Tag Archives: off-grid

Partnerships for Women’s Economic Empowerment through Clean Energy in Senegal

Access to energy in rural areas of Senegal is a persistent issue. Electrification rates in rural areas of the country can be as low as 4%, and over 89% of the population are still reliant on biomass fuels for thermal energy uses in the home, such as cooking. However, a number of barriers exist to addressing this situation, particularly for female entrepreneurs in the region: other commitments such as domestic work can hamper the amount of time available to establish a business, and technical, financial and organisational capacity is often low. Two non-profit organisations, ENERGIA and Energy4Impact, are partnering with local women entrepreneurs in rural areas of the country to improve energy access and reduce the burdens of unsustainable fuel use on families.

Energy 4 Impact with Women Entrepreneurs in Tambacounda, Senegal. Photo: Judith Quax, July 2017

In the rural Tambacounda region of the country, ENERGIA and Energy4Impact have been training women entrepreneurs to become sales agents for small solar home systems, solar lanterns and improved cookstoves. The organisations have taken an “eco-system” approach to the training, attempting to address the wide range of business, financial, capacity and gender-related barriers to developing women’s energy entrepreneurship as a whole. This has included partnerships with local manufacturers and suppliers to enable access to technologies, as well as business and financial training for entrepreneurs, and sensitising campaigns in the local area to enable homeowners to realise the benefit of engaging with women in the energy product space.

Currently, Energy 4 Impact is supporting 160 women entrepreneurs in Tambacounda to become sales agents of improved cookstoves and solar lanterns. From 2016 to 2017, these entrepreneurs sold 1,132 solar lanterns and 822 efficient biomass cookstoves, helping over 17,000 people access clean thermal energy.

However, the engagement in Senegal by the two non-profit organisations is not solely for the purpose of entrepreneur training. Co-benefits of improved energy access in the business space are also targeted. This is particularly being realised in improved access to solar refrigeration technologies for small-scale agri-businesses. Energy4Impact are partnering with two government organisations to offer technical training for women entrepreneurs in the agri-business sector to use solar refrigeration technologies to diversify their business. The NGO also engaged with private-sector suppliers of equipment to suggest suitable technologies scaled to the size of the women’s business needs. In addition, the NGO also engaged with agri-business owners directly to design and manage credit line mechanisms for leasing solar-powered technologies that could be repaid in instalments, enabling access to technologies on a monthly credit basis applicable to the entrepreneurs’ income.

Finally, the NGOs are partnering directly with women entrepreneurs in the Tambacounda region to offer small solar home systems on an innovative pay-as-you-go basis. This is being conducted in partnership with Boabab+, a social enterprise focusing on PAYG models for solar home systems and solar lanterns. Women entrepreneurs are being trained as distribution agents for the products, and can purchase solar home systems from the enterprise with a 25% down-payment, with the remaining 75% being repaid in three fortnightly instalments with zero interest. Clients are able to access one month’s electricity upon purchase of the system, with further payments able to be made on a daily, weekly or monthly basis through mobile money systems already existing in the region. This gives consumers the flexibility to pay for energy when they need it at a price point appropriate for them, while reducing the economic barriers for entrepreneurs to enter the sector through offering this flexible credit mechanism. The system has proven fairly successful: one entrepreneur in partnership with a local women’s group sold 152 solar lamps from 2016-2017, where they ordinarily would not have had the capital to even begin investing in the technology for sale.

 

References

ENERGIA (2018) Helping women entrepreneurs scale-up rural supply chains to reach last mile markets. Available at: http://www.energia.org/helping-women-entrepreneurs-scale-rural-supply-chains-reach-last-mile-markets/ [Accessed 11th March 2018]

Energy4Impact (2018) Empowered women securing energy access in rural Senegal. Available at: https://www.energy4impact.org/news/empowered-women-securing-energy-access-rural-senegal [Accessed 11th March 2018]

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Nuon-RAPS (NuRa) Utility Field Visit – 30th October 2014

The STEPs team, following the meeting component of the network meeting, used the 30th October as an opportunity to visit premises belonging to the Nuon-RAPS (NuRa) utility. NuRa is one of three concessionaires currently operating in KwaZulu-Natal province, providing both solar home systems and LPG to customers. The solar home systems are provided on a fee-for-service basis, with customers visiting an energy store on a monthly basis to top up their system credit, via an electronic key. LPG is provided to customers on a direct purchase basis. NuRa had 19,005 SHS customers as of September 2013, with a net customer growth of ~1,000 per year. LPG is supplied to the company on a 30-day credit by Totalgaz, and the company also offers direct sales of ethanol gel, having also previously experimented with improved cookstove provision.

NuRa Mkuze main energy store

The NuRa main energy store at Mkuze – 30th October 2014 – Image: Xavier Lemaire

The STEPs project team visited two energy stores in the course of the day; the main energy store (and the centre of operations) at Mkuze, and a smaller energy store in Jozini. In Mkuze the team viewed the main operations of the organisation, from the process of credit top-up and LPG sale, to the equipment for the SHS, to the maintenance and repair division. In addition to this, the team observed the training procedure for new technicians on-site in Mkuze.

Topping-up credit for the SHS is done via an electronic token (magnetic key) which the customer brings to the energy store to add credit to. Maintenance teams also have a version of this token which collects operational data from the system at point of maintenance, for assessment by the company. Installations take place via car and motorcycle, and the company maintains its own fleet of vehicles. Technician training is also done on-site, with several demonstration rigs at the Mkuze store for this purpose.

The company also operates LPG bottle top-up facilities at each energy store, where customers bring empty bottles to be refilled, or purchase a new system in the case of the Shesha stoves.

NuRa training site

Technician training at the Mkuze energy store – 30th October 2014 – Image: Xavier Lemaire

NuRa test components

Testing components at the Mkuze energy store – 30th October 2014 – Image: Xavier Lemaire

NuRa bike maintenance

Motorcycle fleet maintenance at the on-site workshop – Mkuze energy store – 30th October 2014 – Image: Xavier Lemaire

In Jozini, the team visited one of the rural energy stores servicing more dispersed communities further North in KwaZulu-Natal. There they observed operations at the energy store, and also took the opportunity to have conversations with customers of the store, asking about the scale of their energy use and energy costs, as well as desires for future service (refrigeration, television). Of particular interest was the point that customers still used traditional woodfuels in addition to their LPG service, the primary driver behind this being the free availability of woodfuel to low-income consumers.

STEPs Team at the Jozini Energy Store

The STEPs team at the Jozini energy store – NuRA field visit 30th October 2014 – Image: Daniel Kerr

NuRa Jozini energy store

The Jozini energy store – 30th October 2014 – Image: Xavier Lemaire

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The Shesha gas cooker, offered by NuRa to customers, an integrated 5kg LPG bottle and single hob. NuRA field visit by STEPs 30th October 2014 – Image: Daniel Kerr

The NuRa utility offers a number of useful lessons for the STEPs project. First and foremost, that it is possible to run a successful utility targeting bottom-of-pyramid consumers on a fee-for-service basis, integrating electricity and thermal energy services. The integration of product sale, installation, maintenance and service into one site and under one company (the energy store and NuRa itself) provides resilience for the business and enables the free exchange of information, as well as increasing customer satisfaction through regular maintenance from a trusted source. Finally, the on-site training of technicians through energy stores gives the utility a strength in capacity, and prevents the need for outsourcing to other technicians, reducing costs.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

From Off-Grid Electrification to Thermal Energy Services

Xavier Lemaire from the UCL Energy Institute offers his thoughts on the current state of research in the field of the STEPs project.

There have been quite a few pieces of academic research conducted recently on business models for off-grid electrification. Of particular note is a previous DfID-EPSRC funded project entitled “Decentralized off-grid electricity generation in Developing countries: Business Models for off-grid electricity supply”, which has led to special issue of the Energy for Sustainable Development journal on off-grid electrification in developing countries. Another DfID-EPSRC funded project, “Rural off-grid electricity generation for communities in Africa”, is led by one of STEPs project partner institutions, the University of Southampton.

Numerous reports and market surveys have also been written, notably by the Alliance for Rural Electrification, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme ESMAP-World Bank, or Lighting Africa.

One of the unique features of the STEPs project is the focus on thermal energy services like heating or hot water, and not electricity services. The fact is, currently there is very little literature on thermal energy services in developing countries.

Research questions this project will try to answer include: can business models for off-grid electrification be extended to thermal energy services, or should business models be completely different? Can the same actors propose both kinds of services? But, linked to the issue of how to structure an offer of thermal energy services is the question of demand: is there a sufficient demand for thermal energy services in rural areas of developing countries to justify the establishment of specific rural thermal energy services companies, or should thermal energy services be sold by non-specialised rural energy services companies?

– Xavier Lemaire, UCL Energy Institute