36m challenge launched for off grid energy to power 20m homes in Africa

With 600-million people living in sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity,  a new $36-million initiative by USAID and President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative aims to inspire entrepreneurs and investors to connect 20-million homes in the region.

Called “Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Grand Challenge for Development” the initiative is being coordinated by USAID’s US Global Development Lab and is backed by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the Shell Foundation.

“The Grand Challenge for Development will help build a vibrant market across sub-Saharan Africa by supporting the growth of innovative entrepreneurs that are making off-grid solutions affordable for rural families through profitable business ventures, and by catalyzing private investment to help these enterprises reach new markets,” USAID said in a statement. The project was announced at Obama’s 7th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford University in California.

Power Africa is a $7-billion legacy project announced by Obama in Cape Town in 2013 as a legacy project from his presidency, and is coordinated by USAID. It aims to spur innovation in energy use in Africa.

“Over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. Most countries are unlikely to connect their entire populations to grid electricity for years, if not decades. As a result, many households rely on expensive, polluting, and unsafe kerosene and diesel for their energy needs. Off-grid power solutions enable families to improve basic living conditions and provide the spark for economic opportunity,” USAID said.

USAID believes its initiatives bring global attention and resources to specific, well- defined international development problems and promote innovative approaches to solving them.

It hopes it will “accelerate growth in the off-grid energy market to provide 20-million households in sub-Saharan Africa with access to modern, clean, and affordable electricity. The approach is to build supply to ensure that companies are able to grow and access financing, drive customer demand for off- grid home systems, and strengthen the marketplace by addressing market barriers. Our vision is to spur a vibrant marketplace of enterprises that provide off-grid energy solutions that meet the needs of low-income consumers across the African continent,” USAID added.