Image: FINCA International / Alison Wright
The off-grid solar market is about to enter its second decade of significance. What began as a handful of entrepreneurs with a mission to eradicate energy poverty, and with new technology to make that possible, is now quickly developing into a thriving industry. An industry that already brought improved energy access to more than 280 million people, helping them save money, earn more income and enjoy improved health, safety, and overall life quality. GOGLA is proud to represent a sector that changes people’s lives for the better every single day.
It is good to step back and consider the massive progress the industry made in the last 10 years – if only, to recognize what assets have been created, and how much value they hold as foundations for the future growth of the industry. Look back at the early years, when the industry preferred to work mostly under the radar because governments couldn’t possibly take these ‘toys’ seriously. And see where we are now, with hundreds of companies in the industry, investors having portfolios of USD hundreds of millions invested in the industry, The World Bank discussing off-grid programs with governments in 30+ countries, and off-grid solar being counted on to provide a significant part of the solution to the energy access challenge. Some change!
However, while we could lean back and admire the impact achieved, we also all know this is only the beginning. Even today, 840 million people remain without any electricity access. Another billion don’t have a reliable grid connection. And many that have been reached with off-grid solar products in the past, will aspire to own larger products. As an industry, we have our work cut out. Some companies look beyond meeting basic electricity needs, offering clean cooking solutions and larger appliances for farming and commercial use. Others optimize business models and push technology to the next frontier to make their solutions more affordable and accessible for millions of additional people.
So we know our members are busy, growing further and serving more customers, better. But in doing so they remain dependent on the environment in which they work, and on the decisions of governments, investors, and donors that affect this. As GOGLA, one of the most important things for us to do is to have the back of our members – to help them preserve what they’ve built, promote their achievements and take their businesses to new heights.
At GOGLA, we believe this can only be achieved if we recognize our dependency on stakeholders of the sector and seek their understanding of, and support for the industry. Working jointly with our members, we invest a lot of time and energy in building relations and developing partnerships with governments, investors, donors, and other sector stakeholders. We are convinced that such partnerships are eventually vital to the success of the market.
One example is the Community of Champions: a network of off-grid solar companies, government representatives from 16 African countries, and donor partners: Shell Foundation, USAID, Power Africa, Sustainable Energy for All, UK aid and ESMAP. The Community of Champions is a platform for practitioners, to discuss regulation and other topics of mutual interest in an informal atmosphere. Since the first edition at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Lisbon in 2018, we convened successful meetings every 6 months in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Senegal. As the participants got to know the issues and each other better, the quality of the conversations progressed remarkably – evidence that this cooperation works. The next edition will take place at the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum in Nairobi in February.
We also know that change mostly happens locally. While GOGLA has a global scope, we’ve worked with national renewable energy associations (NREAs) for several years to build a strong coalition of off-grid solar advocates. We’ve found that well-organized NREAs, who can effectively represent off-grid solar companies at a national level, are very important partners in creating the right environment for our sector to prosper. Thanks to funding from UK aid from the UK government, last year we established the PowerUp! network, bringing together NREAs from 14 countries. Through PowerUp! we help build the capacity of NREAs through e.g. learning and networking sessions, and through joint activities. As many NREAs started off with limited capacities, this is work with a longer-term vision – but do expect to see results in the near future.
Finally, we’ve also become more visible in key markets ourselves. Since 2017, we’ve been able to increase the number of staff on the ground, adding capacity to interact with our members and partners where they operate and tackle local barriers to market growth more proactively. Our colleagues in Nairobi (Patrick, Wanji, and Francis), Dakar (Namory) and Mumbai (Viraj) represent the industry vis-à-vis a wide range of stakeholders and speak and listen to our members on a daily basis. We see this as a very important development that we will build on as and where we can.
At the beginning of the new decade, I am more confident than ever that the off-grid solar industry will play a vital role in helping the world transition to a green and sustainable energy future. The Global Forum in mid-February will be an opportunity to acknowledge how far we’ve come and to chart the future path of our industry. Regardless of what the future holds, GOGLA is there to serve our members, and we will continue to protect and promote our members’ achievements.
For in-depth discussions on the future of the off-grid solar industry, join us at the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum in Nairobi in February.