IRENA Supports Energy Access Initiatives For Africa And Asia
By Wallace Mawire
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently organized a weeklong knowledge sharing workshop for energy business incubators and entrepreneurs from Asia and Africa from 22 to 27thof September, 2014. The programme is anchored by the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM Ahmedabad and SELCO Incubation Center, two of India’s premier incubator vehicles supporting entrepreneurs in the renewable energy and energy access space. The workshop brought together participants from 11 business incubators, 2 renewable energy associations and 10 energy enterprises from 8 countries within Africa and Asia – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and India.
Continuous efforts are ongoing to alleviate the gap of energy access which is affecting nearly 1.3 billion people (19%) who lack access to electricity. Given that about 60% of additional generation is needed to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030, this is estimated to come from decentralised off-grid installations, either mini-grids or stand-alone. In this regard, renewable energy (RE) technologies can contribute to providing cost-effective sustainable solutions for off-grid populations. Enterprise development is one of the main channels through which this access can be attained. However, in order for energy entrepreneurs to flourish, there needs to be a strong supporting ecosystem that involves actors and institutions such as business incubators, financial institutions and regional renewable energy associations, amongst others. For IRENA, cooperation at the regional and national levels, knowledge sharing and enhanced capacity, as well as the encouragement of investment flows are essential elements in the Agency’s efforts and encapsulated in the workshop.
“The energy needs and opportunities in regions of Africa and Asia are high and one of IRENA’s commitments is to increase access within the SE4ALL commitments,” said Ms. Gauri Singh, Director of Country Support and Partnerships, IRENA. “Through targeted assistance such as these, we hope that this important workshop will facilitate knowledge sharing and interaction between business incubators, renewable energy associations, and entrepreneurs, accelerating deployment of renewable energy.”The UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Knowledge and Partnership Programme in partnership with IRENA also supported this programme to transfer India’s knowledge to other regions in Asia and Africa.
This idea for this workshop was seeded following a successful workshop organized by IRENA, DFID, CIIE and Asian Development Bank (ADB), as part the International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference (IOREC) held on 16 June 2014 in Manila, Philippines. The Manila workshop brought together over 44 participants from 35 organizations from South Asia and Africa, representing a diverse spectrum of functions, sectors and capacities. Based on the interest generated from the workshop and due to the need to initiate knowledge transfer between incubators that would benefit energy entrepreneurs, it was decided to bring together more incubators and entrepreneurs for an immersive week-long experience in India with CIIE and SELCO Incubation Centre.
As one of India’s leading business incubators, CIIE has been actively sourcing and supporting entrepreneurs through its various “open innovation” programs. Infuse ventures housed at CIIE, supports seed and early stage enterprises developing new business models across the renewable energy, resource efficiency, waste, water and other sustainability-related areas. “In addition to creating impact, there is a need for energy access entrepreneurs to plan for scale, so as to get their innovations accessible to more customers and markets – business incubators can help them achieve that through mentoring, customer validation and access to seed capital. In this regard, CIIE and Infuse have developed a unique approach towards supporting energy entrepreneurs who have been able to validate their business models with early customers. It gives us immense pleasure to share these experiences with other like-minded organizations from Africa and Asia,” said Mr.Kunal Upadhyay, CEO of CIIE and Infuse.
“The SELCO Incubation Centre’s philosophy is to inspire and strengthen small and medium entrepreneurs’ capacity to deliver sustainable energy solutions suited to local needs and to boost the enabling conditions under which they can thrive, remarked Harish Hande, Founder, SELCO.“India’s diverse context compels differing approaches to tackle various challenges and thus offers the world an opportunity to adapt or replicate similar tools to build the ecosystem across similar contexts. Incubators play a vital intermediary role and have much to learn from each other to further help create sustainable energy enterprises targeted at the poor.”
With a continuing need to upgrade technical information on markets, technology and associated enabling environment, all partners in this initiative are joining forces to spur additional support for entrepreneurship development. Given the challenging conditions under which energy enterprises operate to deliver solutions to the underserved, incubation centers play an important role in building an ecosystem that stimulates an enabling environment for the enterprise to flourish. Besides different incubator vehicles in their early phases, the workshop also brought together organizations who are interested in starting an incubator, entrepreneurs (from start-ups) who have been incubated by some of these vehicles and funders who have extended financial support to some of the incubation vehicles and/or are interested in pursuing funding support for the same.
The response from both the business incubators and entrepreneurs attending the workshop was unanimously positive. The incubators have decided to form a group and are currently in the process of exploring a partnership to further the knowledge sharing that was facilitated by the workshop. Twinning between incubators, and entrepreneurs shadowing each other’s businesses are some of the positive actions that will be followed up. It was agreed that much support needs to be provided by national governments, and international partners to further the entrepreneurial development especially in for those without energy access.
About the Author
Wallace Mawire is a Freelance Journalist and award winning photojournalist with a passion for covering development issues.