By Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and Co-Founder of Bboxx
As COVID-19 continues to make its way through Africa, this global pandemic poses a huge threat to the off-grid energy sector and the millions of customers it serves. UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 – energy for all – unlocks the potential of people, businesses, communities and whole countries at scale. Access to energy is the trigger for economic growth as it powers sustainable development by providing opportunities not previously possible.
Yet governments are faced with an almost impossible task: the competing duality of putting health of citizens first while also ensuring economies do not collapse, which itself would lead to irretrievable damage to health, education and livelihood opportunities for all.
While 840 million people still live without electricity and a further 1 billion live without a reliable electrical supply, significant progress has been made in recent years on expanding energy access globally. But without urgent action, off-grid energy could essentially be wiped out – a major step back for universal energy access and economic development.
Research by GOGLA, the global association for the off-grid solar energy sector, recently found that 50% of off-grid companies could be in serious financial trouble if the COVID-19 crisis lasts for more than three to four months. This would plunge millions of people back into energy poverty, once again cut off from the opportunities provided by clean, reliable and affordable electricity.
At this pivotal juncture for the sector, a global coordinated approach is needed to tackle this head on, ensuring continuity of energy provision and that we are there for the communities we power. The sector must build self-reliance, and quickly, to ensure that essential energy does not fall through the cracks. We cannot do it all so we need to focus on what we can influence alongside key partners, so that this important sector acts as part of the solution. This will ensure that energy access continues so that economic opportunities are sustained, and damage is mitigated where possible.
We all need to recognise the role we can play, and we stand ready to work with and collaborate further across the off-grid energy industry, governments, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), investors, and the donor community to overcome these mounting challenges.
So how can off-grid energy companies form part of the solution?
The potential long-term impact of COVID-19 in countries across the African continent will vary due to strengths and weaknesses in healthcare provision, government cash positions, among a range of other factors. We recognise that while we are all in the fog of war against this pandemic, we still need to look to the horizon and to the ensuing peace. The off-grid sector has a role to play in ensuring that energy access does not fall off a cliff, to be there for communities when they need it most, while doing what we can with key partners during these uncertain times.
If we act now and ensure energy provision remains front of mind, we can contribute to triggering a return to economic growth and development in the long term, with widespread benefits for many citizens who had only recently been lifted out of energy poverty. We can then continue our shared mission of transforming lives and unlocking potential through access to energy.