Africa Finance Forum Blog
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Challenge: Extended. How do you scale access to power in Africa? Power Africa is taking an innovative approach, drawing on USAID's Development Credit Authority's risk sharing mechanism to bring commercial debt to the sector.
Two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. While some of these people will be connected to the electricity grid in the future, they may face a long wait as the infrastructure build-out across the region struggles to keep up with population growth.
One of the greatest hurdles to providing reliable electricity access in Africa is the availability of financing, specifically debt. Power Africa uses an innovative transaction-focused model to galvanize collaboration, engage in critical actions to accelerate deals and projects, and drive systemic reforms to facilitate future investment. As part of the initiative, USAID's Development Credit Authority (DCA) works to bring commercial debt to the sector by providing guarantees for lenders.
While typically used for grid-scale generation projects, this past year, Power Africa drew upon DCA to implement four new guarantees to help bridge the significant gap in access to financing. This work is expected to support new grid and off-grid connections, bringing energy access to hundreds of thousands of customers.
The first area of focus is to unlock debt capital for off-grid and small-scale energy solutions on the African continent, especially for those customers that are far from the electric grid. Sustainable, private sector-led business models for off-grid and small-scale energy solutions from companies such as Off-Grid: Electric, Mobisol and M-KOPA are beginning to succeed in the marketplace and meet the demand of sub-Saharan Africa's underserved populations - bolstered by decreasing costs of technology and innovative "pay as you go" financing options. However, funding for this type of business is mostly provided through grants, angel investors or subsidized money from development finance institutions.
While this approach has worked to pilot these solutions, there is a need for debt financing for companies that are ready to graduate from grants and concessional funding to more sustainable, longer-term commercial debt. To reach the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to energy, these businesses must be able to scale-up across the continent.
To achieve this goal, two of the four DCA guarantees will mobilize more than $80 million in financing to support companies providing small-scale renewable energy solutions to reach those who live beyond the grid. These companies, many of them Power Africa partners, most often provide solar home systems enabling customers to access services such as lighting, cell-phone charging, electric fans, and even television and refrigeration, at an affordable cost. These guarantees will support debt finance to the beyond the grid renewable energy sector, including the end users, to increase the uptake of these technologies and meet these companies' large working capital needs.
The other two DCA guarantees, mobilizing more than $60 million, support a second area of focus: financing new connections to existing grids. While many people live within sight of the electric grid, extending or building additional lines is costly for the utilities, which can also make the connection fee too high for customers. These two guarantees will support the financing needed to make the connections as well as upgrade the existing grids to provide even more new connections in the future.
These four Power Africa-DCA guarantees are a key tool for expanding energy access and demonstrate how USAID is responding to market demand. For the energy providers themselves, successful use of the financing provided through the guarantees will help them build up credit histories to continue to access commercial debt without the support of a guarantee. Over time, the success of these guarantees will also be a signal to local banks and commercial lenders that this sector is ready for investment.
Challenge: Accepted. Power Africa and DCA will continue to work together to share risk with financial institutions operating across the continent to sustainably mobilize debt financing to the energy sector.
About the Author
Claire Everhart is Presidential Management Fellow with USAID's Development Credit Authority (DCA).
DCA is USAID's credit guarantee program and provides partial credit guarantees that unlock private sector lending in Africa. For the past fiscal year, USAID's DCA portfolio in Africa grew by 23%, marking the largest amount of financing that's ever been made available to African businesses through DCA.
USAID recently launched the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture, a step-by-step guide to help our partners support access to and use of sustainable financial services in rural areas. This Guide is the result of an ongoing effort within USAID to understand how digital financial services (DFS) can support Feed the Future initiative's goals of increasing agricultural incomes and reducing malnutrition while simultaneously building out ultra-inclusive economic infrastructure.
We see at least four areas where DFS is making a vital impact by overcoming many of the challenges with traditional financial services that have left many rural communities unbanked or underbanked:
- Reducing the cost of delivering financial services outside of bank branches and urban areas, making these services (savings, credit, insurance, etc.) accessible and relevant to rural communities.
- Increasing the traceability of payments to reduce loss of funds and ensure proper accounting, which can potentially increase trust between various actors within the agricultural supply chain.
- Improving household resistance to financial shocks through savings and on-demand receipt of funds, which evidence shows helps to smooth consumption and maintain household nutrition.
- Creating new business models (for example, alternative credit scoring such as M-Shwari in Kenya which is providing very small, on-demand loans to customers based on savings behavior).
The approach we document in this Guide follows three broad steps for assessment:
- Identifying the value-chain challenges;
- Assessing gaps and obstacles in existing services; and
- Assessing the maturity of the digital ecosystem in your area.
The Guide encourages the reader to walk through these steps without limiting his or her thinking, initially, based on gaps in the local DFS market. Rather, once the reader identifies opportunities, they can design interventions that integrate creative solutions and market facilitation to make these opportunities a reality, even in less mature markets, using the following four high-level intervention types:
- Utilizing digital finance along the value chain, the most immediate and direct way to use DFS in our programs;
- Organizing implementing partners around DFS solutions, in order to aggregate demand for services by working together with USAID and other development partners;
- Implementing other technology-enabled services in conjunction with DFS, which encourages the reader to look at the broader digital ecosystem and to integrate with other services that are relevant to smallholder farmers (such as mobile-enabled extension services).
- Market Facilitation, which recognizes the role that USAID, along with our partners, can play to stimulate the broad DFS market when key constraints, such as regulation or lack of adequate consumer protection are holding back use of services in rural areas.
One great example of the last intervention type which has seen great process over the past year comes from our Feed the Future partners in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Mobile money, although not widely available in the region, was identified as able to improve access to finance for livestock producers. Therefore, acting as a market facilitator, USAID supported Hello Cash to extend the services of Somali Microfinance Institution into hard-to-reach areas - creating the opportunity for customers to use mobile-based payments to transact, save, and increase access to loans, all of which will support the larger Feed the Future effort to build a reliable livestock market for Somalia and the bordering regions in Ethiopia.
In keeping with the Principles for Digital Development, this Guide is a dynamic resource that will be updated and improved based on your input and experiences in the field.
Please get in touch either through the comments section below or by sending an email to digitaldevelopment[at]usaid.gov. Whether it is related case studies, specific feedback, or ways that you're able to benefit from this Guide in your own work, we'd love to hear from you and to keep pushing forward our rural development goals together.