Global trailblazers offer inclusive off-grid solutions

Global trailblazers offer inclusive off-grid solutions
By Chhavi Sharma, International Programme Manager, Ashden

chhavi sharma, AshdenThe shortlists for the annual Ashden Awards highlight a new crop of grassroots renewable energy solutions – revealing key trends in the sector, and raising the profile of its breakout stars. The awards accelerate climate innovation creating fairer, better low-carbon world.

The awards shortlists, announced earlier this month, include decentralised renewable energy solutions in India, Africa and the Middle East. All show the potential for technologies and business models to reach even the most remote and least wealthy communities, raising incomes and improving lives.

Themes running through the work of these pioneering innovators include the power of village-level energy hubs and centres, and the role of pay-per-use services in helping more people earn a living. The shortlists also show the untapped potential of refugee settlements as clean energy markets and cradles of entrepreneurship.

Trailblazers are also addressing the skills shortage holding back the deployment of clean energy in low-income nations, and ensuring that training is effective, inclusive and matched with the needs of employers and national energy plans. Collaboration is at the heart of this success, along with a focus on practical training that links directly to employment opportunities.

Finally, the shortlists highlight the astonishing wealth of grassroots enterprises and initiatives, tailored to meet the needs of those they serve, that are ready to scale up or collaborate with international partners.

The 2022 Ashden Awards: from skills innovation to WiFi in refugee camps

The Ashden Awards run annually – this year, three categories focus on pioneers widening access to electricity and safe cooking fuels and methods.

Two Indian organisations feature in the shortlist for the Ashden Award for Energising Agriculture. Access to affordable clean energy products and services is essential to improving the lives of farming communities (The World Bank states that 27% of people in India’s rural villages live in poverty, compared to 6% of people in its cities).

One shortlisted organisation is Oorja Development Solutions, bringing affordable pay-per-use irrigation, milling and cooling to farmers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The company installs, runs and maintains solar equipment and infrastructure used by farmers typically earning less than 100 USD a year. Oorja works with local NGOs and community organisations to engage with marginalised groups and minorities.

Meanwhile, Collectives for Integrated Livelihoods Initiatives creates women-led production hubs in India’s tribal areas. These offer access to affordable technologies, but also share knowledge and help people access raw materials and markets for their produce.

Outfits shortlisted for the Ashden Award for Energy Access Skills include Energy Generation, an organisation training up Togo’s clean energy entrepreneurs and technicians with in-person and virtual support. Its two-year courses marry business skills with help developing new clean energy products.

Their inventions have included new wind-powered irrigation systems and sustainable cooking fuels. Energy Generation actively addresses the gender imbalance found in technology sectors around the world – two thirds of its current training cohort are women.

Community Energy Malawi

Meanwhile, Community Energy Malawi has put skills at the heart of the Sitolo mini-grid in the country’s rural Mchinji district. This brings power to more than 600 households and 30 businesses, from maize mills to barber shops. The creation of dozens of internships for local young people have helped them to find work, including setting up their own clean energy businesses.

But upskilling must reach further than the leaders and employees of energy companies. In rural Uganda, EnerGrow provides customers loans and bookkeeping and financial literacy training for affordable income-generating devices like sewing machines, carpentry equipment and fridges for bars and cafes.

Kakuma Ventures

Contenders for the Ashden Award for Energising Refugee Livelihoods include Kenya’s Kakuma Ventures, supporting a growing network of entrepreneurs running solar-powered WiFi hubs in Kakuma Refugee Camp. The organisation supplies training and equipment that allows entrepreneurs to create a new income stream – and help their neighbours get online for the first time.

Elsewhere, innovators show how clean energy brings people together. Power Trust Uganda Ltd supports solar-powered business hubs in the Kiryandongo refugee camp – containers offering everything from hairdressing, phone charging and computer access to milling for agricultural products. The hubs are run by groups of local residents, and provide a centre for training and nurturing business opportunities.

How do Ashden Awards power forward innovation?

The Ashden Awards put the spotlight on outstanding climate innovation – our 2021 winners were announced on stage at the COP26 climate talks, at a ceremony featuring the President of Costa Rica, His Excellency Carlos Alvarado Quesada. But shortlisted organisations, finalists and winners can receive support and benefits for many years after they apply.

For example, an Ashden investor pitching event helped sustainable irrigation enterprise Futurepump raise £120,000 in anchor investment. This supported the organisation to run an equity crowdfunding campaign and raise a further £750,000 to grow its work with Africa’s smallholder farmers.

An Ashden grant helped another award winner, S4S Technologies, create a new website and branding. The growth of the company – a Zayed Sustainability Prize winner in in 2022 – will help more women in India’s rural villages raise their incomes through crop drying and processing.

Another Ashden grant helped upgrade a solar microgrid in conflict-hit Yemen run by local women, providing incomes and affordable energy to refugees and their neighbours.  Ashden also helped United Nations Development Programme Yemen, the organisation behind the project work, secure £20,000 in additional funding.

Ashden’s recognition has pushed forward plans to raise the number of UNDP Yemen microgrid projects from three to 165, and for the agency to adopt the model internationally.

Auke Lootsma, UNDP Resident Representative Yemen, said: “Receiving the award has changed the life of Iman Hadi, the head of the women’s co-op, and her team.”

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