Media Workshop in Sierra Leone 

Media Workshop in Sierra Leone 

Simple information-sharing—about technologies, business models and proven approaches to building the market—can lead to profound shifts in thinking and practice. Power for All’s Director of National Programs, Charlie Miller, has overseen the launch of national campaigns in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe in the past 12 months. In this article, he shares five examples of how awareness-raising has accelerated decentralized renewable energy (DRE) market growth by creating behavior change.

Tell Microfinance Organizations (MFIs) about DRE, to build a new route to market

MFIs are an important, proven distribution channel for the DRE sector in many countries. With established presence in rural communities, they have a pivotal role to play in helping companies to reach rural areas for the first time.  For example, LAPO Microfinance in Nigeria has sold 70,000 solar lights to low-income consumers in the last three years. Yet, in many countries, MFIs remain unaware of the the opportunity. In Sierra Leone, following a Power for All Access to Finance workshop, the Sierra Leone Association of Microfinance Organizations (SLAMFI) agreed to work with the Renewable Energy Industry Association (REASL) to develop a pilot aimed at testing the viability of MFIs acting as solar distributors. The pilot launched in December 2016, and aims to distribute 1,000 lights in early 2017. If the pilot is successful, expect MFIs to become an important route to market for the industry.

Engage all government stakeholders, not just the Ministry of Energy

Government policies and programs can have a big impact on market growth rates. Whilst the Ministry of Energy’s thinking and practice is most important, the work of other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) can also make a big difference. In Nigeria, Power for All brought together representatives from 25 MDAs all of which had a footprint in the DRE sector, alongside private enterprises and industry experts from the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria. Highlighting the range of DRE technologies, and discussing issues around quality, subsidies and the need for a market-based solution to ensure sustainability, led to positive steps. MDAs are now able to liaise with the private sector in the design of their programs and procurement processes, to help ensure quality and prevent excessive or inappropriate subsidy.

Strengthen industry voice, through supporting industry associations

Bringing people together is a great way to start creating change. Building a forum to share knowledge, develop ideas and unite behind calls for action is what makes it happen. When building markets for DRE, a strong, credible private sector voice is needed. Which is why Power for All has helped to establish national renewable energy associations in three of its focus countries. Whilst the interests of companies do not always converge, associations enable the private sector to work together to address issues on which there is consensus, and have a seat at the table in policymaking processes. In Sierra Leone, for example, REASL has played a key role in developing the VAT/tariff exempt “Green Lane” for importation of quality verified products, by providing continuous feedback on their experience with customs, revenue authorities and others, and suggesting ways to improve the process.

Help the media tell the DRE success story

Energy—what it costs, and how reliable it is—is a hot topic in countries that can’t take the grid for granted. Newspapers carry articles lamenting the unreliability of the grid and the financial woes of state-run utilities. Countering this bad publicity, media outlets are increasingly running stories about communities gaining access to reliable power through distributed solutions, and how governments are helping markets grow. Through workshops for editors and journalists, story-telling, and site visits to see the technology in action, Power for All has achieved a major perception shift. Share of voice—the proportion of coverage in print media focused on distributed solutions as opposed to the grid—has increased  11 times in Sierra Leone and 26 times in Zimbabwe since the campaign started. As one journalist in Zimbabwe told us, “I commit to write more knowledgeable articles about energy and DRE, and to use my position to change the lives of ordinary people for the better.”

Engage civil society to create demand

With strong links to local communities, civil society organizations (CSOs) and community groups are an invaluable channel for profiling DRE solutions amongst unelectrified families and businesses. Working with CSOs to raise awareness of the benefits of DRE reduces the cost of sales and marketing in rural areas, making sustainable business more viable. Power for All worked with Oxfam IBIS in Sierra Leone. Oxfam IBIS and its partners already had a sizeable distributed energy and education program—but had not yet figured out their public awareness and demand creation strategy. By sharing information about the School Campaign approach—pioneered by SunnyMoney in East Africa— and helping source technical assistance, Power for All helped Oxfam IBIS roll out School Campaigns in Sierra Leone. Initial results look very promising, so watch this space.