In October 2022, the off-grid solar industry came together after a period of over two years at the 7th edition of the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum & Expo in Kigali. This industry flagship event series is jointly organised by GOGLA and World Bank ESMAP; this edition was co-hosted by the government of Rwanda.
With over 1000 attendees from across the globe, at least 65 exhibitors from across the sector, and around 90 government officials, the event was a reflection of the sector’s growth and ongoing recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was officially opened by the Minister of Infrastructure, Dr. Ernest Nsabimana.
Here are 5 key takeaways from three days of discussions, learning, and networking:
1. Public-private sector cooperation is now really taking off: Rwanda and Nigeria both presented highly successful support programmes for energy access. Their programmes are effective, efficient, flexible – and overall contributing to energy access fast and successfully. Their lessons also demonstrate that a) their success was not straightforward, b) it took years of learning and adjusting until they got the details right, and c) is dependent on the support of World Bank funding and the expectation that this support will continue. These countries may be frontrunners, but they are not the only ones. Overall, the success stories are very hopeful but also show that substantially increased public finance and strong partnerships are critical to achieving universal energy access by 2030.
2. More transparency on company performance: Data on company performance is now available to the industry. For the industry as a whole, they do not yet paint a comfortable picture. There is, however, a wide variation among companies, as well as promising examples of companies turning a bad portfolio into a strong one. Customer service quality is key and directly interlinked with portfolio health. The industry will need to go further down the path of more transparency, more benchmarking, and more learning to continue to improve performance – building on robust, detailed data.
3. Industry innovation and growth: Productive use technologies are here to stay and show huge potential. Many solar home system companies are moving into higher capacity equipment, often with inverters. This makes off-grid solar increasingly relevant also for weak grid situations. E-mobility is also about to break through. The industry continues to remain a beehive of innovation and improvement, with a continued clear focus on what customers ask for and need. Much of this is provided by locally owned companies, many of which presented themselves as remarkably strong market innovators and entrepreneurs. They are being helped by increasing amounts of company support (seed funding, TA, etc) focused on locally owned companies.
4. Access to finance, specifically equity, is still a major challenge for most companies: The only way to resolve this is to make the industry structurally more attractive to investors and that requires progress on all three of the earlier points, and a clear focus on customer service and support. Climate finance may also help e.g. by offering additional revenue streams from carbon finance, or by mobilizing additional public funding or private investment sources. Off-grid solar has significant impacts on CO2e reduction, and in driving resilience and adaptation for hundreds of millions of climate-vulnerable people – so the potential is there.
5. Volatile market environments: Overall, the growing government awareness and industry developments give good reasons for hope. Yet they are set in a context of highly challenging market environments: conflicts; natural disasters; economic disruption including high inflation; supply chain disruptions. This makes the work of GOGLA and off-grid solar development partners all the more urgent: our ambition to improve the lives of 1 billion people and make them more resilient to climate shocks is ambitious, but it is both possible and necessary.