Technology has proliferated throughout the developed world, yet one billion people still lack access to electricity. Of this figure, 600 million live in Africa. The ‘Power for All’ campaign states that one billion people are also connected to a weak electricity grid, suffering from a poor service and regular outages. At this rate, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to provide clean, affordable power to everyone by 2030 will not be achievable. 

In order to end energy poverty across Africa, more than 100 million new connections are needed. The Africa Minigrid Developers Association (AMDA) believes that decentralised utility companies and minigrids provide the most cost effective option for electrification for more than half of the unelectrified people in Africa. Along with support from governments, donors and private developers, AMDA hopes to reach the goal of universal electrification in the next 15 years. 

In Uganda, currently only a quarter of households have access to electric power. A new initiative is hoping to change this. “Utilities 2.0” will see Uganda’s main electricity distribution company, Umeme Limited, and several decentralised renewable power firms collaborating to provide an integrated approach to the country’s electricity problem. It is hoped that new ideas will begin to emerge within the first nine months, which could be used as the basis for similar projects in other countries. 

The Utilities 2.0: Integrated Energy for Optimal Impact report identifies that a major issue in the country is that national power utilities and the renewable energy companies - that provide solar home systems and mini-grids for communities, - aren’t integrated in their approach. As a result, energy poverty is still a major issue.  The Power for All campaign has brought the two sides of the spectrum together, enabling both sides to understand each other’s constraints and frustrations, such as strict regulations or lack of funding. 

The report recommends that national integrated energy planning be mandated to: ensure the optimal mix of service levels to non-electrified areas; establish policies and regulations to encourage public-private partnerships; and to create a level playing field that gives ‘equitable incentives to grid, mini-grid and household-level solutions.’ 

Ashvin Dayal, associate vice president at The Rockefeller Foundation - which is helping to fund the project, commented: “Utilities 2.0 is going to provide a concrete example of the kinds of public-private partnerships that are needed today to fundamentally transform the trajectory of energy access not just in Africa, but worldwide.” 

In addition to the leading Ugandan utilities companies, private sector companies – including innovative enterprises– are also collaborating on the project. Founded in 2018, EnerGrow is an asset financing company based in Kampala, Uganda, that works in the East African market. It specialises in productive energy asset financing, leveraging an energy connection to ‘secure loans to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in rural and peri-urban areas’.  The company was created by an award-winning social entrepreneur and an energy-access expert. The pair recognised the potential of asset financing to solve demand issues facing centralised and decentralised grids, to support rural and urban areas.

Another start-up business involved in the initiative is Equatorial Power. The company focuses on accelerating sustainable growth through productive power, agro-processing and clean water. The company has pioneered off-grid electrification and productive use in the region, and uses a business model innovation focused around filling the agro-processing value gap across rural Africa. Equatorial Power believes that, ‘universal access to productive electricity in Africa can be achieved over the next ten years. Delivering the energy-water-agro-processing nexus is the key to a commercially viable, scalable and consumer-facing business model that can accelerate delivery of productive energy in rural areas.’

Zola Electric is a for-profit social enterprise involved in the collaboration, whose mission is to make distributed renewable energy accessible for all.  Zola Electric provides dependable and consistent energy through its ecosystem, which combines the world’s most efficient LED light and appliances to optimise energy from its solar panels. 

It is recognised that innovative enterprises with technology at the heart of their operations are often the most capable of providing ‘last mile’ power solutions for rural communities. A new target has been set to increase household access to electricity in Uganda to 60 percent by 2027.  It is hoped that if the initiative is a success, it can be emulated in other areas of Africa and Asia.

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