Power Africa, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with the Smart Communities Coalition (SCC), announces it has awarded two grants totaling $840,000 to off-grid energy companies to install solar mini-grids and deliver 1,300 new electricity connections to homes and businesses in western Uganda’s Rwamwanja refugee settlement. Beyond supplying more reliable and affordable electricity to households and businesses, the grantees will also promote productive use of energy (PUE) technology. PUE equipment — such as cold storage, grain mills, welding machines, and computers — will take advantage of the mini-grids’ generation capacity, stimulate electricity demand, and allow residents to establish or expand micro-enterprises to generate greater income.
The global population of forcibly displaced people passed the 80 million threshold in 2020 for the first time. Of those who went on to live in refugee settlements, approximately ten percent had access to electricity. Today, many refugees cannot obtain basic electric lighting or cooking, relying instead on kerosene or walking long distances to find fuel.
In Uganda, which hosts the greatest number of refugees in Africa, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) identified that 89 percent of refugee households were in need of electricity. Limited energy access often means that refugee settlements are denied economic opportunity. Introducing electric lighting solves part of this problem: Light from a solar home system allows learners to study after dark, improves safety, and saves the user effort and money. However, modern off-grid technology can go further to promote economic development.
The two grants aim to meet displaced people’s demand for higher tiers of energy access by developing mini-grids and demonstrating to residents how to turn PUE into a business. Previous initiatives by USAID Power Africa, the SCC and Chatham House to supply energy to refugees demonstrate the potential for demand stimulation and show that increased generation capacity and more advanced PUE require larger, longer-term investments. To develop new business models to meet refugees’ need for energy and PUE — improving economic outcomes for individuals and mini-grid operators — Power Africa funds will be used to install three mini-grids in Rwamwanja, where the grantees will promote PUE to make the most of the energy supplied. The Rwamwanja settlement is home to 70,000 mostly Congolese refugees.
Power Africa assessed each of the grantees’ applications according to their economic benefit, particularly for women; operations and maintenance plans covering at least five years; and social utility (such as the number of public services electrified). Power Africa also selected the grantees using technical guidance provided by officials with Uganda’s Rural Electrification Program, overseen by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
With its grant funding, Aptech Africa will install two mini-grids to supply uninterrupted electricity to households and businesses in Ntenungi village and Kyempango village in Rwamwanja. Aptech will also establish two farmers’ enterprise centers that will provide cooperative cold storage facilities and offer training on post-harvest processing and how to market produce. The company will provide a wide range of PUE equipment such as water pumps, information technology, and sewing, carpentry, and hairdressing tools through established and new entrepreneurs. Aptech sized its mini-grids to allow the households and businesses to scale their energy use as the settlement’s energy demand grows. The company will charge customers a tariff covering operation and maintenance costs and ensure continuous power supply from the system.
Aptech Africa will install two mini-grids to supply uninterrupted electricity to households and businesses in Ntenungi village and Kyempango village in Rwamwanja. Photo Credit: Aptech Africa
Winch Energy will develop a 120 kWp mini-grid in Kyempango village’s central market in Rwamwanja. With this mini-grid, Winch Energy will introduce a source of electricity that is more affordable and reliable than the options available to the locality. After visiting this site, Winch identified households and businesses clustered around a trading center that will offer residents the most benefit when electrified. These benefits include more extensive lighting and longer business hours. Winch Energy will partner with Mobile Power to offer battery bank rentals for those outside the immediate reach of the mini-grid, and will also implement a program to stimulate demand for PUE. To do so, the company will supply, market, and finance PUE equipment (prioritizing women-owned enterprises) and train residents in financial literacy.
With these grants, Power Africa is delivering needed household electricity while also introducing larger generation capacity and more advanced forms of PUE to benefit refugee communities, in alignment with objectives of the SCC. By extending cleaner, more reliable energy across the continent, Power Africa and the SCC are prioritizing those who live beyond the reach of national power grids, including vulnerable refugees. The grants aim to further demonstrate that mini-grids and PUE are viable in displacement settings while raising residents’ quality of life and increasing opportunities for economic activity.