Energy | Blogs

  • Practical Action working to light Africa

    A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

    Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

     

    Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
    Photo by Sven Torfinn

     

    Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

    The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

    One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

    The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • The power to transform communities


    December 15th, 2017

    The village of Amaguaya sits on the slopes of the Cordillera Real mountain range in Bolivia about 4,000 metres above sea level.  Although it’s only just over 70 miles from La Paz, the journey there, mostly along a small single track, takes about five hours.

    Vicente Poma FloresDespite their remoteness, Amaguaya’s 830 residents have recently witnessed an extraordinary transformation in their community.

    Until 2014, Amaguaya was a village without power.  But the installation of a 60 kw micro hydro plant has transformed the lives of the residents. Electricity has brought light, hot water, safe storage of vaccines and access to the internet, radio and TV.

    The construction of the scheme was overseen by colleagues from Practical Action in Bolivia who also provided training on technical issues and managing the supply company. This included agreeing tariffs and awarding contracts and deciding how to resolve issues of non-payment of bills. Whilst the local authority will undertake major repairs, the community itself will continue to be responsible for day to day operations.

    According to Vicente Poma Flores, the chief operator of the hydro-electric plant,

    “Now we have a way, we have light, it is as if we are climbing the steps to a better and better life.” 

    Vicente grew up in the village and appreciates the transformation as much as anyone.  According to Vicente,

    “My children no longer damage their eyesight working by kerosene lamp,”

    Street lighting has helped people to move around safely after dark and access to electricity in the home has given students more time to do their homework. Vicente has five children in school and sees the benefits for himself. New computer equipment has been acquired by the school to enrich the children’s education, with seven computers now available. Vicente recalls that when he was a child he studied with a lamp. He said that in those days, it felt as though they had been “forgotten”.

    Earlier this year, our team in Bolivia revisited Amaguaya to see how things were progressing.  One of the most striking impacts was that the availability of power had encouraged some former residents to return and resettle. A community that had been facing decline has turned the corner.

    For those of us who’ve grown up with electricity, it can be almost impossible to imagine how much the advent of power can mean. But for Amaguaya, their new micro hydro scheme doesn’t just mean electricity, it also signals hope for a bright new future.

    This article drew on Claudia Canales blog on her visit to Amaguaya in January 2015

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Energy Supporter Objects – The Variety of Energy Technologies and Uses in Refugee Settings


    December 5th, 2017

    A blog authored by Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen and Anna Okello. December 2017.

    A ‘missing link’ in humanitarian energy access

    Energy is a critical need for refugees and displaced people: millions of displaced people do not have access to energy, and humanitarian agencies and refugees themselves struggle to work with complex energy technology systems and products – as we discuss in the Moving Energy Initiative Report. Recognising this, Practical Action has developed an extensive portfolio of work on energy in humanitarian settings. This includes current research into how refugees practice and perceive energy, undertaken by working with communities to understand how refugees in Kenya engage with energy technologies and the objects that surround them, funded by the University of Edinburgh among others. By ‘objects’ or ‘energy supporter objects’, we mean items and technologies which are integral for, or attached to, sources of energy to make energy-use possible. These technologies can be seen as missing links between the energy supply (e.g. a solar panel) and the service (e.g. a fully charged mobile phone) – the energy supporter object is the phone charger, because without it the end energy use (charging a phone) is impossible. Other examples would include, matches, wires, cooking pots, vehicles for transport, and appliances such as clocks and headphones.

    Our research shows the extent to which communities maximise their total energy access needs by using a variety of energy objects and technologies. This goes far beyond having solar lanterns and improved cook-stoves, as, for people to use these products effectively, they require a great many additional technologies and objects.

    A comprehensive approach to energy poverty in humanitarian settings

    For humanitarian decision-makers to be fully aware of how communities’ use and value energy, we argue that it is vital that the total energy life of refugees is taken into consideration. Energy supporter objects form a core part of the realities of refugee lives, and systems of support and humanitarian response need to consider these physical things as well as basic energy access technologies to effectively work with communities. For example, a bicycle may not be considered an energy technology, but many people are reliant on this form of transport to enable them to move batteries to be charged, to transport firewood, and to deliver diesel fuel.

    Energy supporter objects in practice: Kakuma Refugee Camp

    One area Practical Action works in is Kakuma Refugee Camp, which is in the Turkana District of the north-west of Kenya. In Kakuma there are many diverse communities; with people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp population is currently estimated to be over 180,000 and has been in existence since 1992. In the past few years, the camp has expanded quickly with new arrivals coming from South Sudan or being relocated from Dadaab camp, which may close.

    In Kakuma, there are a dynamic set of markets, energy products and services available within the communities. During our research several types of ‘energy supporter objects’ emerged as being key to the community, including matches, wires, and phone chargers. The table below provides a summary of some of these objects and the type of ‘traditional energy objects’ they are often connected with or to in the Kenyan context.

    Communities solving their own problems

    While we don’t suggest that humanitarian agencies should provide energy supporter objects as part of their responses or aid programmes, we want to draw attention to the ways local communities are already solving these problems themselves. Many of the refugee and host community businesses that exist within or close to refugee camps are already centred on energy supporter objects and are supplying this demand gap themselves. For example, the picture below shows a refugee business owner who sells solar panels. But in his shop, there are also batteries, matches, torches, extension cables, light bulbs, chargers, speakers, sound systems and radios. By supporting and facilitating these markets, humanitarian responders have an ideal opportunity to also support income generating opportunities and the self-sufficiency of refugees – which can lead to increased human development and wellbeing of communities.

    Refugees’ energy access priorities in reality

    In many cases, our research found that the energy supporter objects were more central to business owners and refugee households than the source of energy itself. The picture below shows a music store in Kakuma camp, the owner of whom has multiple energy appliances: a computer, screens, keyboard, fans, a television and sound system. The source of energy for this business was actually a mini-grid connection, however, when discussing energy, the business owner focused almost exclusively on the appliances and uses of energy. This finding is in-keeping with Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook report series, which has long maintained that it is not the energy supply but energy services that matter most to marginalised people – people care about what they can do with the energy, not where it comes from.

    We suggest that NGOs and practitioners can focus on the way that people use energy and the practical realities of living as a refugee, to more successfully deliver support and energy access technologies. Understanding energy supporter objects is one angle that could be used to achieve this. More information on the energy lives of refugees and displaced people is available from the Moving Energy Initiative and Practical Action’s work on humanitarian energy.

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Energy and forced displacement


    September 25th, 2017

    A blog authored by Anna Noëlle Okello and Robert Magori

    Due to conflicts and environmental change, we are currently witnessing the highest number of displaced people since recorded history. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are over 65 million displaced people in the world, with more than 21 million living in refugee camps. This is the highest number of displaced people in recorded history.

    Historically, the application of humanitarian principles of protection and assistance in contexts of forced displacement has focused on the provision of shelter, food, water, sanitation and health. But when people are displaced, they also leave their access to energy services behind. In fact, according to the Chatham House report: The Current State of Sustainable Energy Provision for Displaced Populations, 89% of displaced people living in spaces of temporary or prolonged displacement have no access to electricity at all. It is important to note that access to energy has been a missing pillar in the humanitarian response to forced displacement.

    Practical Action has collaborated with the University of Edinburgh to address this gap through a project on humanitarian energy named; “Energy and Forced Displacement: A Qualitative Approach to Light, Heat and Power in Refugee Camps”, or Displaced Energy in short, which is funded by the UK Research Councils – ESRC and AHRC. This research project is in partnership with the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) and the UNHCR. MEI is an initiative of the UNHCR, the Department for International Development (DFID), and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), alongside Chatham House – The Royal Institute for International Affairs, and international non-governmental organizations Practical Action and the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP). MEI aims to make sustainable energy provision a key part of responses to forced displacement and humanitarian emergency, by designing and piloting new approaches and models for sustainable energy provision among displaced populations.

    The Displaced Energy Project is running simultaneously in Burkina Faso (Goudoubou Refugee Camp) and Kenya (Kakuma Refugee Camp). These sites have been selected because they allow the project to build directly on a quantitative survey of energy access undertaken for the MEI, and because they allow for a comparison of energy cultures. The project is informed by specialists in Social Anthropology and Design at the University of Edinburgh, and Practical Action’s energy researchers are currently collecting 50 case studies of everyday energy practices in the two camps. The Goudoubou refugee camp is located in the Sahel Region, Burkina Faso. Goudoubou hosts over 9,000 refugees. It grew out of political and military unrest that began in Mali in January 2012, which led to a mass exodus of civilians into Burkina Faso. Research by MEI has shown that a household in Goudoubou needs over 100 kilos of firewood per month for cooking alone. But in the camp each beneficiary receives just 12 kilos of firewood, and must buy or forage the rest of the firewood in the scarce environment.

    Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana County, northwestern Kenya. The camp is home to approximately 180,000 refugees from neighbouring South Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, Congo and Ethiopia. Also in Kakuma, firewood is the main source of cooking fuel. Every month 10kg of firewood is distributed to the beneficiaries by the UNHCR and their local partners but, as in Goudoubou, distributed firewood meets less than 20% of the domestic energy needs of the households. A new and more sustainable approach to energy provision is therefore needed.

    The objectives of the Displaced Energy Project are to inform future energy policy and practice in the humanitarian sector, and to establish new principals for the design and procurement of energy products and services.  The project uses qualitative research methods to assess in what ways refugees and host communities use and need light, heat and power. Furthermore, the Displaced Energy Project findings will be complimentary to the previously done quantitative MEI study dataset and will provide an even stronger grasp on the beneficiaries’ energy behaviours, needs, desires and routines. Dimensions that are essential, but often overlooked, when designing products, services and humanitarian responses that will actually fit into the beneficiaries’ life.

    Through this project, Practical Action contributes to safe, reliable and sustainable energy solutions, which reduce the vulnerability of refugees and ultimately aid in the rebuilding of their lives.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Beyond the jargon – why I’m participating in the UNLEASH Innovation Lab


    August 11th, 2017

    Here are some phrases many of us in the international development sector hate: innovative ideas, scale and scalability, accelerating impact, disrupting ‘business as usual’. These words have been so over-used that they’ve lost all meaning, and yet they continue to be plastered (mostly inappropriately) all over development programmes and initiatives.

    So when I read about UNLEASH, a ‘global innovation lab’ for ‘innovative, implementable and scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals’ that brings together 1000 ‘young global talents’ to ‘accelerate disruptive ideas by engaging top talents in problem-solving and co-creation’, I admit my first reaction was…eye roll.

    Emma working

    However, though I might be a sceptic of the international development sector, I’m an optimist when it comes to the potential for positive change in the world to happen.

    So when I looked closer at UNLEASH, I looked beyond the jargon, and I saw something with potential. UNLEASH is bringing together smart young people, people with energy and experience and fresh ideas, and facilitating a hands-on experience that allows them to learn and work together to help solve very big problems. This is very interesting to me for three reasons.

    1. There’s a big problem I care a lot about solving.

    Improved cooking stove in Kenya

    I care a lot about the access gap – the fact that billions of people still lack access to very basic technologies and services like electricity, clean water and clean cooking facilities. Five years ago I co-founded a social business called Pollinate Energy to tackle the access gap in urban slums in India. Pollinate Energy uses door-to-door sales agents to distribute products like solar lights, water filters and clean cookstoves on credit to people who otherwise have no ability to access or pay for these kinds of technologies. Today, I work at Practical Action and collaborate with actors from across the sector to figure out how we can better support organisations like Pollinate Energy and improve distribution channels to close the access gap for the world’s poorest.

    2. I solve problems most effectively when I work with a team who care as much as I do.

    I co-founded Pollinate Energy with 5 other young people, and we worked together in a highly collaborative, iterative environment. We had different skillsets and personalities, we pushed each other and learnt from each other, and there was plenty of conflict. We made rapid decisions and many mistakes, but we also adapted quickly. While there are some people who would undoubtedly hate this approach to working, I loved it. UNLEASH is seeking to create a similar ‘start-up’ environment for people who share a vision. When I’m in this kind of environment I am at my best and can make a real contribution.

    3. UNLEASH seems to genuinely value and promote diversity.

    Participants at UNLEASH are coming from 129 countries, and it seems the majority are coming from the ‘global south’ which is a refreshing change. Just over half of participants are women. And participants have been chosen based on their experience in tackling the problems that the lab is trying to solve. This kind of diversity is critical to tackling any big challenge, but especially international development challenges.

    The idea of an ‘innovation lab’ that brings together different stakeholders to try and solve development challenges is not wholly new. But it’s hard to find research on whether other innovation labs have actually had an impact. Have they produced new solutions that work? Have they made hidden issues more visible or built momentum that has forced action? Have they developed the skills and knowledge of practitioners? I don’t know – and it seems the international community needs to put more effort into measuring the success of these kinds of initiatives – but I think there’s no question that UNLEASH has potential. And not just potential to deliver on its goals of building solutions to the SDGs, but also potential to prove that innovation labs can have a genuine impact.

    To a large extent, the success of UNLEASH will rest on the shoulders of the 1000 young leaders who have been given the opportunity to be involved. We can go a long way towards delivering on the goals of UNLEASH if we:

    • genuinely build on experience and lessons learnt, and don’t reinvent the wheel
    • use systems thinking to truly understand the problems we’re trying to solve and why these problems exists in the first place
    • come with the right attitude and in the right spirit, not focusing on building our own networks / promoting our own business / adding to our CV.

    If we can do this, we might produce some interesting new ideas and approaches that the whole international development community can benefit from. And hopefully some of these ideas and approaches will help us close the access gap for the world’s poorest.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • A tonic for development


    June 27th, 2017

    Lack of access to modern, affordable and sustainable renewable energy services for the rural population remains a challenge in Zimbabwe.

    According to the World Energy Outlook 2000, the country currently has a national electrification rate of 41.5%. Mashaba schoolWhile electricity has reached 79% of urban households, rural electrification is still below 19%, and only 32% of the population has access to modern energy.

    With such statistics, having electricity in rural areas like Gwanda District is like a dream.

    In 2015, Practical Action in partnership with SNV and the Dabane Trust, with funds from the European Union, the OPEC Fund for International development and UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme are implementing the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project in Gwanda District in Matabeleland South Province to provide sustainable energy in the area.

    The project has established a solar powered mini-grid generating 99 kilowatts.  It is based on the premise that energy is a requirement for the development of rural communities and a precursor for meeting national and international development goals such as the sustainable development goals.

    This mini grid is expected to benefit at least 10,000 people, powering Mashaba Primary School, Mashaba Clinic, as well as three irrigation schemes and two business centres.

    Delight Ncube, age 12 from Mashaba ward 19 in Gwanda applauds Practical Action for the mini grid project.Delight Ncube

    “Before the SE4RC project, we used candles at home for lighting and this made studying difficult, but this is the thing of the past now,” he said. “We now have access to electricity at school and this is helping us a lot when it comes to studying.”

    Ncube’s friend and classmate, Letwin Sibanda, adds: “I am very happy that we now have electricity at our school. I had never used a computer before, but now, we are using them thanks to Practical Action.”

    Without a doubt, the power being generated by the solar mini grid is transforming the lives of most, if not all, communities in Gwanda.

    “The establishment of the solar mini grid in this area has turned dreams into reality.” says Mashaba deputy headmaster, Obert Ncube.

    “Students now have unlimited access to electricity and this enhance education. Villagers are also using solar powered irrigation to feed their families. I believe the solar mini grid will provide a test case to demonstrate that decentralised energy systems can tackle energy poverty in Zimbabwe and ensure that off-grid rural communities have access to sustainable energy to improve their lives through increased production, better education, health and improved incomes.”

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Father’s Day Special – how access to electricity transformed Thandolwenkosi Mazwi’s life


    June 6th, 2017

    With Father’s Day coming up soon, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about how Practical Action is helping men and their families.

    Thandolwenkosi Mazwi is a High School teacher in Mashaba, Gwanda, Zimbabwe. He is 44 years old and married with five children; two boys and three girls. When we met him at the Mashaba Health Clinic, he had brought one of his sons with him who was being treated for ringworm and needed a check-up.

    While Thandolwenkosi and his son were there, he told us what life was like without electricity:

    “When my wife delivered one of our children, she delivered here, well before electricity. She delivered in the morning. She was in labour during the evening, she came here at midnight. She had to bring candles.

    I can just see the nightmare of delivering when there is no electricity, vividly I can see it.

    With electricity, their services will be excellent, so we were very excited when they came to tell us about the project”

    Now, thanks to donations from our kind supporters a solar mini-grid has been installed, supplying electricity to the clinic – which serves 6,000 people in the community. The difference this has made is incredible – by bringing light and power, doctors and nurses are able to treat people safely at night, patients and pregnant women feel much safer and vaccines can now be kept in the fridge so they last longer.

    Want to make a difference this Father’s Day?

    Buying a Practical Present not only shows how much you care, it will also mean a lot to people like Thandolwenkosi and his family.

    Click on this link to find the perfect present thank you!

    Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities project

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Universal energy access: what’s gender got to do with it?


    April 20th, 2017
    Written in partnership with Mariama Kamara, Founder and Director, Smiling Through Light

    The energy sector is traditionally male-dominated with men’s access to better education, skills training, and finance enabling them to develop businesses and access markets that women have often been excluded from as a result of gendered social norms and women’s unpaid care work. In the energy world, the role of women has often been limited to that of consumers; particularly in relation to the household sphere and cooking practices. The benefits of clean cooking fuels and technologies on women and girls is championed on global platforms; and women are being increasingly recognised as important to energy access planning processes. What benefits arise, though, when we embrace and empower women as agents of change who are actively striving for, and driving us towards, Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)?

    CSW61: Women as Agents of Change

    Last month, at the UN’s 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), Practical Action hosted a parallel session exploring just that: Women as Agents of Change in Sustainable Energy Access Value Chains. The session, which heard from  Practical Action’s Sudan and East Africa offices, Smiling through Light, Energy Research Institute Sudan, and Solar Sister, demonstrated that investing in women’s potential as entrepreneurs, technicians, policy-makers and thought-leaders is vital for achieving gender-transformative outcomes and more effective energy access approaches.

    Image of the panellists and organising team of Practical Action's event at the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, on women as change agents in sustainable energy access value chains.

    CSW panel members from left to right: Mariama Kamara (Smiling Through Light), Dr Sawsan Sanhory (Energy Research Institute Sudan), Neha Misra (Solar Sister), Muna Eltahir (Practical Action Sudan), Charlotte Taylor (Practical Action), Samah Omer (Practical Action Sudan), Lydia Muchiri (Practical Action East Africa).

    Gender Equality + Sustainable Energy Access = Opportunity for All

    Across the panellists’ different experiences, from the grassroots initiative of Smiling Through Light to the global campaign of Solar Sister, a clear message could be heard: at the intersection of gender equality and sustainable energy access lies vast potential – for women’s economic empowerment, certainly, and also for sustainable development and improved wellbeing for their communities and beyond.

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    The keynote speech, delivered by Lydia Muchiri, Senior Gender and Energy Advisor for Practical Action East Africa, explored the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya project (WEEK). Delivered in partnership with Energia, this project empowers women as providers of energy across three value chains – improved cookstoves, solar products, and biomass briquettes – in the roles of producers, suppliers and ‘brand activators’. WEEK project activities support women to build their social capital, develop fundamental business skills, and improve their confidence as entrepreneurs; these women now drive behaviour change, convincing others to adopt clean energy options. Five WEEK project entrepreneurs appeared at the recent SEforAll Forum to share their experiences, demonstrating a growing appetite to hear rural women’s grassroots knowledge on global stages.

    Smiling Through Light: be the change that you want to see

    Smiling Through Light’s Founder and Director Mariama Kamara highlighted the centrality of women’s knowledge, empowerment and collective action to building environmentally sustainable pathways to sustainable energy access; emphasising in particular the diverse roles women play across the energy value chain from production and transportation, to distribution and end use. At the age of nine Mariama left Sierra Leone during the civil war; after later learning that energy use in Sierra Leone was still mostly limited to kerosene for lighting, with no access to clean energy services, she started Smiling Through Light in 2014. By doing so, Mariama became the change she wanted to see. Smiling Through Light now advocates for women, as primary consumers and users of clean energy products, to be integrated into the process of designing appropriate solutions and engaged throughout the value chain to improve their livelihoods.

    The path to SDG7

    There remain many clear opportunities to advance women’s positions across the energy access value chain, including:

    Policy – Advocate for policy that goes beyond perceiving women as victims of energy poverty or mere consumers, but as potential drivers of the sector. Embrace and lobby for the critical role of smaller, distributed energy solutions in addressing rural energy poverty, and women’s unique contribution to this sector.

    Finance – Recognise that women’s access to finance is often constrained by social, political and economic constraints; i.e. collateral requirements based on land or asset ownership. Dedicate specific financing, credit facilities, grants and concessional loans to women’s sustainable energy activities.

    Skills – Address the significant skills and local workforce development gaps in energy access in a way that empowers more skilled women to participate across the value chain, and educates others on the value of their contributions.

    Evidence – Continue to build evidence to help inform policy on why women in clean energy value chains are uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact; bringing local women entrepreneurs and decision-makers’ voices and experiences to the fore.

    An entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    An entrepreneur from the WEEK project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    As energy access advocates and champions of gender equality we must continue to find opportunities, like at CSW61, to demonstrate the positive impacts that women’s economic empowerment in energy access initiatives has for themselves and their families, as well as their extended communities and international development practice more broadly. We need to continue challenging damaging gendered social norms which disempower women as change-makers; and simultaneously strengthen policy coordination, knowledge sharing, financial inclusion, programmatic partnerships and research to advance women’s participation in sustainable energy development for all.

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Money Matters: what role for finance in achieving universal energy access?

    This week saw key players from the energy world gather in Brooklyn, New York, at the SEforAll Forum to talk all things SDG7: that is, access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Overarching the vibrant panel discussions, a clear call has emerged: greater and more dynamic action is needed, and fast, if we are to achieve universal energy access on this tight timeline.

    Energy access is vital to achieving nearly every sustainable development goal and progress on energy access acts as a barometer for development progress more broadly. Monday’s launch of the latest Global Tracking Framework, which looks at the state-of-play on energy efficiency, access and renewable energy, gives us food for thought…

    The Global Tracking Framework update

    The report, led by the World Bank Group and the International Energy Agency, confirms that global electricity poverty has declined only minimally from 1.1 billion (GTF 2015) to 1.06 billion (GTF 2017); while the number of people using traditional, solid fuels to cook has actually risen slightly to 3.04 billion, “indicating that efforts are lagging population growth”. For progress to move at the speed and scale required, the report asserts that we need to at least double our investment in modern renewables. But, is increased investment alone the answer?

    Financing national energy access: a bottom up approach

    Man and woman stand outside the Kalawa Financial Services Association in Kenya

    The PPEO 2017 explores this question, using case study evidence gathered from 12 energy-poor communities across Bangladesh, Kenya and Togo. This brand new research, showcased by Practical Action for the first time at the SEforAll Forum this week, demonstrates that while the volume of finance does indeed need to be scaled up, we must delve deeper into understanding the types of finance and directions of financial flows that are key to planning for universal energy access at the national and global levels. Our analysis is unique in that it builds on poor people’s own preferences, and takes a holistic view across households, productive uses and community services.

    Decentralised energy as the way forward

    Villagers in Kitonyoni, Kenya, gather to discuss decentralised energy technologies. Credit: Sustainable Energy Research Group and Energy for Development.

    This is particularly pertinent to the vast majority of those living in energy poverty today; poor rural populations who would best be served by the sorts of distributed energy (mini-grids and stand-alone systems) that receive a disproportionately small amount of the energy access financing pot – in comparison to the grid and in relation to their potential service provision. While World Bank funded power sector projects have an average timeline of nine years from conception to service delivery, research by Power for All demonstrates the vast benefits of decentralised systems; with mini-grids taking on average just four months to get up and running, while for solar-home-systems this is less than one month. According to our own modelling in the PPEO 2017, the distributed energy sector should account for a significant portion of future electricity access financing nationally; up to 80% in Bangladesh and 100% in Togo. At present just 25% of planned investments in Bangladesh, and 5% in Togo, will go towards distributed energy.

     

    The PPEO 2017 also finds that:

    • Increasing national energy access financing for clean cooking to similar levels as for electricity will be key to empower energy-poor communities to use the very clean fuels (gas and electricity) they show a keen interest in.
    • Particularly in pre-commercial markets such as Togo, there is a real opportunity for the public sector to improve the policy and regulatory environment to better embrace distributed solutions, and encourage financial institutions to support consumer and enterprise loans more flexibly, so as to enable rapid market activation.
    • Concessional finance will play a vital role; and consideration of how best to deploy this will be important to help companies move up the ladder to scale and profitability, in order to bring energy access to more people.
    • To make further progress in already mature markets such as Kenya and Bangladesh, addressing barriers to accessing finance that are related to specific policies could help reduce the cost of distributed electricity and clean cooking solutions (including tax exemptions and streamlining of licensing requirements).
    • Inclusive energy access financing can actively promote gender equality. To enable women to participate meaningfully as consumers and entrepreneurs gendered norms around accessing small loans should be addressed, as should the impact of women’s caring responsibilities on their mobility and ability to participate in various markets and training.

    Beyond Brooklyn: what next for SDG7?

    Solar-powered irrigation provides smallholder farmers the water they need to cultivate crops in Gwanda, Zimbabwe

    The PPEO 2017 and Global Tracking Framework agree that utilising the right tools and approaches takes us a step closer to bringing energy access to people more quickly, sustainably and affordably. By listening to the voices and preferences of energy poor communities, as the PPEO series has done, and by framing national planning processes and global financing mechanisms around the sorts of bottom-up approaches which put these priorities front and centre, SDG7 can be achieved. It has been immensely encouraging to see the voices of the rural energy-poor being elevated across the SEforAll forum this week; which has been undeniably multi-stakeholder, with actors from national governments and global institutions, civil society and the private sector rubbing shoulders and engaging in lively debate on the best way forward. One thing is for sure – to achieve the goal we are all aiming for, the elusive SDG7, this cross-sectoral dialogue must be continued well beyond Brooklyn, because no actor working alone will reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Margaret Kariuku — A self-established businesswoman


    March 10th, 2017

    Margaret Kariuku is a Kenyan woman who has not had the easiest path to success. As a mother of four, she has struggled to find a stable income to provide for herself and her children.

    “Three times, I have had to start again. Three times, I have had to rebuild my livelihood. It all begun in 2005, when I stopped working as a secretary in Nakuru town. I thought that I would get my life sorted, but as fate would have it, this would not be.MargaretKariuki2 (002)

    After she finished working as a secretary, she moved to her father’s farm, hoping to re-establish herself as a farmer. At first, her maize crops yielded well. However, as the days passed, her crops went down. By the third year, there was nothing left to harvest, and Margaret needed to decide what to do next.

    “I picked up the pieces and decided to set up a milk collection centre. I bought milk from the farmers and sold it to the residents. I also decided to buy a motorcycle. When it was not used to collect milk, it would be a taxi. That way, I had two income streams.”

    In the beginning, Margaret’s new business did well. Two income streams guaranteed a stable income. Sadly, after couple months, she realised that her employees were embezzling money from her. She needed to close the business. “I almost got disoriented when I lost my second business. But I collected myself again and set up once more.”

    This time, she decided to establish a business on her own. She opened a grocery store which provided just enough income to keep her going. One day, she overheard her neighbour talking about a new source of energy called briquetting. This sparked her interest. She participated in a conference, organised by Practical Action Eastern Africa and SCODE (Sustainable Community Development Services), where she saw a demo of the production process. After the conference, her neighbour suggested a visit to the briquetting production site in the neighbourhood.

    Although reluctant at first, she accompanied her neighbour to the site – pretending to be an entrepreneur. At the site, she quickly learned, that she could earn better income as a briquettinbriquettesg entrepreneur than owner of a grocery store. Meanwhile, the costs and availability of the raw materials made it easy to enter the market. She went back home feeling energised and thoughtful.

    “My hope was that even if my grocery store was not performing well, I had briquettes. I knew that if I’d start producing them, I would be able to make a better income. So I started to produce them manually. I thought to myself, this is really hard! However, Practical Action and SCODE helped me. They rented me a machine to aide production. I had found my salvation.”

    Margaret launched her briquettes business in 2015 and has increased her sales ever since. She has also participated in Practical Action’s training programmes, aimed to enhance women’s energy enterprise opportunities in Kenya. In 2017, she won the Energia Women Entrepreneurship Award – A prize that recognizes individuals that have done outstanding work in the sector.

    In the future, Margaret wants to further expand her business and create jobs in the community. “Many young people are jobless, and many women are frustrated because they have no way of getting income. So I can use the prize money to give them a chance, to teach them, and to give them skills so that they can benefit the way I have.”

    Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Margaret!

    Want to help women like Margaret this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here.

    8 Comments » | Add your comment