Global climate solutions: African clean energy pioneers drive Post-COVID-19 green recovery

The Togolese Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Agency (AT2ER) was announced as the winner of Ashden’s System Innovation for Energy Access Award as four other projects from Africa offering climate solutions earned global recognition in the prestigious annual Ashden Awards this year.

AT2ER’s public-private partnership is set to electrify 300,000 rural homes by 2022 and is gearing up to deliver total electrification of the country by 2030 through an ambitious on- and off-grid energy plan, including solar home systems and mini-grids for the rural poor.

More than 776 metric tons of C02 has been avoided to date by connecting households to solar home systems rather than the national grid.

“The goal is to achieve universal access by 2030, but we are committed to doing so well before then. Our priority is to develop the off-grid segment and attract private investment because we are convinced that with only public funds we will not be at the rendezvous. Providing clean energy access alone is not enough; we look to develop the local economy as well to give households the means to be able to afford the energy services for the sustainability of our solutions,” said Bolivia Tiem, Director General of AT2ER.

“The Togo Government’s electrification scheme is a systemic approach to benefit the whole of society, not just those who can afford it, offering subsidies to poorer households and using a clever mix of different solutions from small home solar systems to mini-grids,” says Harriet Lamb. “This is a leading initiative which we would urge others to consider right across Africa.”

New Energy Nexus Uganda (previously known as ENVenture), the runner up in this award category, was recognised for its work supporting around 100 small-scale community enterprises by providing financing, capacity building and mobile technology to community enterprises to sell clean energy products.

Products include solar systems, improved cookstoves, and non-electric water filters. More than 87,000 people living in mainly rural hard-to-access areas now have access to clean energy products and the scheme is looking to scale up within Uganda and in other African countries.

Together with energy access organisations around the world, including New Energy Nexus, Ashden is calling for an urgent international fund of US$35 million to support such vital, community-based clean energy businesses who face collapse as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Politicians and funders must throw their weight behind supporting small and medium-sized clean energy businesses before it’s too late. If the banks were too big to fail in the last decade, today the small enterprises are too valuable to fail,” says Ms Lamb.

“Off-grid solar has been offering a lifeline for 470 million people, keeping lights on and equipment working in health facilities, small businesses and households. But some clean energy businesses are vulnerable to collapse without support to see them through the pandemic.”

The Ashden Awards are given to low carbon pioneers around the world which are creating resilience, green growth, and fairer societies.

Harriet Lamb, CEO of UK-based Ashden said: “Climate change is here. But so are the solutions. The low carbon pioneers in Africa are protecting rainforests, tackling the impact of deadly heatwaves and providing clean energy to those without electricity.”

Other finalists include ECOnsult, a female-led architecture company in Egypt recognised for its pioneering green building techniques – building with recycled materials and integrating natural and passive cooling designs and solar technology and making buildings flash flood-proof. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have re-purposed their business to build fast assembly, modular, solar-run mobile clinics.

In Cameroon, a natural climate solution by Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW), which were runners up in the Natural Climate Solutions Award category, showed potential for replication after bushfires were dramatically reduced as a result of bee farming reforestation techniques.

Forest communities in the country’s Kilum-lijm region – frequently hit by forest fires – are being supported to become honey farmers instead of resorting to slash and burn agriculture.

Over 80,000 bee-friendly native trees and over 1,000 apiarists (mainly women) are now supported to earn a living. 2,000 hectares of forest was lost in 2012 to fires, which reduced to zero in 2018 and 2019.

British-based ethical investment company Energise Africa which crowdsources funds to invest in solar businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa was recognised as runners up in the Financial Innovation for Energy Access Award.

Energise Africa has raised £15m of capital so far through the sale of bonds which can be bought from as little as UK£50. This money has gone to 12 solar businesses, bringing solar to 452,000 people in 13 countries.

African families and businesses make monthly payments until they own the systems outright, usually within 12 to 24 months, after which they make significant long-term financial savings on energy.

“All of these organisations do more than lower emissions – they are improving communities’ livelihoods and health and are reducing inequality. These are the face of the low carbon, fairer future,” said Ms Lamb.

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