US and partners make fresh commitments to off-grid electrification

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US president Barack Obama’s administration has made several commitments to improving access to electricity in developing nations, including a US$75 million loan guarantee through the Power Africa programme.

The raft of commitments and projects announced by the White House yesterday include a range of private and public organisations across a number of countries, involving a significant number of companies in solar and related fields. According to a White House release, there are 1.3 billion people in the world who lack access to electricity, but the picture is rapidly changing, with nearly 7.5 million “small-scale” solar products sold in Africa in 2014 – a huge leap from the 40,000 or so sold in 2009. Meanwhile, the cost of LED-based lights and other solar equipment has fallen 70% in the years between 2011 and 2014.

The US has partnered directly with the governments of Benin, Bangladesh and Kenya on the overall off-grid programme, with each government making a varying level of commitments, which include:

  • The US DoE, which has through its various sub-departments held innovation competitions and accelerator programmes in solar including the Sunshot Initiative, will launch the next round of Global LEAP, a competition to discover and promote “super-efficient, high quality off-grid fans and televisions”. The White House also said that 19 public and private sector groups had added their names to endorsing the “Global LEAP Guiding Principles” – encouraging governments, non-profits and private companies to “work together to scale-up commercial markets for low-cost quality assured off-grid devices”. Renewable energy companies including Off-Grid Electric and SunEdison were among the new sign-ups.

  • The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will loan more than US$20 million to get solar into 90,000 households in Kenya and Nigeria.

  • US foreign aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, will fund US$46 million of off-grid power in Benin.

  • The US$75 million in loans to be offered through Power Africa, co-ordinated by the US Agency for International Development.

In total, the White House claimed, yesterdays’ announced commitments will provide electrical access off-grid to “more than 500 million people by 2020” and prevent over 350 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by that time. In total, over US$125 million in new funding for clean energy was announced yesterday, “…advancing the deployment of over 170 million new off-grid, energy-efficient, standalone and scalable products,” the White House statement said.

The White House also said the announcements yesterday were important in the context of the forthcoming Paris COP21 talks, where nations will be called upon to decide a unified approach to tackling climate change.

“Coming just a month before the Paris negotiations, these actions underscore our commitment to ensuring all countries have the opportunity to power economic growth based on clean, sustainable energy solutions,” the statement said.

SolarCity-affiliated Off-Grid Electric’s US$25 million Series C round

Also as the news went out yesterday, one of the companies that committed to endorsing the Global LEAP principles, Off-Grid Electric, said it had raised US$25 million in a Series C funding round for work in Rwanda and Tanzania.

Investment in that round was led by DBL Partners, which was among the early investors of SolarCity, while its two founders, Nancy Pfund and Ihra Ehrenpreis, were also early to back Tesla. DBL operates on a principle of providing returns for investors through projects and enterprises that have a positive social impact.

The SolarCity connection does not end there, SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is also on the board of Off-Grid Electric.

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