Three Financial & Technical Tools Emerging in the Off-Grid Market
Maurice Kent, Investment Program Officer, Scaling Off-Grid Energy
Katrina Pielli, Senior Energy Advisor and Beyond the Grid Lead, Power Africa
Last week, USAID’s Scaling Off-Grid Energy (SOGE) and Power Africa teams participated in the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association’s (GOGLA) biennial Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo in Hong Kong. Over 600 leading manufacturers and investors from around the world joined the event, a testament to how the distributed solar market has grown. The market was once a few small distributors in a few countries, but has now matured into a vibrant and diversified sector serving over a million customers across multiple continents. Multiple pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar companies announced new fund raises and product launches. Power Africa and SOGE also made a number of exciting new announcements:
We announced a new coalition between UK AID, Power Africa, and several other organizations called Efficiency for Access, which promotes energy efficiency as a potent catalyst in global clean energy access.
We previewed the Power Africa and Mastercard Smart Communities Coalition, a public-private effort to improve the delivery of essential services to refugees and host communities through enhanced coordination and strategic implementation of technology.
The week’s panels and conversations showed that financial and technical tools are coming together for what we hope is a rapid expansion of solar home system (SHS) sales in key markets in 2018. We anticipate companies will diversify their geographic focus, business structures, and product offerings. We share our thoughts on these tools below, and what they mean for our continued efforts to accelerate SHS sales in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Finance and expansion
First, companies and investors were eager to announce recent debt or equity raises and continue the conversation around potential partnerships going forward. GOGLA and IFC highlighted $75M in new investments. The African Development Bank unveiled its $100M debt vehicle co-developed with support from Calvert Impact Capital, Nordic Development Fund and others. The fund allows off-grid energy companies to access local and hard currency debt. Newer financial intermediaries, including SOGE partners Solar Frontier Capital and SIMA Funds, as well as Trine, Lendahand and others, were present to discuss existing or forthcoming resources, and engage potential investees/borrowers.
For all of the progress, SOGE partners see that a financing gap persists. That is why there is a need for continued donor engagement in the SHS space—to help connect SHS companies with financial resources as they become available. We will share more on our efforts to expand access to blended finance as a Grand Challenge partnership in the near future.
Appliances for consumer and productive use move into focus
Alongside the new products from the Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition, a range of additional products available to off-grid customers soon was on display. Greenlight Planet, for example, unveiled Sun King TV, a 19-inch LED screen with inbuilt digital video broadcast receiver, able to receive any free-to-air digital signal without need for a signal converter. Distributors consistently highlighted the need to integrate this expanded range of consumer and productive-use appliances into their offerings, as demand for higher-performance devices increases from new to upgrading customers.
As co-sponsors of the Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition, SOGE was pleased to see the GOGLA event serve as a chance for off-grid energy companies to interact directly with off-grid-ready refrigerator manufacturers. We’re keen to see off-grid cooling—once considered too expensive and power-intensive—become an everyday part of household life. The link between off-grid energy services and productive use was highlighted at every turn, from crop sprayers for agricultural use to solar water pumps.
Data management and streamlining of operations
The third major tool on display at the conference was third-party software platforms for PAYG companies. This is not a new resource: Angaza has been helping new SHS companies enter the market without having to develop their own back-end management system for years. New SOGE awardee, Mobisol, launched its Paygee platform and shared insights alongside Angaza and Solaris OffGrid on how these tools have evolved. It was great to see attendees engaged on the subject of third-party platforms at Forum with tremendous enthusiasm. We feel 2018 is the year in which companies begin to maximize their use of PAYG data systems to understand and serve their customers across many different income segments.
To read more about the event overall, see the official GOGLA readouts here and here, and find here an excellent, rapid-fire list of key emerging issues from Power for All.