USAID Announces $4 Million to Solar Start-ups for African Off-Grid Energy

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For Immediate Release

Monday, November 14, 2016
USAID Press Office
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: | Twitter: @USAIDPress

Marrakesh, Morocco - At the 22nd session of the UN Climate conference (COP 22), Power Africa Coordinator Andrew M. Herscowitz announced $4 million in new investments to eight companies that are revolutionizing household solar power across Africa through the Scaling Off-Grid Energy: Grand Challenge for Development. The Enterprise Awards are expected to create up to 120,000 additional connections in off-grid communities.

"The Grand Challenge for Development is designed to support innovators like these eight companies who are scaling up their inventions," said Herscowitz. "The options for powering your home and business are changing, and these types of innovations will create opportunities to transform the power sector in homes across the planet," he said.

The Scaling Off-Grid Energy Enterprise Awards provide seed funding to solar start-ups to support geographic expansion throughout Africa, test new business models and tap into private and public financing.

The new awards will enable recipients to expand home solar power solutions to existing and new African markets, improve payment and distribution processes, and bring down costs for customers:

  • Greenlight Planet (Nigeria,Uganda) is expanding sales of low-cost solar home solutions through state of the art pay-as-you-go technology and deep distribution networks.
  • d.light (Kenya) is developing and expanding on software, training materials, and a call center to support a direct distribution model.
  • Fenix (Zambia) is expanding energy access through its expandable solar solutions kits that include options to power phones, lights, radios, televisions, and other appliances.
  • Orb Energy (Kenya) is establishing partnerships with banks and microfinance institutions to finance consumer solar system purchases.
  • VITALITE (Zambia) is distributing pay-as-you-go solar home systems, televisions, solar lamps, and appliances for rural, off-grid communities.
  •  PEG Africa (Ghana) is testing new digital payment tools that will help rural customers more easily pay for their solar home systems using mobile money.
  • Shinbone Labs (Benin, Ghana) is directly selling pre-packaged, expandable, low-cost solar kits that can be remotely activated, monitored and, in the future, paid by mobile phones.
  • Village Energy (Uganda) is building a last-mile solar distribution and servicing network in rural Uganda by training young men and women to become technicians and retail shop managers in their communities.
USAID's U.S Global Development Lab issued the awards as part of a competitive process through the Development Innovation Ventures program. Applications were evaluated based on three criteria: cost effectiveness relative to traditional alternatives, the plan for collecting rigorous evidence of success, and proposed pathways to scale if proven effective.


The Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge is a $36 million initiative launched by Power Africa, USAID, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), and the independent charity, Shell Foundation. The goal is to empower entrepreneurs and investors in achieving 20 million connections so households in sub-Saharan Africa have access to clean, modern and affordable electricity by 2030.

Last week, Microsoft, Acumen, and the United Nations Foundation joined the Grand Challenge for Development as aligned partners committed to leveraging their investments, capabilities, and networks. "With aligned partners like Microsoft, Acumen, and the United Nations Foundation who are investing in or supporting the off-grid solar sector, we can accelerate the growth of the household solar sector in Africa," said Herscowitz.

In addition, the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition was launched with a prize purse of $600,000, through cooperation between Grand Challenge partners Power Africa, USAID, the U.S. Department of Energy, CLASP and DFID through the Ideas to Impact Programme.

The Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development founding partners work together to align existing investments as well as collaborate on new efforts toaddress market barriers or failures in the African energy access market, and speed the introduction and growth of new, innovative products and services by enterprises and other actors.  The Grand Challenge for Development will initially focus on the household solar market, as the most immediately scalable and investment-ready segment of the off-grid market.