In the last eight months, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted clean energy access in developing countries. According to GOGLA’s recent ‘Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report’, sales of solar home systems and efficient appliances plummeted by 26%, compared to the same period in 2019. As a result, an estimated 5 million people were unable to benefit from clean, safe solar electricity in their homes and businesses, affecting their quality of life and imperiling financial livelihoods.
This is also concerning, as diminished access to energy may hamper international and national efforts to combat COVID-19. As Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy SEforAll and Riccardo Puliti, Global Director for Energy and Extractive Industries and Regional Director for Infrastructure in Africa, World Bank, write, ‘Energy services are key to preventing disease and fighting pandemics’ – from powering healthcare facilities and supplying clean water for essential hygiene, to staying connected to loved ones.
The off- and weak-grid appliance sector can play a key role in the pandemic response, foster communities’ resilience, and work towards building back better. Solar home systems and affordable, high performing appliances are keeping the lights on in health centres, powering local businesses, and helping families stay connected and informed.
Below we highlight three companies whose affordable and high-performing appliances are helping communities survive during COVID-19.
Ensuring that children have uninterrupted access to education
Around the start of the pandemic, many governments temporarily closed schools and universities. These closures have impacted millions of students and particularly threaten the continuity of education for vulnerable and marginalised communities.
However, off- and weak-grid appliances have been helping families in remote areas continue to educate their children.
Azuri Technologies, a PAYGo solar home solutions company for off-grid Africa, helped off-grid children across Kenya continue their education through the crisis while schools were closed. With more than 15 million primary and secondary students at home, the Ministry of Education announced it would broadcast lessons for up to eight hours daily through dedicated radio and television channels.
Azuri’s solar-powered satellite TVs helped students based in rural communities across the country take advantage of the national initiative and continue their education remotely.
Customer Rose Adeny, who has three schoolchildren at home said, “As we have Azuri Solar at home, we are able to listen and stay up to date with the news and government information shared. Just as important, the children can continue their studies and not be left behind.”
Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund awardee, Harness Energy’s appliances have also helped their customers create a comfortable space to educate their children, particularly in Pakistan. Bushra Bibi of Pakistan, a customer, reported that her Harness Energy energy-efficient fan helped keep their home cool so that her primary school-aged children could study and play indoors.
Maintaining agricultural productivity
The pandemic and government-imposed lockdowns have also dramatically affected agricultural sectors worldwide, stalling supply chains and posing a threat to global food security. At the same time, according to a recent survey conducted by 60 Decibels, which interviewed 2,066 Kenyan crop and livestock farmers, farmers reported that they are increasingly relying on farming as a source of food and income.
Simusolar, a leading provider of solar water pumps to agricultural businesses in East Africa, reported that COVID-19 affected operations in their two major markets, Tanzania and Uganda, differently. The company’s representatives noted that the pandemic had had a more severe impact on farmers in Uganda, who faced stricter movement restrictions compared to their peers in Tanzania. In addition, market closures have had significant negative consequences for their clients, as they have been unable to sell their products or buy food.
At this particular time, solar water pumps have an important role to play in helping agrarian communities earn more income and ensure quality of life. As Simusolar notes, they enable farmers to irrigate their crops, helping them maintain agricultural productivity and feed their families. In fact, a recent study in India reported that 45% of farmers using solar pumps saw an increase of 50% or more in their annual incomes compared to rain-fed irrigation.
In addition, given their connections to multiple Sustainable Development Goals, solar water pumps are gaining more attention in the wider international development space. As Gabriele Schwarz of Bonergie notes, “The demand for solar water pumps has increased post-COVID crisis. More and more donors are entering this market. The nexus of water, energy and agriculture is becoming more interesting.”
Ensuring the survival of the SMEs that dominate the energy access sector
Ultimately, the provision of high-performing and affordable appliances that help communities withstand COVID-19 depends on the survival of the 1000+ companies that dominate the sector. As a result of the pandemic, these companies are facing problems, which include limited cash reserves and reduced funding sources. To help ensure that these companies can maintain our progress towards SDG 7, we encourage you to support the COVID-19 Energy Access Relief Fund here.
This is a joint blog by Aletta D’cruz, Project Manager, Digital Content and Communication, GOGLA and Sarah Hambly, Partnership and Communications Manager, Energy Saving Trust, co-Secretariat, Efficiency for Access Coalition.