This report summarises the findings of the Smart Villages Initiative’s high-level workshop on off-grid village energy in East Africa. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Infrastructure, Rwanda, the workshop brought together 47 key stakeholders from East Africa and the United Kingdom to share the findings of the Smart Villages Initiative’s East Africa engagement, to review the current state of off-grid village energy in the region and in individual countries, and to discuss the way forward. The workshop served as a final input into the Smart Village’s East Africa Policy Brief, which communicated the experiences, views, and recommendations of front-line individuals and organisations to policymakers in preparation for the United Nations Summit to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 and their subsequent implementation in East Africa.
Representatives from Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda shared encouraging progress on providing access to modern energy to off-grid villages, tempered by the sheer scale of the task and the need to overcome a host of barriers. Country representatives, however, were adamant in their belief that answers are best found through collaboration in East Africa and internationally. The representatives of the African Union Commission and the Scottish government agreed and demonstrated the benefits of cooperation in achieving access to modern energy for off-grid villages.
Breakout sessions and plenary discussions brought to the fore the remaining obstacles to achieving off-grid village energy in East Africa. These included: the high cost of mini-grid systems and the need for financing; the lack of supportive policy and regulatory frameworks; insufficient capacity to support off-grid systems; counterfeit and poor quality products and components; and not listening to the voices of end users, particularly rural women and youth.
Participants worked together to suggest novel ways to address these remaining obstacles. These included, for example, moving from an individualised approach to a balanced approach in which the government acts as a mediator between end users and the private sector. Other suggestions included: the use of financial instruments tailored to the off-grid sector; lobbying government to enact the proper supportive policy and regulatory frameworks; working with the international community to foster a good policy environment to increase the flow of private investment; taking a strategic and multi-pronged approach to building domestic technical capacity; and using media and marketing techniques to engage with end users.