Publications

Scaling Off-Grid Energy Year-in-Review: Online version and PDF – September 2017
Reaching Scale in Access to Energy (Hystra) – 2017

Graphics

Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Year in Review – July 2017

Press Release

USAID Announces $4 Million to Solar Start-Ups for African Off-Grid Energy (USAID) – November, 14, 2016
Obama Administration Announces New Financing For Renewable Energy Projects And Actions To Spur Innovation And Promote Energy Access Globally (White House and U.S. Department of Energy) – November, 14, 2016
USAID Announces New Partnerships and Expands Support for Africa (USAID) – September 21, 2016
USAID Commits More Than $38 Million to Global Entreprenuership (USAID) – June 23, 2016

News

PEG Africa Wins International Ashden Award for Innovative Finance (Ashden) – June 2017
USAID Offering $4M for Solar Startups in Africa (Biz Community) – February 27, 2017
USAID Opens $4M Funding Round for Africa Off-Grid Solar (Decentralized Energy) – February 22, 2017
USAID Invites Applications for Funding Off-Grid Solar Projects in Africa (Financial Nigeria) – February 22, 2017
USAID Adds Momentum to Sub-Saharan Off-Grid Solar with New $4 Million New SOGE Grant Awards (Microgrid Media) – February 16, 2017
USAID Offering $4M for Solar Startups in Africa (Disrupt Africa) – February 16, 2017
New Funding Opportunity Targets Private Sector Participation (Alternative Energy Africa) – February 14, 2017
USAID to Award $4M to Multiple, Innovative Off-Grid Solar Businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa (World Stage Group) – February 14, 2017
USAID Announces $4M Fund for Off-Grid PV Start-Ups (ESI Africa) – February 14, 2017
Fenix International's Pay-to-Own Solar Doubles Ugandan Off-Grid Customer Base (Clean Technica) – January 24, 2017
Bill Gates Commends the Impact of African Solar Power Startups (Tech Point) – January 16, 2017
USAID Invests US$4 Million in African Off-Grid Solar (PV Tech) – November 28, 2016
US Agency Backs 8 African Off-Grid Solar Development Companies (Utility Dive) – November 28, 2016
USAID Announces USD 4 Million for Solar Start-Ups for African Off-Grid Solar Power (Solar Server) – November 28, 2016
USAID Injects $4 Million to African Off-Grid Solar (PV Magazine) – November 25, 2016
Eight African Home Solar Startups Win $4 Million in Scaling Off-Grid Energy Enterprise Grants (Renewable Energy World) – November 23, 2016
USAID to Invest $4M in Solar Startups (ESI Africa) – November 23, 2016
USAID Announces $4 Million for African Off-Grid Solar Startups (Clean Technica) – November 22, 2016
USAID Invests $4 Million in Eight African-Based Solar Startups (Footprint to Africa) – November 21, 2016
1 Nigerian Solar Startup and 7 Others from Africa Get $4 Million Investment from USAID (Techpoint) – November 18, 2016
Solar Innovators Get $4M USAID Investments (Disrupt Africa) – November 17, 2016
USAID Funding for African Solar Off-Grid Start-ups (Alternative Energy Africa) – November 16, 2016
$600,000 Prize Targets High-Efficiency, Off-Grid Refrigerators (R744) – November 15, 2016
Power Africa's Off Grid Grand Challenge Winners (Alternative Energy Africa) – November 15, 2016
Obama Administration Adds to List of Clean Energy Initiatives (Solar Industry Magazine) – November 14, 2016
If You Can Make a Solar Fridge, Here is Your Chance (Media Max Network Kenya) – October 4, 2016
Global LEAP Launches Competition for Off-Grid Refrigerators (Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News) – October 3, 2016
Global LEAP Competition for World's Most Innovative Off-Grid Refrigerators Launched (Renewable Energy Focus) –  September 28, 2016
Global LEAP Competition for World's Most Innovative Off-Grid Refrigerators Launched (Alternative Energy Africa) –  September 22, 2016
Off-Grid Fridge Contest Makes Energy Efficiency "Cool" Again (Power for All) –  September 21, 2016
New Initiative to Give Africa Cheap Electricity (SciDevNet) – July 21, 2016
$38+ Million Committed by USAID to Global Entreprenuers & Energy (Clean Technica) – July 14, 2016​
New Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge Signals Shift in USAID Approach (Devex) – June 24, 2016
USAID Announces Support for African Innovators, Off-Grid Projects (Disrupt Africa) – June 24, 2016
This $6-a-Month Plan Brings Solar Power to People Living Off the Grid (NPR) – June 24, 2016
USAID Commits More than $38 Million to Global Entrepreneurship (Al Arabiya English) – June 24, 2016
Enter the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigeration Competition to Win Up to $300K (TechPoint) – June 23, 2016
$36M Challenge Launched for Off-Grid Energy to Power 20M Homes in Africa (Forbes) – June 23, 2016

Blogs

Can User-Friendly Payment Methods Improve Repayment Rates? (CGAP) – July 17, 2016
Microsoft Announces Partnership to Scale Off-Grid Energy in Africa (Microsoft) – November 17, 2016
It's Time to Get "Ambitious" About Partnerships (Huffington Post) – September 22, 2016
3 Reasons Why People in Tanzania Are Going Off-Grid (Medium) – September 1, 2016
Challenging Innovators to Turn the Power On in Africa (Medium) – June 24, 2016

Video

USAID Administrator Gayle Smith Launches Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge – June 23, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is the goal of the Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge?

Our goal is to accelerate growth of the off-grid energy market in sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on energy solutions that can connect households to modern, clean and affordable electricity. This is a market where entrepreneurs are already operating and demonstrating promising growth, but only reaching a small fraction of the over 600 million people who lack access to electricity. The Grand Challenge aims to work with entrepreneurs and investors to grow the market to reach 20 million households. Our vision is to spur a vibrant market that provides off-grid energy solutions to low-income consumers across Africa.

2. How does the Grand Challenge relate to Power Africa?    

Launched in 2013 by President Obama, Power Africa aims to increase access to electricity by adding 30,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity and 60 million new electricity connections for homes and businesses by 2030.

Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Grand Challenge for Development supports Power Africa’s “Beyond the Grid” sub-initiative by connecting sub-Saharan African communities with access to off-grid energy. The Grand Challenge is a joint effort of USAID and the UK Department of International Development (DFID) and the Shell Foundation – both of whom are Power Africa partners. Under the Grand Challenge, USAID, DFID and Shell Foundation will work together to mobilize their combined resources, programs, and expertise to accelerate the growth of the household solar sector. The Grand Challenge will advance the goals and commitments made under the U.S. and U.K. flagship energy access initiatives, Power Africa and Energy Africa.

The Grand Challenge will help businesses that provide off-grid energy expand geographically, test new business models, and tap into private sources of finance. It will incentivize innovation through prizes like the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Refrigeration Competition. And, it will strengthen the marketplace by addressing country-level barriers to the growth of off-grid markets, by promoting policy and regulatory reforms, spurring the growth of mobile payment systems, and building capacity in local markets.

3. Why are you focusing on the off-grid energy sector in Africa? 

We are focusing on the off-grid energy sector because there are hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa who do not have access to the electricity grid, and who are unlikely to be connected to the grid in the near future. Off-grid power solutions enable those in remote areas to improve basic living conditions and provide the spark for economic opportunity.

Despite progress in expanding generation capacity and extending the grid in many countries, we expect about half of Power Africa’s electrical connections to come from off-grid sources – 25 to 30 million of the total 60 million connections. Off-grid solutions provide a market-based, cost-effective way to provide access to electricity for communities for whom grid connections are not a short term option.  

A number of factors are converging to make the household sector primed for growth in the short term. The cost of solar technologies is rapidly falling, while the cost of kerosene, a common substitute, is rising, making the economics of entrepreneurial business models more attractive. In addition, a number of companies have refined their business models for serving base of the pyramid customers with solar home solutions, successfully expanded their reach, and have started to reach the levels of scale, maturity, and financial performance to attract private investment. In key markets, the spread of mobile money and digital financial services has served as a key enabler, by making possible pay-as-you-go business models which enable consumer financing options. Furthermore, there is proof in the marketplace that solar home solutions can scale via entrepreneurial business markets, as evidenced by recent rapid growth in countries like Kenya and Bangladesh. Finally, there is growing interest in scaling solar home solutions from a growing array of donors and investors.   

4.  How will the partnership between USAID, DFID and Shell Foundation work?

USAID, DFID and Shell Foundation are three of the leading donors focused on household solar – and are projected to invest significant resources in efforts to advance household solar market and adjacent segments of the off-grid market in the next three to four years. The Grand Challenge provides an opportunity to ensure that these collective investments are targeted and coordinated for maximum impact in accelerating results. We also believe such donor coordination is critical to ensure value for money in our collective investments – taking a holistic market-level view to target each of our investments to where they can have the greatest impact in accelerating the market, and avoiding the risk of duplication of efforts.  

The partners are coming together under the banner of a Grand Challenge is to establish a stronger multi-donor platform for collaboration specifically in the household solar space to enable the partners to jointly:

  • Articulate a shared vision of building a vibrant market for household clean energy solutions, and take a holistic market-building approach to strengthening and scaling the sector.
  • Better target and optimize partners’ respective investments in this sector to accelerate results, including identifying the most promising successes to scale.
  • Identify programmatic interventions and investments that can advance implementation of country compacts as part of Energy Africa.
  • Drive ongoing coordination at a “portfolio level” across the partners’ various existing programs – so that we are not only coordinating at “project” level, but across the full range of activities the partners are engaged in.
  • Track the evolving needs of the market, and use that market intelligence to more quickly and efficiently identify opportunities for joint or independent interventions / investments.
  • Work together to engage additional partners and to attract entirely new stakeholders to the sector – e.g. African investors, new philanthropic partners.
  • Have shared voice / agenda in the partners’ engagement and advocacy with host country governments and other local stakeholders.

5. What are opportunities for entrepreneurs under the Grand Challenge?   

USAID, Shell Foundation and DFID have provided early stage funding and technical support to a range of household solar enterprises in the last several years to help spur the growth of the sector. Under the Grand Challenge, the partners will continue to pursue opportunities to support firms to test their business models, expand geographically, expand their offerings to consumers and access private financing. In the next year, USAID will be awarding up to $4 million in funding to promising off-grid energy firms later in 2016.  And the partners will be collaborating on additional opportunities to support enterprises in the year ahead.  

The first new window to open under the Grand Challenge is the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigeration Competition. The application window for the prize closed January 20, 2017.

6.  What is the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigeration Competition?

The Global LEAP Awards is an international competition to identify, promote, and accelerate innovation in the world’s best off-grid appliances. In support of Power Africa, Global LEAP and USAID have partnered to issue a joint call for off-grid refrigeration solutions. This call will fall under the 2016-17 Global LEAP Awards Program and as part of the first call under Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Grand Challenge for Development. Our vision is to increase the availability of high-demand products at affordable price points, and in turn increase demand for off-grid solar solutions, such as solar home systems and mini-grids.

The competition will offer $600,000 or more in award money as access to bulk procurement incentives program to reward advancements in off-grid refrigeration technology, while also recognizing best-in-class commercially available off-grid refrigerators.