A lack of financial support for Africa’s power generation needs has several negative ramifications for the continent, with the most significant one being that it stalls Africa’s long-term economic development and growth, according to a recent McKinsey report.
Although the African continent is well-resourced with fossil fuels and renewable energy resources, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have electrification levels below 30%. Only seven countries – Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Cote d’IVoire, South Africa, Namibia and Senegal have electricity access rates that exceed 50%. At a grass-roots level, there are still 600-million people in Africa who lack reliable access to electricity and this means that school children are unable to read after dusk, clinics cannot stock medication that needs refrigeration and small businesses cannot do business after sunset.
It is for these reasons that GE Africa and the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) relaunched their partnership for a 2017 Off-Grid Energy Challenge aimed at African women-owned and managed energy enterprises and innovations. Since 2013, GE has partnered with the USADF to fund $5-million in awards resulting in 50 African energy entrepreneurs levering this to power communities living beyond the power grid.
The Off-Grid Energy Challenge is part of Power Africa’s Beyond The Grid initiative, which aims to drive private investment in off-grid and small-scale renewable energy solutions. The idea is also to highlight the need to support technologies being developed by African women innovators and leaders who have lower access to finance than men in many African countries where energy poverty disproportionately affects women. With high rates of health-related problems from smoke and indoor pollution, women have the most to gain from renewable and affordable off-grid energy solutions.
President and CEO of GE Africa, Jay Ireland, said: “I continue to be excited about the incredible innovation and entrepreneurship that is happening across the continent. GE has a rich history in Africa and we are committed to continue investing on the continent. We are very pleased to be a part of this challenge to help identify and accelerate projects that will help African women entrepreneurs to compete in the global economy.”
There were 21 winners for the 2016 awards from across the continent and their renewable technologies included solar micro-grids, solar cold storage and biogas solutions for rural communities living far from the national power grid. Joyce Gemma, a winner in the 2014 Off-Grid Energy Challenge, said: “Women entrepreneurs have been disadvantaged for a long time as they do not have access to credit through the formal banking system and they also lack skills to grow their business.”
USADF President and CEO C.D. Glin said: “African women remain the cornerstone of the African family and community. They are leading their communities yet they suffer the brunt of energy poverty. Innovation will be unleashed with these seed capital awards and we can’t wait to see the applications roll in.”
While the African power sector faces several power generation challenges, a sustained increase in investments such as these will go a long way to ensuring that significant progress is made in the formation of much-needed renewable energy and off-grid tools to drive economic growth.