Energy enterprises equal energy access


October 26th, 2011

The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog published an article by Simon Trace, the CEO of UK-based charity Practical Action, titled “Power can challenge poverty – and that makes universal energy access a must.” The article celebrates the current focus on achieving universal, sustainable access to energy in the world’s poorest regions, while pointing out that it is long overdue and an absolute necessity in lifting people and communities out of poverty.

Mr. Trace trumpets locally-focused, small-scale initiatives as being the vehicles for change. “We need a new narrative, one that argues for direct investment in energy services for the poor as a way of stimulating development,” he writes.

E+Co has pursued a strategy of direct investment in small and medium energy enterprises for 17 years. We have supported over 200 entrepreneurs with services and capital, who in turn have provided 8 million people worldwide with access to modern energy services.

A man in El Salvador tending solar panels created by SEESA, an enterprise that E+Co invests in.

After being invited to participate in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All last month, I am heartened to see these issues moving to the forefront of the global political agenda—the United Nations has declared 2012 to be the Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and civil society and the private sector are rallying behind the movement. We now need to channel these good sentiments into large-scale, cooperative action that recognizes and challenges the current barriers to enabling energy access.

I attended a meeting on “Energy for All, Financing Access for the Poor,” in Oslo, Norway recently, at which some of these issues were addressed. Speakers and participants repeatedly expressed that there are an insufficient number of sustainable and scalable enterprises that can translate financing into the provision of energy goods and services to the poor.  The discourse identified two major barriers: the limited pipeline of investment-ready enterprises and the relative absence of seed capital to catalyze enterprises for energy service delivery. E+Co’s experience highlights avenues through which these barriers can be tackled.

To address the pipeline issue, E+Co is partnering with leaders in technology, business and innovation to develop an online learning platform to replicate our enterprise development services model on a much larger scale, allowing us to support more entrepreneurs and power more communities. The platform will integrate the knowledge and lessons learned from our hundreds of investments to date to create dozens of country and technology-specific training programs readily accessible to entrepreneurs all over the world.  These entrepreneurs will engage with a global network of mentors, suppliers and investors to create investment-ready business plans. Their businesses will bring modern energy to the doorsteps of the energy poor in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

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