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Solar energy provides for a brighter life

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Electrifying last mile communities in sub-Saharan Africa provides income and education

For Mariatou darkness is a daily issue. She lives in a rural community in West Cameroon and has not had lighting in her home for over a year. In her village, income-generating activities and education come to a standstill as soon as the sun sets.

“We only use kerosene lamps. And even the children can't learn at night (…) We are under-informed due to the lack of light.” The lack of access to energy is also hard during the daytime for Mariatou and her neighbours. To charge phones and appliances, they frequently travel by foot to distant villages.

Today, approximately 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still lack access to electricity. In rural and remote areas, where grid connections are often seen as too costly to implement and low incomes make power less affordable, the lights stay out for more than two out of three inhabitants.

For all these people living off the grid, like Mariatou, access to clean energy is life changing. Small scale off-grid technologies such as solar lighting devices and solar home systems are the solution to their daily struggle. They can be deployed more rapidly, require less maintenance and are often the most appropriate and affordable option to meet customer needs.

SolarWorks, equiping households with solar power
SolarWorks!, equiping households with solar power - copyright: SolarWorks!
UpOwa connecting people to solar power
upOwa, connecting people to electricity - Copyright: upOwa

Many entrepreneurs are looking to scale up these solutions across the region, but face challenges. On the one hand, the rapid development of the industry is often met by a lack of favourable policies and regulations. At the same time, accessing finance is a major hurdle, especially for small projects and companies that struggle to tap into existing funding instruments, which are often not adapted to the realities of the market.

This is where GET.invest and the Electrification Financing Initiative (ElectriFI) come into the picture. Both are supported by the EU External Investment Plan to help entrepreneurs overcome such financial challenges.

GET.invest, a programme supported by the European Union, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria, helps projects and businesses become investment-ready by assisting them with financial models, business plans, and financing strategies, amongst other services. ElectriFI provides risk capital to invest in local markets in poorer economies and fragile contexts. ElectriFI can take up projects and finance their growth up to a stage that allows private investors and development finance institutions to come in with additional funds.

SolarWorks connection homes to solar power
SolarWorks! connecting households to solar energy - Copyright: SolarWorks!
SolarWorks equipping 100.000 households with solar power
SolarWorks!, equiping households with solar power - copyright: SolarWorks!

This is the story of how two European programmes cooperate efficiently and deliver hand in hand. Together, the two instruments help tackle market barriers and accelerate the development of projects and businesses that provide access to clean energy where it is needed most.

Recently, GET.invest and ElectriFI have jointly supported developers in Cameroon, Mozambique, and Malawi.

In Cameroon, the two programmes support upOwa, a startup that has been reaching rural and underserved customers – most of whom have never had access to electricity – with their autonomous, tailored solar kits. The €3 million financing raised with ElectriFI has allowed the company to boost distribution throughout the country, already connecting over 165,000 people to clean power.

In Mozambique and Malawi, GET.invest assisted the developer SolarWorks! in mobilising an amount equivalent to €3.5 million from ElectriFI, financing that will equip more than 100,000 households with solar home systems by 2021 – from small units that include lights and mobile-charging capacity to bigger ones powering televisions, refrigerators, and sewing machines.

Access to clean, reliable and affordable power is increasing local employment opportunities, economic security and resilience to climate change impacts. At the same time, it is transforming the lives of people like Mariatou, who are now able to listen to the radio, watch TV, charge their mobile phones or simply keep the light on in their homes and businesses.