2013 Ashden Awards: Enterprising initiatives

Julia Hawkins

Many of the 2013 Ashden Award finalists used businesses models to meet the poor's electricity needs. Here are just a few examples – although by no means all – of the finalists doing just that...

This article is taken from the May/June issue of Renewable Energy Focus magazine. To register to receive a digital copy click here.

This year's line-up of Ashden Award finalists, runners up and winners, showed a number of creative business models to tackle the global energy access challenge by bringing solar power to the poor.

Here are six of them in profile:

SolarAid: Creative distribution brings solar power to East Africa's rural poor

With the audacious goal of eliminating the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020, Solar Aid's sales teams work with schools in rural areas to promote good quality, affordable lights to families. With over 300,000 lamps sold since 2010, the social enterprise is now the largest distributer of solar lights in Africa. The immediate benefits are immeasurable: children are able to study in the evening, polluting and dangerous kerosene is avoided, and families save money. And by using competitive procurement, SolarAid is helping raise standards across the industry.

Green Power, Vanuatu: Harnessing the Pacific sun to light up rural lives

For scattered archipelago islands like Vanuatu, extending the electricity grid to poor rural areas often doesn't make economic sense, meaning rural families rely on the dim light of dirty and dangerous kerosene lamps. By working closely with partners like youth groups and microfinance providers, as well as direct sales, Green Power has demonstrated impressive growth. With family members and community leaders often buying lanterns on behalf of off-grid households on the remoter islands, the majority of the island's off-grid households now have clean electric light.

Azuri Technologies: Pay-as-you-go solar for Kenyan homes

Small solar home systems bring good quality light and phone-charging to off-grid households and save them money. Yet their upfront costs render them out of reach for the people who would benefit most. UK-based startup Azuri has developed a pay-as-you-go interface which allows households to pay for solar as they use it with scratchcards, avoiding the need for microfinance. The Azuri ‘Indigo Duo’ starter solar-home-system provides two lights and phone charging. Once they have paid for their starter system, Azuri's customers have the opportunity to upgrade to larger systems, allowing them to progressively climb out of poverty.

OMC Power – India: Sustainable power for telecoms and surrounding villages

In rural India, only half the population has access to grid power. But running a mobile network is often costly and polluting. OMC has pioneered the use of solar-diesel hybrid plants to power telecom towers, and also rents electricity services to communities in surrounding villages. Telecom companies welcome the chance to use reliable power from more renewable sources, while villagers enjoy using clean, bright lanterns with mobile chargers and portable ‘powerboxes’ that are brought daily to their doors. With large areas of rural India likely to remain off-grid and hungry for mobile telecoms there are huge prospects for expansion.

MicroEnergy Credits: Helping microfinance providers to finance clean energy

Lack of finance can be a major stumbling block for people in developing countries who want to buy renewable energy products, with even the cheapest solar lanterns out of reach for many. The US business MicroEnergy Credits (MEC) helps microfinance institutions promote and provide loans for these products. Its largest programme is with XacBank in Mongolia. With average winter temperatures in Mongolia reaching −20C, MEC has supported XacBank in making efficient heating and insulation an option for families who would not otherwise be able to afford it, saving them a total of $28 million in fuel expenditure.

Cabeólica, Cape Verde: Wind power increases energy security

Small islands face a double whammy of complete dependence on imported fuel combined with crippling import costs. The public-private partnership of Cabeólica in Cape Verde off the West Coast of Africa has harnessed the island's plentiful Saharan winds to help it reduce diesel import costs and increase its energy security. In its first year of commercial operation, 25.5 MW of wind farms have generated over a fifth of the electricity on the country's four main islands – reaching more than 30 percent on two islands. As such, Cape Verde is leading the way among small islands in generating power from wind. Investing in wind is also helping stall brain drain: Cabeólica is staffed entirely by Cape Verdeans, some of whom returned from overseas to take up professional jobs at home.

National Development Bank, Palau: Incentivising household energy efficiency

The island group of Palau, part of Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean, might be a surprising location for a household energy efficiency programme. But the National Development Bank is leading the way with its programme to integrate energy efficient measures into its mortgage lending for new-builds, drastically cutting the need for energy-intensive air-conditioning.

Over the past three years, nearly all the new builds on the islands – have included approved energy-efficiency measures like installing natural ventilation or painting roofs white. Some houses have also received similar energy-efficient refurbishment or installed solar PV systems.

These were just some of the finalists for the Ashden 2013 Awards. This year's Ashden Awards included the International Awards, the Awards for Small Island Developing States, the Eurostar Ashden Awards for Sustainable Travel and the Ashden School Awards.

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