This policy brief summarises the findings and recommendations arising from a 15 month programme of engagement in East Africa, commencing in June 2014, undertaken by the Smart Villages Initiative to identify the barriers to off-grid sustainable energy access for development in rural communities and to gather views on how those barriers can be overcome. It provides an up-to-date view from front-line practitioners and is intended to inform policy makers, development agencies and other stakeholders concerned with upcoming processes to establish and deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.
With regard to access to appropriate technologies, a key concern is to continue to reduce costs while improving mechanisms for quality control, essential to eliminate poor quality products from the market. Batteries remain a weak link and should be the focus of international research and development efforts. While affordable and reliable technologies are necessary, the focus of energy access initiatives should be on the services and development benefits enabled by energy access.
Important areas for research and development include the development of improved control systems, ‘plug and play’ technologies, recycling of energy system components, and efficient energy using appliances. Closer links should be established between energy service companies delivering on the ground and university researchers.
In order to achieve the substantially higher rates of investment in energy infrastructure needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, governments should put in place policy and regulatory frameworks which provide confidence to the private sector to invest. They should also ensure that entrepreneurs can access working capital to expand their businesses and upfront investment capital at affordable rates. Mechanisms need to be put in place to enable village-level energy projects to access international climate funds. Governments should support home-grown businesses by reducing red tape, by creating sufficient breathing space to get businesses off the ground, and by providing business incubation and advisory services.
Improved collaboration is needed between funders, and there is much benefit from sharing of information and experiences between countries. More attention is needed to capacity building based on systematic analysis of the knowledge and skills required to implement and maintain energy services. There should be an emphasis on vocational training for local technicians.
There is widespread support for the concept of smart villages and a view that national champions could usefully be established to promote them. The Smart Villages Initiative should do more to develop and publicise case studies of smart villages as inspiration to other rural communities.