Hey Matt Damon, let's talk

 Photo Credit: IWMI & JeffreyMWalcott.com

Photo Credit: IWMI & JeffreyMWalcott.com

Chances are that if you live in a remote part of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia and don’t have access to electricity, you also don’t have access to clean water. That’s hundreds of millions of people. Yet to date, there has been far too little collaboration between groups advocating for universal access to clean water (Sustainable Development Goal 6) -- like the famous Mr. Damon and his Water.org -- and those seeking to end energy poverty (Sustainable Development Goal 7) -- like PowerforAll.org and its partners.

As we approach World Water Day in March, and as as the international development community focuses its high-level political dialogue in 2018 on SDGs 6 & 7, now is the right time to bridge the gap between energy and water.

As seen in a new Power for All fact sheet, distributed renewables, in the form of green mini-grids and standalone solar systems, are already showing that they can be of huge help in delivering drinking water.

In India, for example, the company Grassroots and Rural Innovative Development (GRID) is showing that it can reliably supply affordable drinking water to rural villages by combining solar mini-grids and reverse osmosis (RO) filtration technology. Its first plant can run 10–15 hours a day, supplying 1,000 homes by producing 2,000 liters of drinking water every hour at the cost of $0.002/liter. Real-time water quality — level of total dissolved solids (TDS) — is displayed publicly to ensure community transparency. The plant also employs 5 local people.

For a country like India where 138 million rural households have no access to treated drinking water, this type of solution is breaking new ground. It also offers a window into what is possible: using distributed renewable energy to address water and energy poverty in an integrated way. GRID’s first project is only supplying water, but it plans for its next plant to be dual purpose -- clean water and clean electricity to a rural community.

Other companies, like Off Grid Box, are also delivering both clean energy and water through a pre-fab solution, while R&D efforts continue to push what’s possible, including using standalone solar to desalinate salt water.

Meanwhile, other innovations are emerging that seek to leverage the distributed nature of solar energy to solve lack of access to sanitation, a global problem facing billions of people that results in widespread open defecation and spread of disease. Eram Scientific in India is hoping to scale its “e-toilet”, a self-cleaning, pre-fab stainless steel public toilet that is powered by solar.

Much has also been written about the important role that solar is playing in pumping water for irrigation, and in the process displacing expensive, polluting diesel generators. A great overview can be found in an earlier Power for All fact sheet, Decentralized Renewables: Boosting Agriculture and Improving Nutrition.

So Matt, have your people call our people. Water and solar energy -- it’s a natural partnership. In your own words, lack of access to clean water is “totally unnecessary, because its solvable, if done right and with urgency”. We’ve got community-based, market approaches using distributed renewables that are ready to scale today. Why wait?

In conversation with Damilola Ogunbiyi, Nigeria Rural Electrification Agency


Damilola Ogunbiyi, the managing director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency (REA), is responsible for implementing the Nigerian Off Grid Electrification Program and the Nigerian Electrification Project, a $350 million World Bank facility to rapidly increase the deployment of solar mini grids and solar home systems to bring electricity to the country's 80 million people still living without access to power. She is also responsible for the Energizing Education Program, an effort by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to provide uninterrupted electricity to students at 37 federal universities and seven university teaching hospitals through off-grid captive power plants.

Africa’s largest economy, and soon to be the third most populous country in the world behind India and China, Nigeria is still hamstrung by lack of sufficient energy. Ogunbiyi wants to change that, and told Power for All what her vision is, and what she needs for success: namely a major role for the private sector built on much stronger data.

A Private Sector First Approach

“The power sector in Nigeria should be driven by private funding, innovation and technology, which can achieve access much faster than the public sector,” she said. “It needs to be private sector-driven access model for Nigeria.”

Damilola acknowledged that the private sector won’t be able to solve everything alone, including electrifying the most remote communities, as well as customers such as hospitals and schools, which are unlikely to be attractive purely on market terms. So the government is working with the World Bank to devise a variety of limited subsidy structures such as results based financing tied to number of successful connections.

“Ultimately, we need a financially sound market, with the government providing limited subsidy but mostly the right supporting frameworks,” she said. That includes clear licensing and standards and a new mini-grid policy, which came out last year.

Under Damilola, the REA has been given a broader mandate to deliver access not just to rural villages, but also to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), wherever they might be located, even in urban areas. All solutions are on the table, from solar home systems to mini-grids, since “it’s not a one size fits all situation.”

“We aim to serve all of the under-served, including SMEs, which are critical to economic growth of the country. Our target is to connect 100,000 shops this year,” Damilola said. “We can't touch everything, so we’re trying to scale through SMEs.”

The Big Barrier

“It might seem strange, but the one big barrier, even before access to finance, is the lack of sufficient data and information,” Damilola said. “Without good data, the private sector won’t come in to the degree needed. Without good data, we won’t get to the level of capital needed.”

“Let's get the data and make it transparent, and the sector will grow and people will invest,” she said. “I need to show investors data to get the billions of dollars needed to reach our goals.”

But data requires funding, as well as a national field force of researchers who can not only determine the viability of rural communities for different access solutions such as mini-grids, but also work with those communities to ensure full engagement and ownership of those solutions on an ongoing basis, something the private sector shies away from.

Damilola said her goal was to develop 10,000 viable mini-grid sites by 2023.

Research summary: Electricity subsidies failing low-income households

Subsidies are a common way to support electricity access to poor households. Yet data from the World Bank shows that subsidies are largely failing to help the under-served. In fact, only 10% of electricity subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa flow to households with the lowest income, while subsidizing residential tariffs accounts for the single largest source of utility deficits. It's time for reform.

Download the Research Summary: Effectiveness of Electricity Subsidies for Low-Income Households in Sub-Saharan Africa and India
(70 kb)

Video: water-energy access series

The ability for distributed solar to deliver clean drinking water and rural sanitation to remote communities is gaining traction, as this video series clearly illustrates.

1. A World Bank animation on why solar pumping for water access is better than diesel

2. This story takes the World Bank's animation and brings it to life for a real community in Tanzania. 

3. In India, solar mini-grids paired with reverse osmosis are paving the way for a convergence of solving access to both clean water and clean electricity

4. India is also innovating new solar-powered distributed sanitation services

Campaign updates: February 2018

Nigeria Electricity Access Taskforce Established

A partnership between Power Africa, the US Global Development Lab, USAID Nigeria, FHI360 and Power for All launched a decentralized renewable energy (DRE) taskforce in Nigeria to accelerate modern electricity access initiatives. DRE solutions are an important tool for Nigeria to better exploit the full range of its renewable energy resources, especially with delivering energy to remote communities. The partnership was formed under the Scaling Off Grid Energy (SOGE) Grand Challenge for Development, which aims to accelerate growth of DRE solutions and provide 20 million households in sub-Saharan Africa with access to modern, clean and affordable electricity.

The taskforce has nearly three dozen members drawn from government, donors, renewable energy companies, development finance institutions, investors, civil society organizations, and trade associations. It aims to support specific stakeholder-led actions that further the goals and vision of the Nigerian government’s commitment to increasing power access and the rate of electrification to rural areas. The formation of the taskforce also builds upon Power for All’s Nigeria-focused Call to Action in March 2017, where stakeholders in the renewable energy industry (government, private sector, civil society organizations, investors, and donor agencies) each made a set of credible commitments to take action in support of the DRE market.

Power for All also kicked off regional workshops around Nigeria based on two projects it is currently implementing: “Reducing Black Carbon Emissions by Transitioning to Clean and Sustainable Lighting”, which focuses at phasing out kerosene lamps in Nigeria and promoting a market transition to DRE and energy-efficient lighting products (funded by the United Nation

Environmental Program and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC); and a series of DRE 101 workshops for policymakers under the SOGE initiative. Power for All will hold regional workshops in half a dozen locations across the country with policymakers, faith-based institutions, academics, market groups, civil society and trade associations.

To keep up to date on our activities in Nigeria, bookmark our Nigeria website page, which we’ll be updating regularly.

 Some members of the newly launched Nigeria energy access taskforce

Some members of the newly launched Nigeria energy access taskforce

Campaign partner FSR Launches Online Course

Regulation for Universal Access to Energy”, a new online course from the Florence School of Regulation (FSR), launches March 5 to provide a comprehensive vision of how to design appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks needed to ensure sustainable energy for all, touching on technologies, finance, business models and regulatory instruments. Power for All’s head of research, Dr. Rebekah Shirley, and our national campaign manager for Sierra Leone, Ami Dumbuya, are both part of the course faculty. Watch this video to learn more, and be sure to register.

Research & Platform for Energy Access Knowledge (PEAK)

PEAK formalized a Steering Committee, which had its kick-off meeting in February. The Steering Committee is a diverse representation of technology, data, research and industry experts from across the Global North and South.

Power for All is also supporting research and data sharing in a direct, hands on ways in Nairobi, Kenya, where PEAK is based. Power for All, in partnership with partners Hivos, Practical Action and wPower launched the Kenya Energy Access Research Working Group. The Working Group convenes actors in the local Kenya energy access space to support coordinated, organized, efficient activity among researchers with the aim of faster action and more meaningful impact realization. Our first meeting for the year was in February, and there was a great turn out A strong theme that came out of the group is the need for better science communication.

Speaking of science communication, Rebekah also gave a talk at the Manchester University's energy access workshop in Nairobi in January. She spoke about the statistics underpinning our last "Call to Action", about the relationships between policy and market growth.

 PEAK director Dr. Rebekah Shirley speaking at a Nairobi energy access workshop

PEAK director Dr. Rebekah Shirley speaking at a Nairobi energy access workshop


Energy Access Project, India Energy Access Summit

Campaign CEO Kristina Skierka joined the launch of the Energy Access Project, a new interdisciplinary effort under Duke University that supports foundational research and fosters constructive dialogue among policy makers, entrepreneurs, and scholars to identify ways of applying that research. Our colleague William Brent also participated in the 3rd India Energy Access Summit, moderating a session on India’s leadership in electricity access and the path to universal household electrification.

News Release: Kickoff of DRE Task Force

Abuja, February 15, 2018 – A Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) Taskforce to accelerate modern energy access initiatives was launched today by a coalition of partners.

DRE solutionswhich range from stand-alone systems to mini-grids and mobile solar farms – have the advantage of being readily available, affordable and immediately deployable. This allows the delivery of energy access in a number of daysversus the years it takes to site, permit, build and manage a traditional centralized fossil fuel grid systemand can be an important tool for Nigeria to better exploit the full range of its renewable energy resources, especially with delivering energy to last-mile communities.

The taskforce is comprised of over 32 members drawn from amongst government, donors, renewable energy companies, development finance institutions, investors, civil society organizations, and trade associations.

The taskforce launch is implemented in Nigeria by a collaborative partnership between the US Global Development Lab, Power Africa, USAID-Nigeria, FHI360 and Power for All. This collaboration was formed under the Scaling Off Grid Energy (SOGE) Grand Challenge for Development, a partnership which aims to accelerate growth in the off-grid energy market to provide 20 million households in Sub-Saharan Africa with access to modern, clean and affordable electricity.

The task force is a coordination group formed to identify and implement a multi-stakeholder approach to accelerating the end of energy poverty in Nigeria. The goals of the DRE Task Force include identifying priorities and supporting specific stakeholder led actions that will accelerate the expansion of off-grid energy in Nigeria. This is in line with the goals and vision of the Nigerian Government’s commitment towards increasing power access in Nigeria and increasing the rate of electrification to rural areas.

The task force also builds upon Power for All’s Call to Action held in March 2017 in Abuja, where stakeholders in the renewable energy industry (government, private sector, civil society organizations, investors, and donor agencies) each made a set of credible commitments to take action in support of and to accelerate the DRE market.

Roseann Casey, Power Africa lead for Nigeria, said: “Power Africa’s approach is based on partnership. We value the opportunity to be part of this important dialogue with diverse stakeholders who are eager to find both opportunities and solutions in the off-grid space.”


Christina Blumel of FHI 360 said “We are very happy to have the opportunity to work with Power for All in launching the Task Force, and to see the engagement and enthusiasm around DRE in Nigeria.

“There are numerous barriers that have prevented the Nigerian DRE sector from growing to its full potential,” said Kristina Skierka, the CEO of Power For All. “The launch of this taskforce is certainly the beginning of an energy revolution that gets partners and stakeholders in the industry, working together to unlock these barriers, accelerate the market and provide energy services to last mile communities trapped in energy poverty across Nigeria for years.”

Segun Adaju, the President of the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN), a leading industry trade group said, “The DRE Taskforce is coming at the very right time to support scaling of off-grid energy. It will support in removing the barriers that have held back the adoption of off-grid power by bringing the relevant stakeholders. With SMART action plans, I am convinced that this initiative is what the sector requires to enhance the rapid deployment of decentralized renewable energy.”

About Power Africa

Power Africa is a U.S. Government-led initiative comprised of 12 U.S. Government Departments and Agencies, over 130 private sector companies, and 16 bilateral and multilateral development partners. Launched in 2013, Power Africa’s goals are to increase electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by adding more than 30,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections. The Power Africa Coordinator’s Office uses a USAID-led model to integrate the 12 U.S. Government Departments and Agencies into a one-stop-shop to remove barriers that impede energy development in sub-Saharan Africa and to unlock the substantial natural gas, wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal resources on the continent. To date, Power Africa has leveraged over $50 billion in commitments from the public and private sectors, including more than $40 billion in commitments from the private sector. For additional information, please visit the Power Africa website (www.usaid.gov/powerafrica).

About Scaling Off Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development

The Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development (SOGE) is a global partnership founded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Power Africa, the U.K. Department for International Development’s Energy Africa campaign, the African Development Bank, and independent charity, the Shell Foundation. SOGE works to accelerate growth in the off-grid energy market to provide 20 million households in sub-Saharan Africa with access to modern, clean, and affordable energy. For more information, visit the Scaling Off Grid Energy website (www.scalingoffgrid.org)

About FHI360

FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. Our staff includes experts in health, education,  nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, gender, youth, research, technology, communication and social marketing — creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today's interrelated development challenges. FHI 360 serves more than 60 countries and all U.S. states and territories. For more information, visit the FHI360 website (www.fhi360.org)

About Power for All

Power for All is a global campaign that advances decentralized renewable energy as the fastest, most cost-effective and sustainable approach to universal energy access. It is present in 15 countries and has its headquarters in California, USA. As part of its commitment to driving energy revolution, the Power for All campaign, launched in Nigeria in 2016 and focuses on accelerating universal energy access via decentralized renewable energy (DRE) as the fastest, cleanest and most cost-effective solution to energy poverty. By working with the DRE ecosystem (governments, civil society, private sector, donors groups and other stakeholders) to catalyze the growth of DRE markets; Power for All leverages the power of market-based solutions to accelerate access to DRE—and the improvements in health, well-being and opportunities that comes with safe, affordable and reliable energy. For more information, visit the Power for All website (www.powerforall.org)