Op-Ed: How Africa can seize the billion-dollar solar opportunity & unlock the potential of underserved communities

PUBLISHED: Wed, 05 Feb 2020 17:03:27 GMT

By Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and Co-Founder of Bboxx

After many years working across the African continent, we have seen the enormity of the solar opportunity grow alongside rapid population expansion. The investment potential is currently estimated at $24bn by a report unveiled recently at the UK’s African Investment Forum.

The Forum saw government representatives, investors and private companies come together in a hive of activity resulting in multiple deals, all with the aim of furthering the development of the African continent.

Recognising that traditional grid infrastructure is not a viable solution in rural and peri-urban areas, it was very encouraging to hear the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ambitious vision to use the latest technology to improve the country’s energy access and to drive economic growth.

In a signing with Eustache Muhanzi Mubembe, DRC’s Minister of Hydraulic Resources and Electricity, we have pledged to bring affordable, reliable and clean electricity to 10 million citizens – the equivalent to 10% of the population – in the DRC by 2024. In turn, we will be helping to improve the country’s electrification rate from 9% to 30% during President Tshisekedi’s tenure.

So how can we create the urgency that will drive more global private-public partnerships and help deliver electricity to the 600 million people living without it across the continent?

Here, I explore the key question: What is the opportunity in real terms?

  • Economic growth: Access to electricity is an important trigger for turbocharging socio-economic growth, while helping to drive forward the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In concrete terms, by delivering reliable, affordable energy (SDG 7), we will drive the creation of 100,000 jobs in the DRC and promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth (SDG 8).
  • Digital inclusion: The provision of affordable financing combined with technology is making the ‘unbankable’ bankable and bringing more people into the digital economy. Bboxx Pulse™, our online comprehensive management platform, is using the Internet of Things technology to remotely monitor our solar home systems. This enables us to track over 6 million mobile payments we’ve generated to date and ensures we are best serving our customers.
  • Climate action: Clean solar energy is integral to moving the dial on SDG 13: combatting climate change. In the DRC, we will offset substantial CO2e emissions. Solar home systems represent a step up the energy ladder for the majority of customers from a torch or flashlight, kerosene lamp, or candle.
  • Driving demand: Closing the energy gap creates demand in other areas including – gas, water, finance and internet. Our Bboxx Pulse™ collects over one billion data points per day, giving us a full picture of our customer needs and how to best meet them.

What drives our mission is the human impact access to electricity will bring. However, we recognise that we cannot move the dial alone. What’s needed is more partnerships with heads of state who are prepared to meet the practical challenges of electrification goals, large utilities who bring scale and global investors who can share new thinking and technologies.

This is how we will create sustainable change, unlock the potential of underserved communities and ensure a successful socio-economic impact on the African continent.

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