Blogs tagged as energy access

  • What if the ‘last mile’ was our first priority?


    March 13th, 2019

    Empowering women in the energy access sector is a no brainer. Including the perspectives and skillsets of over 50% of the population is not just the right thing to do, it benefits businesses materially and financially – as Value4Women and Shell and BURN Manufacturing demonstrate. Given this win-win situation, why are some people still not convinced?

    Pushing for progress

    63rd Commission on the Status of Women logo

    CSW63 is taking place from 11 to 22 March 2019 at the United Nations in New York.

    At the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this week I heard that just 18% of Asian Development Bank investments/programmes have a gender equality component compared to 79% for the WASH sector, which is ‘better suited’ to gender mainstreaming. Given energy’s role in enabling health, education and productive and social development, surely we should all be doing better than 18% by now…

    SDG7 and SDG5 are mutually reinforcing

    Our work with energy-poor communities shows that gender equality and universal energy access are mutually reinforcing. When women participate meaningfully in energy access markets, they enjoy wider empowerment outcomes (i.e. improved intra-household power dynamics), and energy access is increased – including in ‘last mile’ communities living beyond the reach of the grid and outside the conscience of most decision-makers.

    But we also know it’s tough for women to thrive as energy consumers and entrepreneurs. As our Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2017 explores, women’s lack of access to appropriate finance, particularly when it comes to scaling their energy enterprises, is a huge challenge. In each and every session I have attended this year at CSW, the ‘access to finance issue’ has come up – across sectors and geographies – and I can’t help but feel like gender inequality will remain out of reach if we don’t crack this. Other challenges to women’s participation in energy access markets include reduced mobility due to family responsibilities; little knowledge of core business skills; and low self-belief.

    North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project

    In the North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project local Women’s Development Associations help provide finance for energy-poor households to cook more cleanly and safely.

    What are we doing to enable women energy entrepreneurs?

    We’ve teamed up with women across different energy access value chains in Kenya and Sudan, to build their capacities in business, computer and financial management skills, while also providing professional and personal mentorship to help build their confidence as valuable stakeholders. Crucially, we’ve done this in partnership with the private and public sectors to develop their understanding and activities around women entrepreneurs’ needs and contributions; and advocated for local and national stakeholders to proactively mainstream gender throughout energy policy, planning and delivery.

    It’s not rocket science!

    This is about creating systems and processes that proactively include people who are traditionally overlooked, at all stages of the project cycle: from design to evaluation. It’s at the heart of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2018, which explores how to deliver energy access at scale while also leaving no one behind. In fact, it’s a thread running throughout our work at Practical Action – in our Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) programme and the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), which provides support to last-mile distributors in the energy access (and other) sector. Taking an inclusive lens to energy access is not rocket science – but it IS the difference between catalyzing progress and stifling development.

     

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  • The Global Distributors Collective: Tapping the Untapped Potential of Last Mile Distributors


    November 22nd, 2018

    Written by the GDC partners

           

    Co-written / endorsed by leading last mile distribution companies

           

         

     

    This week sees the launch of the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), a new initiative to support last mile distributors in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This article from the founding partners – Practical Action, Hystra and BoP Innovation Center – explains why the GDC seeks to make last mile distribution the first priority.

    Last mile distributors are on the frontline of the fight to ensure no-one gets left behind. Sometimes they sell one kind of product but often they sell a range that can include solar lights, cookstoves, water purifiers, nutrition products and productive assets such as water pumps. Most companies selling these kinds of products focus on wealthier or more densely populated areas. For example despite the high risk appetite of leading impact investor Acumen, just 38% of their off-grid energy companies’ customers live in poverty (below $3.10 per day). In contrast, last mile distributors are often the only companies selling to the poorest customer segments, in risky and remote areas. There are thousands of them operating across the globe. No-one knows exactly how many exist or how many customers they are reaching. Understanding and shining a light on the sector is one of our key goals and we will be publishing a State of the Sector report in 2019.

    Last mile distributors have unique strengths, but face unique challenges. They know their communities better than anyone, and have strong local networks. This makes them exceptional salespeople and service providers. Distributors also create income generation opportunities not only through the products they sell, but also by recruiting and training local sales agents and retailers. However, they have to do far more than just sell products: they must raise awareness, change behaviour, generate demand, build routes to market, figure out logistics, train their salesforce, offer in-house consumer financing, and provide after-sales service. They particularly struggle to build capacity and to access finance.

    Last mile distributors have been largely excluded from the financing schemes that have driven the growth of larger companies. Donors and investors have tended to focus more on technology innovation than supply chain innovation, and to focus on one product category, rather than working across a range[i]. The more basic products that distributors sell, such as solar lights, are often not considered to have a ‘big enough’ impact,[ii] despite the fact that they are often the only products that poorer customers can afford, and deliver profound cost savings. There is a perception that the unit economics of last mile distribution ‘don’t work’, but leading last mile distributors such as Essmart and Pollinate Energy have proven break even at a local operation level. Continued innovation – exemplified by the unbundling of the pay-as-you-go sector and the emergence of more and more specialist intermediaries that seek to help distributors succeed – is addressing capacity constraints, enhancing access to finance and improving the unit economics of last mile distribution[iii].

    Even when donors and investors have wanted to support last mile distribution, they have lacked the tools to do so. Grant funds and concessional financing facilities in the sector are designed to ‘pick winners’ and minimise risk. Last mile distributors are less likely to have the strong track record, or collateral, that most funders are looking for[iv]. Funders are put off by the higher transaction costs involved in doing a larger number of smaller deals, and by the sector’s relatively high risk profile. In off-grid solar, for example, funding is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite of international, vertically integrated companies. From 2012 to 2017, just 10 companies attracted 87% of the investment coming into the off-grid solar sector[v].

    Last mile distributors are finally starting to get the support they need at firm level. With the right support, they have the potential to increase efficiency, build capacity and boost overall performance – selling more products, providing better service, and increasing impact. Companies such as Angaza Design recognised this early on and are building specialised technology and logistics solutions for distributors. Pioneering investors such as VentureBuilder, SIMA Funds, Persistent Energy, Shell Foundation and the DFID-Unilever Transform initiative are finding new ways to invest in, and build the capacity of, last mile distributors. Increasingly there is interest in supporting an emerging ‘2nd wave’ of African and Asian-owned companies that focus on sales and distribution whilst outsourcing design, manufacturing, software and financing[vi].

    There is also a huge opportunity to enhance performance across the last mile distribution sector, through collective approaches that improve the visibility, interconnectedness and strength of the sector. Distributors often work in silos, reinventing the wheel with limited opportunities to learn from each other and collaborate. Collective approaches can address this by providing support to the sector as a whole, rather than to a small number of pre-selected firms. Through helping distributors unlock economies of scale, access information, share best practices and learnings, build capacity and test new ideas, we will help last mile distributors save time and money, adopt new business practices and form new business partnerships. We will pilot a centralised purchasing platform, run learning and collaboration events, and conduct open-source innovation pilots. We will shine a light on the sector by generating and sharing insight through a State of the Sector report, and build its collective voice through enhancing distributor representation at key events and forums.

    Practical Action, Hystra and BoP Innovation Center are proud to officially launch the Global Distributors Collective. The GDC is a collective of last mile distributors, which has been designed and built by last mile distributors. We are dedicated to helping our members reach more underserved customers, so that life-changing products can be made affordable and available to all. With the support of partners and funders, including DFID and P4G, we are committed to building a thriving last mile distribution ecosystem and welcome partnerships with those who share our goal. We invite last mile distribution companies to sign up as members to access GDC’s support services and funding opportunities. Contact us for more information at GDC@practicalaction.org.uk.

     

    [i] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018

    [ii] In the case of energy, for example, the development community is increasingly focused on Tier 2 energy access and above, which excludes basic lighting and cell phone charging.

    [iii] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018

    [iv] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018

    [v] Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report, Dalberg Advisors and Lighting Global, January 2018

    [vi] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018; Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018, Dalberg and Lighting Global, 2018

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  • IPCC special report on 1.5°C


    October 8th, 2018

    In 2015 the Paris Agreement, the global compact signed by the governments of the planet to tackle climate change, was agreed. In the negotiated process to reach this agreement some governments still had doubts about the degree of warming that was acceptable and necessary to maintain global development. These governments led by Saudi Arabia, asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to undertake a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Recognising as we do that some increased emissions in developing countries may be necessary in efforts to eradicate poverty. This report and the summary for policy makers, based on review of more than 6,000 independent research papers was released on Monday 8th October at 3am UK time.

    The report identifies that human activities have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and if action isn’t forthcoming global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C by 2030. This warming is set to persist for generations even if zero emissions pathways were implemented immediately. The report indicates that current global challenges related to heatwaves in inhabited regions (high confidence), increased rainfall and flooding in several regions (medium confidence), and expanding drought (medium confidence). So the heatwaves, forest fires, tropical storms, flood and droughts aren’t going to go away any time soon.

     

    Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C is projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain (high confidence). Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C. So we need to act and we need to act now.

    One existing opportunity is to link action to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has long been realised that tackling climate change is essential to deliver on the SDG’s. The graphic below illustrates the linkages between mitigation options and the SDGs, clearly demonstrating that our future is incompatible with continued use of fossil fuels.

    Mitigation options deployed in each sector can be associated with potential positive effects (synergies) or negative effects (trade-offs) with the SDGs. The degree to which this potential is realised will depend on the selected mitigation options, the supporting policy and local circumstances and context. Particularly in the energy sector, the potential for synergies is much greater than for trade-offs, a reminder that we need to commit to zero emissions and need to act on this now.

    Based on the stark evidence nations must now respond by signalling their intention to increase their national emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. They have the perfect opportunity as this December the world gathers for the annual UN climate talks. We need to lobby our governments to take this report and its message seriously. They must commit to strengthen policies and actions that cut global greenhouse gas emissions, invest in measures to limit future climate risks, and do more to help communities cope with the climate impacts that are now unavoidable.

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  • Innovation in last mile distribution


    May 22nd, 2018

    The Global Distributors Collective (GDC) facilitated an ecosystem event at the Skoll World Forum on 12 April dedicated to ‘innovations in last mile distribution’.

    Event hosts Practical Action, BoP Innovation Center and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship ran a panel with practitioners from the Shell Foundation, EYElliance and Danone Communities. The audience, which included a wide array of participants from the private sector, social enterprises, multinational institutions and NGOs, had a lively Q&A session followed by a world café.

    The event highlighted a range of key challenges and innovations in the last mile distribution (LMD) sector:

    The panel – Liz Smith (EYElliance), Meera Shah (Shell Foundation) and Valerie Mazon (Danone Communities), moderated by Emma Colenbrander (Practical Action)

    1. Working capital for inventory and consumer financing

    LMDs struggle to access working capital for inventory because they are not selling at sufficient volumes to attract the interest of mainstream debt providers, and are seen as too high-risk to lend to. They manage this challenge using different approaches, such as providing sales agents with stock on consignment, but innovation is desperately needed to facilitate better access to capital.

    The burden of providing consumer finance tends to fall to LMDs, but there is potential for manufacturers and intermediaries to play this role. There is significant opportunity to tap into MFIs, especially in countries like India where the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) sector is not as strong, but questions remain about how to de-risk this investment for MFIs. One innovation in consumer financing that Shell Foundation is exploring is digital lay-away schemes for customers to save towards down payments on products.

    2. Demand creation and behaviour change

    For complex products like eyeglasses and improved cookstoves, consumer education is needed to raise awareness and ensure adoption, but this is often expensive and inefficient. Broad campaigns can be a more cost-effective way of building demand and educating consumers than targeting individuals. Campaigns can be done nationally (such as those planned by EYElliance alongside governments) or on a local level (such as those done by Danone Communities using community ambassadors). Consumer campaigns must integrate LMDs on the ground in order to be effective and to ensure supply can adequately meet demand.

    Meera describes how LMDs are typically underinvested in compared with product companies

    3. Salesforce training

    All participants agreed that salesforce training continues to be an enormous challenge in the sector, especially given high churn rates in sales teams and the need to adapt training to different markets. Classroom training is of limited value, so ongoing mentoring and support (and a small sales manager/sales agent ratio) is essential. Innovative training providers are emerging in the sector to support LMDs and some companies (eg. M-KOPA) have set up their own training universities. However, these services are either exclusive or very expensive, and tend to focus more on technical skills rather than sales and marketing. There is huge demand for more innovation in this space.

    4. Opportunities to leverage economies of scale

    EYElliance represents an excellent example of how collective approaches can work in distribution. EYElliance is a coalition of multi-sector actors working at system level to create change in the vision sector. They have had success in distribution of eyeglasses by tapping into the expertise of many members and learning from distribution methods in other product categories such as antimalarials, solar lighting and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs).

    The following key opportunities were identified to leverage the power of the collective across the LMD sector:

    • sharing best practices and lessons learned through online platforms, in-person networking and exchange visits between LMDs
    • improving access to information, including by building a directory of certified peer-reviewed products
    • developing standardised metrics and measurement tools for M&E
    • bulk buying products to streamline procurement processes

    5. Potential of emerging technologies to transform the sector

    Liz Smith describes EYElliance’s collaborative model to achieve systems-wide impact in eyeglass distribution

    Technologies that help gather data for operational intelligence are increasingly being utilised, for example software that can digitally track consumer behaviour. The next disruptive technologies are 3D printing which will transform manufacturing, and blockchain which will enable LMDs to track inventory through the supply chain and more effectively assess impact.

    6. Product specialisation vs diversification

    LMDs that use sales agent networks to sell complex consumer products generally need to specialise. Specialisation tends to be the most cost-effective approach because different skills and knowledge are required for different product categories, and also because LMDs have so many other functions to manage – logistics, procurement, finance, etc – that end sales need to be simplified to the greatest extent possible. However, LMDs can still achieve diversification across their portfolio by specialising at the sales agent level (ie, each sales agent only sells one product category) or by focusing on promoting different products during different time periods, rather than offering a basket of goods all year round. It has proven difficult to combine distribution channels for consumer durables like solar lights with FMCG products, although retail channels have more success than sales agent networks.

    The hosts closed the session by showing great willingness to work on the discussion points raised through the Global Distribution Collective.

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  • Dragon’s Den with a twist: unlocking finance for energy access


    April 30th, 2018

    ‘Dragon’s Den’ has been a very popular TV format where entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas to potential investors, with versions of the show produced in nearly 30 countries.

    New investments are also needed in energy access. There remains a very large financing gap between the amounts estimated to be needed per year to reach the 2030 SDG goal of universal access to electricity and clean cooking, and finance currently flowing. Various reports documented this over the last year including the suite of ‘Energizing Finance’ reports from SEforAll, Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook, and the IEA’s Energy Access Outlook.

    What’s missing in the usual Dragon’s Den format is the voice of the consumer, who could ask questions about whether the product on offer will meet their needs.

    Practical Action at the SEforAll Forum

    SEforAll Forum 2018 logoAt this year’s SEforAll Forum, Practical Action together with CPI and Hivos are hosting a Partner Working Session on Energizing Finance: Thursday 3rd May, 14:30-16:00, Rossio room.

    As part of this we’ll be inviting two organisations with great financing products to pitch their ideas. The twist is, they will be quizzed not only by potential investors, but also by representatives of their customer base: the off-grid businesses who are so starved of money currently. The finance products we’ll be featuring are:

    • The Renewable Energy Scale-Up Facility (RESF), which works by delivering early-stage finance to businesses in increments as they achieve key development milestones, in exchange for the option to buy equity at financial close, at better-than-market rate terms.
    • Green Aggregation Tech Enterprise (GATE), which helps mini-grid developers by acting as an aggregator and providing other business development services to mini-grids. They commit to providing mini-grids with a standardized payment system, and offer a standardized documentation, payment and energy accounting system.

    These are just two of a range of 26 financing solutions brought together under the Climate Finance Lab which, since its launch in 2014, has mobilised more than $1 billion in sustainable investment.

    This opportunity for potential beneficiaries of RESF or GATE to quiz them is part of the bottom-up revolution in energy access that is so sorely needed if we are to stand any chance of meeting our SDG goals.

    What do we already know about finance for energy access?

    Practical Action worked with SEforAll last year on the Taking the Pulse’ report as part of the Energizing Finance series. Focusing on five high-impact countries, we interviewed a wide range of small and medium energy access enterprises and other stakeholders to understand the challenges they face in accessing finance and growing their businesses to better serve poor and remote communities. We heard time and again about the barriers of lenders’ conditions to qualify for a loan in terms of collateral, track record or data. We heard about the problems of borrowing in foreign currency rather than local currencies which make it all-but-impossible to offer stable pricing to customers, or where restrictions on foreign exchange can make it hard to guarantee year-round supplies. We heard about the urgent need for working capital and for the easing of restrictive government regulations particularly for mini-grids.

    The Taking the Pulse report highlighted the depth of the challenge in the clean cooking sector where current investments were so low they amounted to less than $1 per capita per year. In this cash-starved environment, companies are looking for ways to help customers borrow for clean cooking solutions, as well as better co-ordination and policy support for market-based solutions. The sector needs to recognise the opportunities in the fuels markets which may be significantly greater than in the stove itself.

    Poor People's Energy Outlook 2017 cover imageOur 2017 edition of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook similarly pointed to the gap between current levels of financing, and the amounts needed to meet the energy service needs of off-grid communities. We emphasised the need for energy access financing across the spectrum: meeting needs for electricity and clean cooking, and for household, productive uses and community services (water pumping, street lighting, schools, health care, government services etc). We highlighted the extent to which an affordability gap still remains, requiring the right sorts of public finance targeted to close this gap.

    We had a particular focus on the extent to which women are disadvantaged in terms of access to finance both as entrepreneurs and consumers. Levels of trust in their businesses are often lower, and they may be more affected by the requirements for collateral and track-record. And as consumers they may find it harder to access finance for purchasing products in their own right.

    Graphic showing barriers and solutions to women's participation in energy access markets

    Hivos and Practical Action alike will be bringing a clear focus to the Partner Working Session on our core questions of:

    • How will new finance solutions help bring energy access to those places currently not well served – remote and poor communities, where levels of affordability are low?
    • How will new finance solutions recognise and seek to address gender inequalities which disadvantage women and hold back progress on energy access?

    The closing panel for the session includes strong civil society representation from Surabhi Rajagopal, co-ordinator of the ACCESS Coalition, who will bring these messages and challenges to the discussion.

    We are looking forward to a fascinating and challenging event, and hope to see many of you there. The forum will also be very well covered on social media, so if you can’t make it in person, stay tuned all week for updates. #SEforALLForum

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  • End energy poverty


    April 5th, 2018

    Energy is one of the key indicators for development. Like other essential basic needs, a certain amount of energy is required for our survival. Depending on the context, livelihood patterns and way of living, energy needs are different. For example, nowadays, people in Bangladesh across all socioeconomic categories are using cellphones due to very high rates of penetration. So the energy requirement for charging cellphones has become a basic need for users.

    Bangladesh has achieved tremendous success in several sectors and has touched the base of being a middle income country. The Government has committed to supply electricity for all by 2021, and has increased production remarkably. But still 38% of people are outside the coverage of the national grid, of these 20% have no access to electricity.

    Solar power bangladeshAn electricity supply doesn’t necessarily mean a supply of quality electricity. If we can’t ensure 24/7 supply, we cannot make productive use of energy in hard to reach areas. A flourishing rural economy, promotion of entrepreneurship and local-level business, and the establishment of better market linkages, requires an uninterrupted electricity supply. For example, if someone wants to build a hatchery, milk chilling centre or even cold storage in a remote area, all of which could contribute to the growing economy for the country, a continuous supply is a must. . However, investment in the power sector in Bangladesh is predominantly made adopting a top-down approach. This traditional approach of planning requires to be revisited.

    Total Energy Access

    Practical Action is globally renowned for its energy-related work. Its global call for energy is titled as Total Energy Access – TEA. Practical Action wants to end Energy Poverty.

    One of its global flagship publication series is: Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO). The recent two publications of PPEO series refer to three countries, of which Bangladesh is one. These publications highlight the perspectives poor people on energy.PPEO Launch Bangladesh

    The previous publication in this series, PPEO 2016, focused on the energy needs of poor people living in off-grid areas of Bangladesh. These include household requirements, requirements for community services like schools, hospitals, etc., and also the need for entrepreneurship development. Apart from energy requirements, this publication figured out the priority of energy needs, affordability and willingness to pay.

    The latest issue, PPEO (2017), reflects on the investment requirements for poor people to access energy, followed by the needs identified in the previous one. The total energy requirements have been derived for each of the segments such as solar homes systems, grid expansion and entrepreneurship. Together with the investment patterns, it identifies the challenges associated with the investment, and suggested essential policy recommendations.

    Women’s energy needs

    Reflecting on our typical planning mechanisms, how much do we really think about the need of the poor people? Do we think of women in particular?

    Nowadays, women are taking up the role of farming and many of them are heading their families. Many women are emerging as entrepreneurs. Have we really thought about their energy needs? If we don’t offer them access to finance, build their capacity for financial management and provide hand holding support, they will simply lag behind. While investing on access to energy, we have to think the special needs of women, and how to ensure energy equity.

    The outcomes of the PPEO study should give policy makers the food for thought and inspire action to adopt a bottom-up approach for energy solutions for energy-poor people.

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  • Global SDG7 Conference: are we really doing things differently in energy access?


    March 15th, 2018

    More than two years have now passed since the 2030 Agenda was designed and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established – including SDG7 which ‘ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’. The UN’s tracking of progress on SDG7 over the last two years has shown mixed results. (more…)

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

     

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  • 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.

     

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