8 African off-grid energy start-ups get $4m seed funding

The United States will commit $4 million in funds to help eight off-grid energy start-ups in six countries across Africa scale up their operations and inventions.

According to a statement from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Power Africa Coordinator, Andrew Herscowitz announced this in Marrakesh, Morocco, venue of the 22nd session of the UN Climate conference (COP 22).

Herscowitz announced that the $4 million will help new investments in eight companies that are revolutionising household solar power across Africa through the ‘Scaling Off-Grid Energy: Grand Challenge for Development’.

The Enterprise Awards, the statement noted are expected to create up to 120,000 additional connections in off-grid communities.

“The Grand Challenge for Development is designed to support innovators like these eight companies who are scaling up their inventions,” said Herscowitz.

He added: “The options for powering your home and business are changing, and these types of innovations will create opportunities to transform the power sector in homes across the planet.”

According to the statement, the Scaling Off-Grid Energy Enterprise Awards provide seed funding to solar start-ups to support geographic expansion throughout Africa, test new business models and tap into private and public financing.

The new awards will also enable recipients to expand home solar power solutions to existing and new African markets, improve payment and distribution processes, and bring down costs for customers.

It listed the start-ups to include: Greenlight Planet in Nigeria and Uganda, which is expanding sales of low-cost solar home solutions through state of the art pay-as-you-go technology and deep distribution networks; d.light in Kenya which is developing and expanding on software, training materials, and a call center to support a direct distribution model; Fenix of Zambia which is equally expanding energy access through its expandable solar solutions kits that include options to power phones, lights, radios, televisions, and other appliances; as well as Orb Energy, operating Kenya and establishing partnerships with banks and microfinance institutions to finance consumer solar system purchases.

The others it noted are VITALITE of Zambia that is distributing pay-as-you-go solar home systems, televisions, solar lamps, and appliances for rural, off-grid communities; PEG Africa in Ghana which is testing new digital payment tools that will help rural customers more easily pay for their solar home systems using mobile money; Shinbone Labs in Benin and Ghana, directly selling pre-packaged, expandable, low-cost solar kits that can be remotely activated, monitored and, in the future, paid by mobile phones; and Village Energy in Uganda, that is building a last-mile solar distribution and servicing network in rural Uganda by training young men and women to become technicians and retail shop managers in their communities.

The statement explained that USAID’s U.S Global Development Lab issued the awards as part of a competitive process through the Development Innovation Ventures program and that applications were evaluated based on three criteria: cost effectiveness relative to traditional alternatives, the plan for collecting rigorous evidence of success, and proposed pathways to scale if proven effective.

It said the ‘Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge’ is a $36 million initiative launched by Power Africa, USAID, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the independent charity, Shell Foundation.

Its goal, it added, is to empower entrepreneurs and investors in achieving 20 million connections so households in sub-Saharan Africa have access to clean, modern and affordable electricity by 2030.