Caterpillar Interview: Micro-Grid Challenges and Opportunities

Microgrid | Image: Caterpillar

Microgrid | Image: Caterpillar

With the reduced cost of renewable technologies and rising innovation, micro-grids are a growing opportunity in emerging markets, one which is already reducing fuel consumption, lowering emissions and driving energy access. It is an opportunity that has not been missed by Caterpillar, whose hybrid micro-grid solutions are powering mines, raw material processing plants, agricultural farming and rural villages and islands—and which became one of eight investors in Powerhive's $20 million Series A round last year.  Caterpillar also invested in battery maker Fluidic Energy to co-develop fully renewable micro-grids in emerging markets, and they are working closely with two island-states Indonesia and Madagascar

Power for All caught up with the the multinational's Microgrid Business Development Manager, Francois-Xavier Saury, to learn more about Caterpillar's upcoming plans, and why the time is now for decentralized generation. 


Power for All: As one of the first multinationals to invest heavily in emerging market micro-grids, how big does Caterpillar see the market in sub-Saharan Africa, and what are your aspirations for the next 5 years? 

Francois-Xavier Saury, EAME-CIS Business Development Manager, Caterpillar Microgrids

Francois-Xavier Saury, EAME-CIS Business Development Manager, Caterpillar Microgrids

Francois-Xavier Saury: For decades, Caterpillar has built a reliable distributed generation infrastructure around the world, including in emerging markets like Africa. Many rely on Caterpillar products and services for dependable continuous power. With hybrid micro-grids, the new opportunity is to offer reliable locally produced electricity at an affordable price for users. Consequently, the opportunity is huge. Everyone needs electricity and everyone wants affordable power. We can now provide this form of sustainable power, everywhere, all the time.

Power for All: How do you define "micro-grid" vs "mini-grid"? Are there specific load profiles, number of connections that distinguish them? Is "micro-utility" a concept that better represents the concept of this business?

Francois-Xavier Saury: We also classify some of our systems as nano-grids. Size matters more than load profiles. We would group telecom towers and rural electrification in the nano-grid basket, while micro-grids are usually larger systems able to power a mine or an industrial facility. We would define mini grids as clusters of micro-grids, and micro-utlility is one successful concept where nano-grid definitively applies.

Power for All: What is the biggest challenge to scaling mini-grids in Africa and what are the innovations most needed?

Francois-Xavier Saury: Like all infrastructure projects, securing the best financing is the biggest challenge for micro-grids. Innovation is key. PV technology and powerful controls associated with remote connectivity are definitively strong enablers. However, improvements in the energy storage cost and technologies would really be a game changer, because it would lower the cost of electricity even further.
Power for All: What are the focus markets for Caterpillar?

Francois-Xavier Saury: Rural electrification and providing affordable power to people in places like India is a focus for our micro-grid venture. What’s nice about our solution is that it is scalable to meet the needs of different locations and applications around the world. Opportunity is very diverse and everywhere, so we are excited to work in any market looking to invest in a micro-grid solution.

Power for All: How are you approaching project finance? Is it off your balance sheet, will you be working with development financiers on first loss/loan guarantees model that would allow lease-to-own models similar to solar home system, or something else?

Francois-Xavier Saury:  All of the above are valid. Caterpillar is the technology provider, while Cat dealers are the system integrators and service provider. Developers are integral to the success of the business. Multiple tailored financing schemes are explored on each project as each situation is unique.

Power for All: What are the top key learnings from developed markets that can be applied to emerging markets?

Francois-Xavier Saury: The learning is that they generally don't apply! Emerging markets are all different and require a new approach. That’s why the micro-grid industry is so exciting.


Frontier Markets: Islands, Eagles, States

Micro-Hydro in Myanmar 

Micro-Hydro in Myanmar 

The buzz around decentralized renewable energy has so far mostly been in East Africa and South Asia, i.e. high-flying Kenya and massive India and Bangladesh. 2017 will see growth of decentralized energy into new frontiers. And thanks to Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), we now have a clearer picture of where the biggest opportunities for renewable energy to close the access gap are. The SEforAll “Heat Maps” identify the countries where the electricity deficit is highest, as well as the countries of high-impact for renewables penetration. If you overlay those, factor in which national governments are embracing decentralized renewables, then account for countries where finance and businesses are ready to scale, we have a pretty solid idea of what’s coming in terms of potential “new wins” for the sector in 2017, including:

Island Dreaming

Two island nations - Indonesia (250 million people) and Madagascar (25 million) - are poised for breakthrough. Indonesia has diminishing supplies of domestic oil needed to power off-grid diesel generators on the nation’s 6,000 inhabited islands. Hivos’ “Iconic Island Initiative” in Indonesia set a good example of what’s possible, and Caterpillar and Fluidic Energy followed with the “500 Island Project”, which aims to use solar plus storage mini-grids to power 1.5 million remote villagers. In Madagascar, where the national grid is broke and broken and only 14 percent of the population has electricity, Caterpillar and Fluidic are teaming up again with an initial goal of electrifying 100 villages. The government there is providing 25 year concessions on the mini-grids, providing much-needed investor certainty. Islands have long been out ahead in championing decentralized renewables, starting in 2014 when the Lighthouses Initiative was launched by IRENA for Small Island Developing States, with the goal of mobilizing $500 million in investment, and to deploy 100 MW of new solar PV and 20 MW of new wind power over five years.


After India, Myanmar appears to be the darling amongst private foundations, development banks and donors for making a dent in Asian energy poverty. Less than 30 percent of Myanmar’s population has access to electricity, the lowest rate in Southeast Asia. While the country’s electrification plan, which received $400 million in funds from the World Bank, has stipulated a significant increase in coal power, decentralized assets, including hydro and solar, are also very much front and center, with 500,000 connections targeted by 2021.

The Eagle

Nigeria, whose national bird is the eagle, may be finally ready to soar in 2017, as could other ECOWAS countries of West Africa, including Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Nigeria’s neighbor to the north, Niger, will also be interesting to watch, since the World Bank is designing a big program and Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid program also has its sights set there. But Nigeria is the big prize, with 1/6 of Sub-Saharan Africa’s unelectrified people living there. Companies and programs have moved in (BBOXX, Azuri, Mobisol), companies already there are attracting record amounts of money (Solar Nigeria-backed Nova Lumos just raised $90 million) and regulations appear to be moving in the right direction (for example, a draft mini-grid policy is being finalized). It is also increasingly the focus of foundations, donors and multilateral banks.

Going Sub-National

Country-level advances on policy are key, but they are only as good as their implementation sub-nationally. That is perhaps best witnessed in India. In August we spoke to Mr Desh Deepak Verma, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission, about his commission’s new focus on mini-grids in the state of 200 million people. In 2017, Odisha--with India’s highest number of off-grid households--is also hoping to make a big move. The Power Up Odisha initiative has been launched to help meet the Indian Government’s ambitious goal of 24x7 Power for All by FY2018-19. It is a cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder initiative to create a shared vision and catalyze action--from capacity building to finance, supply chain analysis to addressing transmission losses. With many positive examples of energy access via decentralized renewables and rooftop solar being brought into the mix with larger renewable energy solutions and on-grid efficiencies, Odisha and state-level activity in India could provide a compelling view into what truly integrated energy planning looks like in practice.

Grab Bag

Several other countries often overlooked are also worth watching, including Zambia, which boasts strong national leadership, focused attention from the international community and a concentration of climate and green finance on developing a clean energy future. The Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia, a $20 million multilateral fund, aims to provide 1 million Zambians with clean electricity by 2018. Keep an eye on Mozambique and Pakistan too.


Will 2017 Break the Billion $ Barrier?

TESLA battery and solar solution powering American Samoa | Image: TESLA

TESLA battery and solar solution powering American Samoa | Image: TESLA

The end of 2016 has seen a volley of investments in decentralized renewable energy (DRE) companies that will see the year out with a bang for the decentralized renewables sector, including $90 million investment into Lumos Global, a joint venture between Off Grid Electric and EDF, a $20 million investment in Fluidic, and an E14.6 million investment in Mobisol, following Investec Asset Management buying a stake in the company in October. It also saw the launch of two innovative—and potentially—game changing initiatives, a $100 million open fund for solar and storage, and the One for All campaign—an independent, global campaign to mobilize new investors to focus 1 percent of their assets on solutions to energy poverty.

And... governments and multilateral development banks (MDBs) are finally on the move.

In the last quarter of the year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced an E400million package to support small-scale renewable energy and resource efficiency projects in Turkey, the Asian Development Bank committed a $325 million loan to connect off-grid communities in Pakistan through micro-hydro and PV systems, the United States-India Clean Energy Finance $20 million initiative was launched to catalyze OPIC investment and private finance into the DRE sector, and this week’s announcement saw the AfDB kick start a $500 Facility for Energy Inclusion with $100 million in seed funding.

Much of the MDB funding is multi-year, and it may not all flow to the private market, but another record year—teamed with gathering momentum—gave us pause to ask: will 2017 be the year the billion dollar DRE investment opportunity finds its funding? (and will the World Bank join the MDB list...)

To take a closer look at the radar for next year, we spoke to Itamar Orlandi—Head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s research team on Independent Energy Systems—who certainly knows a few things about upcoming market trends, having been the lead author of the 2016 Off-Grid Solar Market trends report, compiled in partnership with the IFC and the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association.

Listen to the Q&A to learn about the role commercial equity, policy decisions, and storage could play in DRE investment for 2017.


Extending the Horizon: Access to finance and Kenya’s DRE market

  Solar Canopy of the Strathmore Business School Parking Lot. Part of the University's 1MW Solar Installation.

  Solar Canopy of the Strathmore Business School Parking Lot. Part of the University's 1MW Solar Installation.

A few weeks ago, our Director of Research, Dr. Rebekah Shirley, took a post-conference opportunity to explore the catalysts of growth in the Kenyan decentralized solar market. In this article she shares key insights, and shares reflections from KEREA,, Azuri and Tropical Power.

A bright midday sun slowly burns through the crisp morning chill as we pull into a quaint lane in front of the Strathmore Business School. The campus is abuzz with young Kenyan students in maroon and navy blue sweaters, loaded with backpacks, chatting and laughing as they flit between classrooms and cafeterias. After thanking my Uber driver I enter the gleaming B-School building which, just recently erected in 2012, is already one of the most well-known green buildings in Nairobi. Indeed, through the glass walls of the stairwell I can clearly see the solar canopy of the parking lot, a small part of the B-School’s 1MW solar photovoltaic installation which both allows Strathmore to both generate its own electricity and feed to the grid under its Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Kenya Power. The University aims to be the first zero carbon footprint campus in Sub-Saharan Africa and seems to be well on its way. Just like the many other rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) and Solar Water Heating (SWH) systems now common to the Nairobi skyscape, Strathmore is a budding sign of the times and of Kenya’s commitment to distributed renewable energy.

The energy sector in Kenya is among the most active in Africa. Generation capacity increased by almost 50% over the past five years to 2298 MW in 2015, with even more compounded growth rates expected in the future. Most of the new added capacity has been and will continue to be large, commercial renewable energy projects such as wind and geothermal plants. Despite these advances, only 32% of Kenya’s population is connected to the grid, representing major market potential for    

off-grid energy services. In fact Kenya is now one of the most promising distributed renewable energy (DRE) markets in the world, home to the largest concentration of off-grid solar providers in Sub-Saharan Africa currently serving over 3 million households, many through mobile payment systems. Kenya is often lauded as an example for other countries to follow for off-grid market growth and development. But what were the real catalysts that created this market boom? And what factors will lead to the further unlocking of Kenya’s off-grid market in the future? I’ve been interviewing local DRE companies and sector players for the past few days searching for answers. Landing on the third floor of Strathmore, I survey the solar canopy one last time and enter the Kenya Climate Innovation Center to meet with the Kenya Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) where I plan to  ask the very same questions.

I meet Cliff Owiti, Senior Administrator at KEREA, who is a wealth of knowledge on the history of Kenya’s energy sector. He explains that KEREA was established in 2002 by the Bureau of standards as a non-profit association with the mandate to facilitate growth and development of the renewable energy business sector in Kenya. So they’ve seen the industry emerge from its infancy, and echo the same sentiments that I’d been hearing all week during my interviews. Micro-grid and Solar Product companies alike agree that a combination of forces have been at play in Kenya. First, the importance of early market development work done by associations like KEREA and Lighting Africa cannot be understated. The Quality Assurance Program drastically improved the products on market and strengthened consumer confidence while the Technician Training program quickly grew a local, skilled workforce for the industry, and a combination of innovative above-the-line and below-the-line marketing initiatives helped educate consumers and create a demand for products.

Second, many companies pointed to specific government policy as fundamental to Kenya’s enabling environment - most critically the 2014 removal of a 16% VAT for imported solar products and accessories, which allows service providers to directly pass on saving to customers. A recent amendment to the East African Community (EAC) Customs Management Act deleted ‘spare parts and accessories’ (which includes energy efficient appliances such as fans, radios and TVs) from this exemption. Owiti thinks this issue is hopefully resolvable in the near term as KEREA and other partners have been engaging the EAC in a constructive conversation about alternative language. Another factor commonly cited as responsible for catalyzing Kenya’s off-grid sector growth has been the emergence of mobile money transfer services, which drastically expand the scope for financial inclusion. Mobile money opening up access to consumer finance has enabled thousands of families to move up the ‘clean energy ladder’, from solar lights to larger solar home systems. “More than 90% of Kenyan’s now have an mPESA account” Owiti tells me, “and now the market for pay-as-you-go is around 20,000 solar home systems per year”, a clear indication of how ubiquitous solar has become through the means to pay for it. M-Kopa for instance, is a pay-as-you-go system allowing users access to a solar power system that includes a panel, three lamps, radio and mobile phone charging kit at a minimal fee. Most Kenyans are able to pay for the whole system in one year. M-Kopa alone has sold over 400,000 solar kits to households across East Africa, and continues to connect over 500 homes a day.

But despite these successes and the international example of best practice that Kenya has become, off-grid stakeholders feel that there are still critical gaps in the model, which need to be addressed. Some companies are calling for heavier subsidies, others for revised tariff policy or reduced licensing requirements, and others feel most comfortable working without further direct government intervention at all. Yet all agree on the difficulty of accessing company finance. “We’ve proven the products and the market potential, the challenge now is getting to scale,” says Snehar Shah, General Manager East Africa at Azuri, a pay-as-you-go SHS company. But there isn’t much support from private finance to make this happen. “The banks are conservative with lending, but we need their finance support if small companies are to scale up – access to structured debt, first loss guarantees, these are the kinds of options I’d like to see.” This sentiment was echoed by companies across the off-grid spectrum. Indeed, as Nkatha Michira at Lighting Africa explains “the pool of borrowers is too small for the big multi-laterals in Kenya. The companies are too young, too risky, do not have enough of a track record. Big companies like d.light and Greenlight Planet  can raise angel funding and equity by themselves, but the second tier companies suffer from lack of access to finance.”

Particularly hampered by the lack of finance it seems, are the micro-grid companies.  Emily Moder is the VP Operations at Steama.Co, a company that offers tariff and payment services to off-grid asset owners. She explains more to me over a quick lunch at a sunny café one afternoon. “Micro-grids tend to be harder to finance being more infrastructure heavy than say solar home systems. There is a relatively heavy, non-recoverable sunk cost involved with micro-grid infrastructure.” Combined with the issues of tariff caps and lack of data on consumers, there just isn’t consensus yet on the most appropriate business models for mini-grids. Add in the complication of uncertainty about what happens to micro-grids in the future as centralized grid expansion projects reach more and more isolated communities and you end up with a major issue of risk perception: how will micro-grids either recoup their investments or remain relevant? “So for us it’s both an issue of risk and scale”, says Emily. “How do we prove a model, and how to we get to the scale that’s worth it for banks?”

This issue of the ‘missing middle’ or the lack of access to finance for small and medium sized off-grid companies came into central focus at the UK Kenya Renewable Energy Conference, held in October, and which I had the chance to attend.  The conference was put on by the British High Commission and Barclays, to encourage financiers and local renewable energy (RE)  companies to interact. The day was full of glossy presentations from UK Export Import and Department for International Development, the High Commission on Trade and others, about the number of programs and instruments available to RE project developers. But perhaps the most frank, honest and insightful conversation sprung from a simple comment nearing the end of the day. It came from Dr. Mike Mason of Tropical Power, a micro-grid company running a pilot bio-gas plant in Naivasha, as he addressed the panel of financiers. “Financially speaking, small SHS companies are doing alright because their numbers can scale. And large renewable energy projects are also alright because their size means they are already at an attractive scale. So, despite all of the financial packages you all described today it seems middle-sized projects like mine, in the 10 MW range, are simply left out.” There was a hush in the room, and after a pensive moment, Daniel Marshal, VP Corporate Finance and Investment Barclays Africa voiced his agreement, and his own concern. “Financial institutions are not good at dealing with the 10 MW project. But if we are moving to a renewable energy world, we will need to understand that distributed energy options from watts to megawatts to hundreds of megawatts are all important. A bank like Barclays is not good at that intermediate size. There is indeed a hole in the middle.”

Of course, there wasn’t a conclusion of the matter during the conference itself, but it was truly telling to see bankers and financiers acknowledging a critical gap in financial flows and services. This ‘missing middle’ is probably the thing I’ve been left thinking of most since my time in Nairobi. On the heels of my trip, Vulcan recently released a white paper of findings after two years of successfully managing pilot micro-grids across Kenya with partners Steama.Co which notes the economic potential that micro-grids are unlocking in rural communities through business creation, allowing villages to capture many of the benefits of urban living while retaining valued aspects of rural life and place. Furthermore, despite the phenomenal growth previously mentioned, Kenya Power still only serves 2.7 million customers in a country of over 8.7 million households. So the socio-economic benefits of micro-grids are clear and the market potential still to be unlocked cannot be understated. The question is, will innovative private finance mechanisms step in to help unlock this potential?

Rebekah at Hell's Gate National Park

Rebekah at Hell's Gate National Park

On my last day in Kenya I cycled through the Hell’s Gate National Park, passing giraffes, zebras and impala that flanked my left and right as they grazed gracefully in the savannah against the drastic backdrop of the Great Rift Valley. I mused over the beauty that disruption can cause and remember Marshal’s closing comments at the Renewable Energy Conference, confidence booming in his voice: “Kenya is poised to be the most attractive place for foreign investment in the developing world.” So I’m hoping that on my next trip here I have a new story to learn, about a disruptive innovation in finance for the missing middle sitting well within reach on the off-grid horizon.  



2017: Ones to Watch

Amina Mohammed, Minister of Environment, Nigeria

Amina Mohammed, Minister of Environment, Nigeria

No influencer is an island. It takes leadership across a sector to create a movement for change. Given the wealth of stakeholders who play key roles in the decentralized renewables sector, this list is by no way exhaustive, but it highlights a few of the individuals and organizations that will help to shape 2017.

Amina Mohammed, Minister of Environment, Nigeria

Driven by the very real impact that global warming has had on her home in Nigeria’s Northern state—where droughts have led to the loss of 350,000 hectares of land each year, seen Lake Chad shrink by over 90 percent, contributed to the rise of Boko Haram and driven two million people from their homes—Amina Mohammed has been dubbed a ‘Climate Warrior’ at the front line of action. Now the Nigerian Environment Minister has recognized the role of decentralized renewable energy (DRE) as a tool in her arsenal. At COP22, Mohammed announced that 2017 would see the country’s first green budget, and its first sovereign green bond—with off-grid and mini-grid solar recognized as a great investment opportunity for the country. With the adoption of the SEforAll energy access framework and upcoming mini-grid policy, Nigeria is making positive strides towards their INDC commitment to create 13GW of off-grid solar power by 2030. This month, Mohammed also banned ‘dirty diesel’ imports into Nigeria, halting years of European exports of diesel 300 times more polluting than fuel permitted for use in OECD countries. And the news wires are also buzzing that the minister is tipped for a role as UN Deputy Secretary General… so her influence could be even more global.

Henry Macauley, Minister of Energy, Sierra Leone

At Power for All, we believe that with political will and passionate leadership, rapid and catalytic change follow. In Sierra Leone, the importance of energy was put into stark relief during the devastating Ebola crisis. Health centers without power, and homes without lighting slowed efforts to contain the virus, and a lack of energy has hindered the country’s recovery. As Sierra Leone rebuilds, Energy Minister Henry Macauley has turned to decentralized renewables to ensure the country does not have to wait for energy access, and made ‘modern energy for all by 2025’ the flagship goal of the Sierra Leone Energy Revolution. Since May, the Minister has entered into the first ever Energy Africa compact with the UK Department for International Development, overseen VAT/tariff elimination and a ‘Green Lane’ fast track at customs for quality decentralized solar products, helped drive an innovative pilot finance program for solar home systems, united all 149 local Chieftains behind the initiative and walked the streets from Freetown to Bo, to talk to shopkeepers, distributors and the public about targeted actions to drive energy access. The scene has been set for big impact—and modern energy for 250,000 households—in 2017.

DFID Africa Clean Energy (ACE) Business  Program

The UK Department for International Development’s (DFIDs) £43 million Africa Clean Energy program, launching in 2017, will be by far the largest program supporting the solar home system market so far. The program will provide finance and technical assistance to businesses, and policy advice to governments to create an “enabling environment” in 14 African countries over four years. If successful, the program will significantly reduce costs for businesses. For example, through reducing VAT/tariffs, building consumer demand, and improving access to finance. The fund builds on DFID’s Energy Africa work developing Policy ‘Compacts’ with a number of African governments, which outline jointly agreed steps to take in support of markets delivering energy access.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

The newly launched, China-based ‘Green Bank’—with a budget of $100 billion—set out its “AIIB Energy Strategy: Sustainable Energy for Asia Issues Note for discussion” in October this year with a focus on renewables and a clear expression that DRE is key to increasing modern energy access (almost half a billion people in Asia still live without electricity). In the draft strategy, the AIIB also sets out its aim to combat “the negative health impacts caused by indoor combustion of solid fuels”. Yet, in the 12 pages of the document there is only one specific mention of DRE, the organization’s sixth largest member has called for the inclusion of coal and nuclear, none of the approved or proposed projects yet have a decentralized renewables focus and the strategy notes that due to a lack of knowledge and capacity the AIIB will need to lean on the skills and experience of other Multilateral Development Banks as allocates its funding - which leads neatly onto...

Amadou Hott, VP, Power, Energy, Climate and Green Growth, African Development Bank and Riccardo Puliti, Senior VP, Energy and Extractives, World Bank

New appointments at the African Development Bank and World Bank in key energy and infrastructure positions get both Amadou Hott and Riccardo Puliti on our ‘ones to watch’ list. While both have strong backgrounds in on-grid energy, these Vice Presidents need to show strong leadership to elevate DRE lending and program development within their institutions, and to champion revisions in the institutional structures and incentive systems that currently reward large scale, business-as-usual energy investing. As of 2014, none of the multilateral development banks (MDBs) invested more than 2 percent of their energy portfolios in DRE. This year, Power for All and its partners from across the industry—who have helped millions gain access to clean energy services—called for action by MDBs to increase their support for DRE to accelerate energy access, and petitioned both the AfDB and World Bank Presidents to appoint individuals that would disrupt business as usual at their institutions—enabling new partnerships and business models. In 2017, we’ll find out if they do.

International Solar Alliance

Less than a year after its announcement, more than 20 countries have signed a Framework Agreement for the International Solar Alliance (ISA), which will take the shape of a separate international treaty once it is operationalized. The ISA plans to sign up many more countries, mobilize $1 trillion and set up 1,000 GW of solar capacity across the world to help people gain access to clean electricity. ISA has also earmarked $300 million in global credit for solar deployment, and set aside 10-15 percent of its lines of credit for solar projects in Africa, with a focus on solar irrigation. Although not yet an official member, the United States has said it intends to join the ISA and to jointly launch an off-grid focused ‘third initiative’, but with all eyes on the incoming US administration, what happens with the initiative may take a few twists and turns in the new year.


News Release: Solar Road Show Brings the Energy Revolution to People Across Sierra Leone

FREETOWN - Dec, 21 - A series of solar fairs and activities were held across the country last week, and will continue in 2017. The ‘Solar Road Show’ was held to raise awareness of the power of decentralized solar energy as part of the Sierra Leone Energy Revolution.

Activities included fairs and events in Newton, Freetown, Waterloo and Ma dengn, and radio messages that highlight the benefits of solar power. A key focus of each solar fair was a “solar truck”, used to play music, and to power TVs, fans and fridges. A variety of solar powered lanterns, rooftop systems and phone charging equipment were also on display. The roadshow took place across the Western area and Freetown before ending at the annual Ma dengn Beach Festival.

The events enabled hundreds of people to interact with, and learn about, solar products and to meet members of the Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL). Radio messages explained how the public can find out more about solar technology and where to buy solar lights, rooftop systems and appliances.

“Solar energy saves families money, and will help businesses to thrive--but many people simply don’t know that modern solar lights and products for homes and businesses exist. Making sure people are aware of the opportunity to switch to better, cheaper power is vital if we are to end energy poverty.” said, Sam Zoker, Secretary, REASL

In Sierra Leone, only one percent of homes in rural areas are connected to the central grid, and 90 percent of rural homes use battery-powered torches for light. Batteries cost on average 10-15 percent of household income, but costs can be as high as 66 percent in some regions. Once purchased, solar lanterns and home systems are powered by the sun, enabling families to make big savings. Replacing all of the batteries and kerosene used for off-grid lighting in Sierra Leone with modern, renewable off-grid solutions would enable savings of over US$105 million per year.

The ‘Solar Roadshow’ events and radio messages were organized by GIZ, Endev, Power for All, Barefoot Women, and REASL, and are a part of the Energy Revolution activities aimed at enabling 250,000 households to access solar lighting by the end of 2017, and modern energy for all by 2025.

Members of the public who would like to learn more about solar technology and where to buy solar products are advised visit a local Microfinance Bank, or contact the Barefoot Women Solar Engineers Association of Sierra Leone at Konto Line.


Building a Million-Strong Youth Workf

Student in Cambodia wires a village | Image: Schneider Electric

Student in Cambodia wires a village | Image: Schneider Electric

A year ago we interviewed Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, the outgoing CEO of Sustainable Energy for All. Sharing his insights on levers for change, Dr. Yumkella listed the key elements vital for a shift to a low-carbon future. One such critical factor: training. To achieve universal access to clean power, he explained, we will need to create a new wave of “installers of solar household systems, LPG distributors, service providers and builders of the internet; so that solar systems and other systems will be proliferating in the millions in various economies”.

In 2016, many have taken up the mantle—countries, such as India, have started to integrate decentralized energy training within their broader skills agenda, organizations including Energy4Impact and Energia, have continued to build on their critical work providing hands-on enterprise support and support for female entrepreneurs, while companies including Village Power, SELCO, Mobisol and Off Grid Electric have created their own robust in-house training and academies. Yet none have targeted the area of training more specifically than Schneider Electric. With its leading Access to Energy program and collaborations with civil society organizations and local authorities— Schneider has already trained 100,000 people globally and is targeting 1 million by 2025. We caught up with Thomas Andre, Access to Energy Program Strategy Director, to hear why 2017 will be a critical year for mobilizing workforce capacity.

Listen to the Q&A, or read the transcript below. 

Power for All: 1 million is a big number. What needs to happen to achieve that and more--and what are the current barriers?

Thomas Andre: One million is not such a big number when you consider that the Skill India program plans to train 400 million young people in technical skills by 2022. Yet in each emerging country, that is the level of effort that is needed to address skills and capacity gaps and opportunities. What is encouraging is that many governments have, or are about to, launch Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVeT) programs for their youth. Yet, there is much more to do, and some critical points Schneider Electric focuses on:

  • ‘Training the Trainers’: to create long-term sustainable change, and ensure that educators are given the skills they need to fully train and support their students  
  • Providing Educational Equipment: to equip laboratories with adequate—and enough—technical equipment, localizing the production of educational equipments to ensure that training that is relevant to each country or region, and
  • Addressing Gender Dynamics: to ensure that steps are taken to tackle the challenge of bringing women into the energy sector workforce.

Although Schneider will contribute to this picture by training one million people through the expansion of our current network of global partners, in 2017, we also aim to create an alliance of corporates and development agencies that will join us in supporting promising initiatives in skills development.

The need for capacity building and the critical role this will play in energy access is increasingly well recognized. Are you seeing more support for this work by national policy-makers and other key decision-makers?

More and more emerging countries are recognizing the role that upskilling young people plays in development, job creation and social cohesion, yet not all decision makers are considering capacity building as critical for energy access. It is often only addressed when needs appear... in other words, when it is too late.

Looking into the crystal ball for 2017, what new, or innovative, training and capacity building schemes do you see on the horizon in the DRE space?

We have seen a trend emerging with more focus on capacity building and it is something we hope will continue to 2017. In particular, we are seeing more programs focussed around centers of excellence, which is something we plan to get involved in. 2017 is close and vocational training is sadly not magical - but if we do look into the crystal ball, Schneider Electric will be launching training pilots in Africa with a focus on microgrids, and small decentralized renewable energy solutions, a program of vocational training covering all aspects of solar energy—with a pilot in Haiti—and beginning to explore how to use videos and digital and interactive content for remote training—perhaps engaging local TELCOs. We are even looking at virtual reality and augmented reality to test emerging technologies in new environments.

Schneider just signed an ambitious partnership in India that includes setting up 100 technical training centers to train poor, unemployed youth. Is this a model for other countries, and do you see similar opportunities elsewhere?

In every country we always design our projects to match the local needs. Nevertheless, we consider the Indian project as a reference point for other projects, and have just signed a letter of intent with the Indonesian government that could lead to another ambitious collaboration, based on the same programmatic approach. The idea is to set up one central training center for trainers and to re-equip national vocational training centers. Similarly, with the NGO, Salesians of Don Bosco, we will equip five vocational training centers in Mozambique, while in South Africa, we will establish five more Centers of Excellence in partnership with the French Ministry of Education.

For 2017, we are expecting a lot more to come.