Earlier this year, in February, we were celebrating the stellar success of our industry in delivering impact on energy access at the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo in Nairobi – and looking at how we can build on that success even more in the future. Today, barely two months later, the immediate outlook is rather different.
While realization has been setting in rather slowly, everyone is now fully aware that the COVID-19 pandemic – and particularly the measures to contain it – will hit developing countries hard, and that our sector will not escape the same fate.
GOGLA, as other industry associations and facilitators, have concentrated first on understanding the size and nature of the impact, and what kind of help is needed. Across the industry, the signals are clear: companies are seriously concerned, about keeping their workforce healthy and operational, about logistical challenges of getting stock into the country and to their customers, about getting paid by their customers, and about keeping their investors satisfied and supportive. But it is anybody’s guess with what force, and for how long, this storm will hit the industry.
We are seriously concerned too – about our industry, and about the people that our industry seeks to serve. Our industry delivers impacts that are now of more importance than ever: providing access to information, helping to power healthcare facilities and creating opportunities to generate income. In short, the off-grid solar industry works towards supporting resilience. Our role is to concentrate on keeping our industry alive, with the bigger perspective that this is the best way we help the populations in our market countries deal with the COVID crisis.
GOGLA’s next actions are going to focus on the following points:
1. We are working closely with a group of investors to establish relief funding, as soon as possible. With sector-wide coordination from Acumen, CDC and Persistent, promising progress is being made. A plan for a new relief fund, with a target size of USD 100 million is in the making, recognizing job security and consumer protection. ResponsAbility and SunFunder will jointly manage the fund; it is hoped it can be operational as of mid-June. While that would be a great achievement, in view of the industry’s needs, anything sooner will, of course, be better. And there are no guarantees that this date can be achieved, nor that the target size will be reached. Obviously, we will do everything we can to support the speedy start of this fund. Companies will be able to register their interest in financing from the fund as early as next week – keep visiting our website for the latest updates.
2. We have called on governments to recognize off-grid solar as an “essential service”, with a view to keep our industry going as much as possible while also acting responsibly. Many governments have already acted on this. We continue to reach out to more, jointly with partners and National Renewable Energy Associations (NREAs).
3. We will continue to collect information on how the market develops. For instance, we will soon start working with 60 Decibels to understand how COVID-19 will affect consumers and their ability to pay, tracked on a monthly basis across multiple markets.
4. We are coordinating with partners to ensure they provide the right types of support and technical assistance to companies. We have started to share this information on our COVID-19 resource page.
5. And lastly, but certainly not the least, we are calling on donors, foundations, and development banks to adjust, speed up and increase all initiatives aimed at helping customers being able to pay the bills, for example through result-based financing schemes.
We know that the world will eventually beat the pandemic. The demand for sustainable and reliable electricity will remain high – we already know that off-grid solar solutions are one of the best ways to rapidly provide energy access, contributing to building resilient and sustainable communities. We call on governments, investors, and other stakeholders to keep building this future together with our industry.