credit to be able to afford this system. The third problem is the energy regulatory environment because it was designed for the grid even though the grid is not there and therefore doesn’t take in consideration the off-grid systems.
To solve these problems, the African Development Bank can provide access to quicker equity financing, we can provide debt financing, we can even reduce the level of interest rate on debt financing to make it more affordable for companies like Mobisol. We also committed to providing consumer credit for the bottom of the pyramid households in Africa to have access to decent off-grid single solar panel systems for their households.
Our ambition with the AfDB is to work with companies like Mobisol, to use their fantastic model and replicate it to reach 75 million people. I think they will be a great part of the puzzle and that is why I’m here today, to discuss those options with them.