The environment in which the off-grid solar industry operates is changing. This started in earnest in 2020. It dominated our agenda in 2021. And it will certainly still be around in 2022. No, I’m not talking about COVID.
For more than a decade, our sector has been providing the quickest and most affordable route to energy access. In doing so it has delivered life-changing impacts for many households, farmers and small businesses. However, it is increasingly becoming clear that we won’t be able to reach everyone, everywhere, and that we are not growing nearly fast enough to help deliver universal energy access by 2030. And so, our industry is turning increasingly towards governments and development partners with a message of collaboration. We need to work together more: we need much more public funding, to leverage a lot more private investment. If we do that well, we should be able to deliver massive results – in fact we think we should be able to improve one billion lives by 2030!
Delivering this message was high on GOGLA’s agenda at the UN High Level Dialogue on Energy meeting in September and at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Representing the off-grid solar industry, we launched the “Power 1 Billion Lives by 2030” Energy Compact. We are encouraged to receive endorsements from some 125 partner organizations so far. We came back from COP26 with glimmers of hope for more support for energy access, potentially also from climate funding. We discussed this with members and stakeholders during our recent Global Off-Grid Finance Summit – along with the question on how we turn these signals into real help for companies (and particularly: when).
As we build the future conditions for our sector to thrive by advocating at the level of UN conferences and showing thought leadership, we are also working to help our members and the sector now, concretely. This year, we were successful, among others, in helping to bring back VAT and import duty exemptions in Kenya, and in getting off-grid solar extensively recognized in the new Lagos State electricity policy in Nigeria by reaching out to national and regional governments, along with our in-country partners such as national renewable energy organizations and the Africa Clean Energy program.
These were big wins for GOGLA and the industry, and we are proud of them. Yet it is not enough. As a sector, we need more financing of all types, including public funding: in the form of initiatives that help to de-risk investment and leverage more private finance; and through support programs that help make our products and services affordable to everyone, everywhere. We have enough experience and knowledge now on how this can be done. Our PAYGo Perform, Consumer Protection and e-waste activities help companies perform better and act responsibly – critical if we ask for more public funding to support investment. Meanwhile the End User Subsidies Lab, which we set up jointly with WB ESMAP and the ACE-TAF programme this year, should help to extract and share the lessons from early programmes around affordability. We were pleased to already see several governments embrace off-grid solutions as part of their energy mix and roll out sector support programs, such as in Mozambique and Nigeria.
As part of our deepening collaboration with governments and development partners, we are being invited to think larger too: how we can contribute beyond energy access for households, for example with productive use solutions in agriculture, or through electrifying public institutions. We need to explain why solar lanterns and small capacity systems help prepare the ground for possible higher capacity solutions later on, when and where needed; we also need to clarify how we make sure that our products can integrate with other solutions when the (mini)grid arrives. We know but also must show that off-grid is a great way to create jobs, build resilience, contribute to gender equality, and reduce climate emissions. We already have answers to some of these questions but we will need to get better at telling them. For others, we may have more homework to do ourselves.
Answering these questions will be high on our agenda in 2022. We will explore them when we work on the next Global Off-Grid Market Trends Report together with World Bank and IFC; we will discuss them in our next Global Off-Grid Forum that should go live in October in Kigali, COVID permitting. Luckily, we don’t have to figure it out alone. As an association, we find ourselves lucky to have now over 200 highly engaged and entrepreneurial members, and great support from many fantastic partners who are keen to see us succeed.
So now that we are closing off 2021, I want to thank all our members and partners for your support in the past year, wish you all a great holiday season, and we look forward to continuing our super inspiring journey in 2022. A year in which we look forward to celebrating our 10th anniversary during our next AGM in June!