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Energy that transforms

Practical Action Consulting

Enabling energy access – even in the toughest settings

789 million people in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America have no electricity and 2.8 billion lack access to clean, modern cooking facilities, with many people still cooking on open fires or inefficient stoves, using polluting fuels that take hours to gather and process, typically by women and children, and which emit harmful smoke.

The energy that is used is generally costly, inefficient and polluting, contributing further to climate change. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 aims to provide access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Access to energy improves livelihoods in many different ways, benefits the environment, and contributes to a range of SDGs including health, poverty, education and gender equality. This is why we promote energy access, and develop sustainable solutions that meet the needs of people who lack energy in their homes, businesses and wider community.

We bring together rural communities and displaced people with stakeholders including private sector providers and government decision makers, to harness the transformative power of clean energy.

Our energy portfolio focuses on the following three pillars:

Humanitarian Energy

Productive Uses of Energy (PUE)

Last Mile Distribution

Across all our work,  cross-cutting factors including health, climate, gender, governance, and finance are integrated and considered.

Across these pillars, we have significant experience utilising a range of technologies including green mini-grids and improved cookstoves. In addition to this, we also provide expertise in the following areas:

Working with mini-grid developers to help build sustainable mini-grid models under local conditions, underpinned by community engagement and capacity building.

Analysis of energy market systems, to identify communities’ barriers to energy access and developing strategies for how these can be overcome.

Research on a range of areas to inform and advise governments on policy decision-making; covering energy needs, strategic planning, finance, and technologies.

Survey development and deployment, especially in remote settings.

Capacity building of communities and support to businesses and markets.

Designing and developing inclusive business models that aim to scale-up energy access and/or increase productive uses of energy.

Support for microenterprises to grow and thrive, including: value chain analyses; business plan development; capacity building; bringing together stakeholders and developing catalytic partnerships; providing training services and piloting innovations to bring costs down.

Deep understanding of energy and the agriculture systems so that we can bring stakeholders (from energy and agricultural technology companies, farmers, entrepreneurs, local communities and national policy makers) together to create change at a systemic level.

Influential advocacy work that contributes towards the achievement of SDG7. We push for an increased focus on energy access as a priority for development, as well as the critical role of women in bottom-up energy access planning processes.

  • Examples of our work

    Humanitarian Energy

    We are a pioneering organisation in Humanitarian Energy. We have significant experience working with refugees, humanitarian organisations, the private sector and governments to facilitate access to renewable energy through market systems development. We utilise a variety of business and delivery models to address the different levels of energy needs in displacement settings. All our work are designed with refugee and host communities at the core, by engaging them in every stage of our programmes. We use flexible approaches, and co-design sustainability strategies to ensure that communities will benefit from the technologies in the long-term.

    The Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project

    The Humanitarian Engineering and Energy for Displacement (HEED) project was designed to help build a better understanding of the energy needs of displaced communities. HEED aimed to find innovative energy solutions that work at both a social and technical level, so that sustainable energy could be more accessible and affordable for forcibly displaced communities around the world.

    HEED helped bring solar energy access to the displaced populations in Rwanda and Nepal: a solar micro-grid and a solar standalone system serving a nursery school, a playground and a community building in refugee camps in Rwanda; solar streetlights in Rwanda and Nepal; and solar lanterns distribution in Rwanda.

    We worked as an implementing partner involved in every stage of the project: from initial assessment, design and community engagement; through to installation, handover and sustainability strategies. We also shared several pieces of research that have enriched the sector with new knowledge. As well as numerous practical lessons on the implementation of energy projects in humanitarian settings, on the co-design processes and community engagement, on sustainability and ownership models, and on partnerships between multidisciplinary teams.

    Electricity Assessment for Host Communities and Forcibly Displaced People in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin

    It’s estimated that there are 2.4 million people (213,600 refugees and 2,179,300 internally displaced people (IDPs)) displaced people in the Lake Chad Basin region, many of whom are hosted by local communities. In the Sahel region, there are approximately 1.1 million FDPs of which 733,121 are refugees and 396,252 and IDPs. The high numbers of FDPs impact both regions’ economies and already limited infrastructure. A lack of energy access, for example, prevents development, and limits the ability to build the resilience of host communities and forcibly displaced persons (FDPs).

    The overall purpose of both of these World Bank projects is to better understand demand and supply and identify market barriers, key market players and support required to promote the growth of basic electricity services for conflict-affected zones (borders), areas indirectly affected by conflict, host communities and FDPs in the Lake Chad Basin and Sahel region.

    In partnership with Trama Tecnoambiental (TTA), we are carrying out a socioeconomic and demand assessment of conflict-affected communities; an assessment of energy needs and technology solutions; a market and stakeholder assessment consisting of market characterisation; and an assessment of delivery mechanisms of energy solutions in conflict-affected areas which includes an identification of business models and possible areas for investment, as well as an environmental, social and gender assessment of proposed interventions.

    Last Mile Distribution

    Last mile distribution (LMD) is a vital part of our work. It plays a critical role in accelerating the adoption of affordable, clean energy solutions in developing countries; including off-grid solar lights, appliances and improved cookstoves and fuels – as well as other beneficial products, such as water filters and medicines. We aim to make last mile distribution the first priority, so that life-changing products can be made affordable and available to all.

    Global Distributors Collective

    Hosted by Practical Action, and with activities delivered in consortium with implementing partners Bopinc and Hystra, our flagship LMD programme is the Global Distributors Collective (GDC). GDC is a collective of over b>210 last mile distribution companies, operating in more than 50 countries around the world, that have cumulatively reached over 35 million people at the last mile.

    The GDC works to:

    • Help LMDs improve business performance, by providing – and enabling others to provide – solutions and services that help them save time, reduce costs, build capacity and develop catalytic partnerships.
    • Build a collective voice for the LMD sector by generating and sharing learnings, raising the profile of distributors, and helping the broader ecosystem to work effectively with them to achieve shared impact goals.

    To achieve these two strategic objectives, the GDC:

    • Crowdsources innovations through Innovation Challenges, helping GDC members and their partners (e.g. service providers) to pilot their ideas with financial and technical assistance; open-sourcing all insights so that others can learn from and leverage the learnings in their own businesses.
    • Offers training services and facilitates peer and expert mentoring and technical assistance, to support members to overcome key challenges.
    • Convenes members at in-person and virtual events, facilitating match-making, knowledge exchange and peer-learning opportunities.
    • Develops and pilots new initiatives to bring down costs for distributors, including a procurement platform that may enable distributors to procure quality products at more affordable prices.
    • Shares a wealth of data and insights on the LMD sector, to raise awareness of distributors’ challenges and opportunities, and support other stakeholders to engage with them more meaningfully.

    Established in October 2018, the GDC quickly became a leader in the LMD and energy access space, supported by funding from the FCDO, USAID, iBAN, GET.invest, CDC Plus, P4G and EEP Africa.

    Find out more

    Productive Use of Energy

    Agriculture holds the key to relieving rural poverty and to reversing climate change. Farming in a way that maintains soil fertility and water resources, supports community resilience and is also efficient, will transform the prospects of many poor people across the world. Underpinning successful and sustainable farming is the need to make renewable energy more widely available to increase production, add value to products and improve their storage and preservation.

    Renewable Energy for Agriculture

    We to users, ensuring that we understand their perspective within the broader context of other actors, including private sector suppliers of goods and services and government bodies. By combining system mapping with economic analysis, we identify the specific energy applications within targeted agriculture value chains that have the greatest potential to bring benefits at scale. This participative and inclusive approach ensures that we design solutions that address the specific needs of women and are also climate positive.

    Under the new Renewable Energy for Agriculture (RE4A) project, we are working with two private-sector companies to support the farming sector in Malawi. Climate change causes erratic rainfall and unreliable yields and, combined with a lack of access to reliable markets, means many small farmers cannot secure a reliable income. Women farmers face additional barriers, including limited access to land and finance and a lack of time for earning money caused by family care responsibilities. The project will:

    • Support women farmers to learn how to grow produce in poly-tunnels using solar drip irrigation.
    • Introduce a ‘rent-to-own’ scheme allowing farmers to own the greenhouses
    • Strengthen a cooperative to sell produce to buyers at a standard, reliable price.
    • Encourage sales to a number of buyers to reduce risk and single buyer monopolies.
    • Re-invest profits into new greenhouses to allow farmers to expand their businesses or to enable new women farmers to enter the scheme.

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If you’re interested in finding out more or want to get in touch to discuss partnership opportunities, please contact us at:

[email protected]