GIZ Challenge Call: The million-euro question to setting up a new grant instrument for energy access project proposals

When you are in a position to conceptualize a grant programme you find yourself in a privileged but rather odd situation, a sort of “rich person’s dilemma” which can be broken down to the pivotal question: What is the best way you can spend the available money on? There is certainly no lack of challenges in the energy access space. In the “decisive decade” for SDG7 we are far behind schedule to reach the aim of universal energy access by 2030: More than 700 million people still lack access to electricity, with 3 out 4 living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It is in this context that the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) launched the initiative “Grüne Bürgerenergie” as part of its Marshall Plan with Africa in 2018. As part of the implementation Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) was commissioned by BMZ– amongst many other activities – to implement a 1 million EUR “challenge call” for the electricity-based energy access sector within its Small Projects Fund, leading to the above mentioned privilege.

Generally speaking a conceptualisation for this challenge call could not start on a white board. There are, of course, administrative criteria to observe, various guiding elements of the commission such as the overall duration of the programme that impact the timeline, strategic priorities, etc. Once these guiding criteria are observed, however, you still need to resolve the orientation of the grant, with questions such as:

  • What should be the specific challenge to be addressed in the call?
  • What is the most impactful use of the available funds?
  • What can unlock changes in the sector that can move us forward towards reaching SDG7 and improve the energy access situation in our partner countries?

We proceeded with a string of interviews and discussions with many colleagues, friends and sector experts from various positions and perspectives. This gave us a longlist of topics which we ranked according to their pertinence, also considering areas that are less addressed by other grant programmes, or that seem to perpetually lack funding. In the end we selected two challenges out of the longlist.

  • The first challenge is tackling off-grid system sustainability. We are perceiving a high share of (donor) funds addressing the setup of new or innovative systems, with little to no funds available to support adequate repair or maintenance activities of the variety of hardware installations out there. Through this challenge call we are asking for a diverse range of ideas that directly or indirectly address the likelihood of systems to actually reach their theoretic lifespan. We are hoping that the activities can pave the way towards a better use of the available infrastructure by decreasing the number of broken or at-risk-of-being-broken-soon systems in the field.
  • The second challenge is more experimental and is exploring the link between energy access and climate change. We all know that decreasing CO2 emissions is our most critical task in the 21st century. What is less explored is the role that energy access can play in this regard. By asking for proposals that tackle both energy access and CO2 emission reductions we hope that we can learn more about effective approaches of coupling the two sectors and reaching benefits in both. An additional perk is the possibility of carbon finance leveraging much needed capital for the investment-intensive access sector. If projects can demonstrate significant CO2 emission reduction potential, there is the possibility to scale with funds from carbon emission trading schemes.

Ultimately we hope that with the above conceptualisation of the challenge call we are using the available grant funds in the most effective way. We are confident believe that the proposals we receive can pave the way for both a better value-for-money situation by improving system sustainability and more overall available funds by improving the base for carbon finance in the energy access sector. Yet ultimately this depends on the sector and the proposals we receive. We therefore close with an invitation: Please do consider an application, or if the call is not relevant for you, help us to spread the word by forwarding the invite to relevant organisations.

And last but not least, we would be very curious to learn what you would consider the most pertinent challenge in the energy access sector to be and how you would have framed this challenge call: our million-euro question!


The application to this challenge call is open until August 31, 2021. You can find further information on the challenge call here. The application can be handed in here.

For general inquiries on the challenge call please contact For feedback on this article please don’t hesitate to reach out to