By Sarah Carta, OPIC U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Program Manager
OPIC’s U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) team recently traveled to Africa to seek out thriving clean energy technology resulting from ACEF support – from off-grid solar power in Tanzania to smart meters in Ethiopia to grid-connected solar in Rwanda. Energy is a crucial piece of the development puzzle, and access to reliable electricity continues to drive growth in broader areas of food security, education, healthcare, manufacturing, and agricultural production throughout the developing world.
OPIC and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) are partners in the ACEF initiative, a U.S. government program designed to help smaller-scale renewable energy projects overcome the initial hurdles that can often hold back an innovative idea from becoming a game-changing reality. By supporting these early-stage projects to reach the point when private capital can viably invest in them, ACEF is working to catalyze investment in these crucial projects.
Access to affordable energy is important for generating commercial growth and directing government budgets to meaningful purposes, such as hospitals and schools. With only one quarter of African households having access to electricity, the U.S. government has placed a priority on facilitating access to energy throughout Africa.
In July, OPIC’s ACEF team – including Peter Ballinger, Scott Scheide and myself – traveled to Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda, where access to electricity is only 23 percent, 15 percent and 10 percent respectively, to visit projects that had received ACEF support, and are now hard at work on meeting Africa’s growing energy needs.
In Tanzania, we met with SunFunder, a California-based start-up that connects socially-oriented investors to high-impact solar projects that improve the lives of low-income communities. Through an online crowdsourcing portal, it provides short-term, working capital and project finance loans for solar lighting, phone charging, micro-grids, and commercial solar projects. To date, they have raised over $800,000 in investments through crowdsourcing campaigns to support highly-impactful clean energy projects.
Off-Grid Electric (OGE) employs over 300 local Tanzanians to install and maintain thousands of solar home kits throughout northern Tanzania. According to a statement from OGE, “ACEF funding has been essential in advancing OGE’s hardware, software, operations and supply chain. For example, ACEF support for hardware engineering helped to reduce the overall cost per system by 14%. It also enabled the rapid design, development, and testing of the company’s customer database, mobile payment, and business reporting platforms. The progress made by OGE in each of these key areas was instrumental in securing further private sector investment and could not have been realized without ACEF support.”
One of the beneficiaries of an Off-Grid Electric home solar kit. Her family uses the power produced for light, cooking, outdoor security, and charging mobile phones.
In Ethiopia the OPIC team visited dVentus Technologies’ impressive office and laboratory. The company focuses on state-of-the-art technology, from system integration to energy efficiency solutions for renewable energy and advanced transportation. Above are the inner workings of a dVentus innovation – a high-tech smart meter which will be a critical tool for using Africa’s precious energy resources efficiently, helping utilities and customers monitor energy usage. dVentus’ facilities are modern and its employees have skills rivaling that of American-trained engineers.
In Rwanda, we visited Gigawatt Global, which was closing in on the finish line of the first utility-scale solar power project in the country. In a matter of weeks, this 8.5 megawatt facility will be adding power to Rwanda’s national grid and helping to diversify its energy portfolio. The Rwandan government prides itself on setting ambitious targets and aligning government efforts to reach those targets. Its energy goal is to have 35% of the population connected to electricity by 2020. The ACEF-supported solar project furthers this national development agenda by increasing the total energy output in Rwanda by a projected 9.3%. In addition to these benefits, the project employs hundreds of local workers during the construction of the facility.
To date ACEF has committed support to over 25 clean energy projects in 10 countries in Africa. The impact of this innovative program was evident during our visit, and the ACEF team looks forward to visiting even more of these partners as we continue to support entrepreneurs in developing successful clean energy projects that bring power access to parts of Africa that are switching on lights for the first time.