Some 940 million people worldwide go without electricity – many in rural Africa. In these areas, training and jobs drought stifles the spread of renewable power, and the economic opportunities it brings.
But the continent’s grassroots innovators are creating opportunities in the most remote locations – pointing the way forward for universal electrification across the continent. They are achieving stunning results by backing on-the-job learning and forging strong partnerships across the public and private sectors.
Skills and jobs will be on the agenda at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Kigali, Rwanda from tomorrow to Thursday. It is critical that policymakers, investors and other change-makers at this global gathering focus on supporting and replicating the grassroots innovations making waves across Africa.
Today’s pioneers include Energy Generation, an organisation training Togo’s clean energy entrepreneurs and technicians with in-person and virtual support. Its two-year courses marry business skills with help in 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.
But upskilling must reach further than the leaders and employees of energy companies. In rural Uganda, Energrow provides customers with loans, and bookkeeping and financial literacy training for affordable income-generating devices like sewing machines and carpentry equipment. It even plans to develop a learning app for customers to download and use on their phones.
The lesson from these innovators is that only wide-ranging partnerships can bring effective skills and training to every corner of the continent. Energy Generation, for example, works with leading clean energy companies to make sure its courses meet industry needs and standards. Co-ordination with local and central government is needed as well, to make sure the skills and innovations fit with ambitious national electrification plans.
Such national plans are gaining momentum across Africa. Recently, the government of Nigeria, in collaboration with a range of international partners, has committed to bringing electricity to 25 million people by 2023.
Its efforts will involve using solar home systems and mini-grids to power five million homes, schools, hospitals and other public utilities. This could potentially generate 250,000 new jobs, but we know such initiatives will flounder if the skills shortfall is not addressed.
Dialogue around energy access should not overlook the importance of skills and training. A practical approach to the issue can unlock progress in even the most remote villages.
Ms Sharma is International Climate Solutions Manager at Ashden