U.S. Launches “Beyond the Grid” Energy Effort for Africa

Close to 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack modern access to electricity, such as the residents of this village in Benin, shown in 2007.
Close to 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack modern access to electricity, such as the residents of this village in Benin, shown in 2007.

Washington,
04 June 2014

The U.S. government launched an effort June 3 to increase energy access for undeserved communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative, a new framework called Beyond the Grid will leverage the resources of 27 investors and practitioners committed to invest more than $1 billion in off-grid and small-scale energy solutions. During an initial five-year period, these private-sector commitments will help Power Africa realize its goal of providing 20 million new electric connections in sub-Saharan Africa, the Energy Department said in a June 3 news release.

“Beyond the Grid will help to expand the work the U.S. government is already doing through Power Africa to bring electricity to citizens of sub-Saharan Africa,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “With close to 600 million people without access to modern-day electricity, it is clear that centralized grid access is not a comprehensive solution for these countries in one of the world’s least urban continents. But through solutions including off-grid and small-scale energy projects, we can bring electricity to these rural areas.”

Off-grid and small-scale energy solutions that generate electricity closer to end users will also increase productive uses of energy and income generation, the Energy Department said. By partnering with investors, practitioners and donors, Beyond the Grid will mobilize new resources, technologies and expertise to address energy problems.

Building on Power Africa’s support for a number of distinct small-scale energy solutions across Africa, Beyond the Grid will help overcome policy and regulatory constraints to providing energy on a small scale, the Energy Department said. In addition, it will help increase access to financial and technical assistance historically unavailable to small energy businesses.

Beyond the Grid will also incorporate new financial tools, such as those that blend donor and private capital or aggregate small energy projects into larger-scale investments.

POWER AFRICA OFF-GRID ENERGY CHALLENGE

Building on the Beyond the Grid framework, the U.S. African Development Foundation has teamed up with General Electric Africa and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to launch the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge, designed to meet the needs of communities not served by the traditional grid. This grant challenge, open until June 20, will award up to $1.8 million in grant funding to African-managed and -owned enterprises with renewable energy solutions.

This second round of the challenge is an expansion to all six Power Africa countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania — from the first round of $600,000 in grant funding for renewable energy business models in Kenya and Nigeria, which was awarded in November 2013.

Power Africa, which President Obama launched in June 2013, is the U.S. government’s development approach to increase access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative has already helped close almost 2,800 megawatts’ worth of transactions and has secured commitments for another 5,000 megawatts, representing almost 75 percent of its initial goal of bringing an additional 10,000 megawatts of cleaner, more reliable energy to the six focus countries and adding 20 million electrical connections for households and businesses.

To date, Power Africa has leveraged more than $15 billion from the private sector for new on-grid, mini-grid and off-grid projects in sub-Saharan Africa.