Africa is going through a defining moment. While the Covid-19 pandemic hit China, and parts of
Europe and America hard, so far, the continent has not been affected much. It is a crucial moment for
the continent, and we need to make good use of this opportunity especially in terms of increasing
electricity access for rural communities and those living in remote areas. The pandemic has revealed
how vital it is for every person in the world to have access to electricity ¹ . In these unprecedented
times, priority has been electricity access for health facilities. But we also need to think about
electricity access so that citizens can have direct access to preventive information from recognised
authorities (governments and WHO), through mobile phones and radio ² . When more people know
what preventative measures they ought to take and follow them, there will be less people contracting
Covid-19, and a reduction in the number of people seeking treatment. Yet, an estimated 575 million
people do not have access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. There are several reasons for this, but
key among them is access to finance, and more specifically appropriate financing mechanisms for
technologies that are easy to deploy in rural and remote areas like solar home systems (SHS).
This is an opportune time for governments, development partners, investors and private sector to
work together to accelerate electrification through SHS. These can be considered tier 1 electricity
access ³ providing lighting, mobile phone charging and radio to rural communities. With time,
consumers can move on to larger systems. The good thing is we do not have to develop the
appropriate financing mechanism to deliver SHS from scratch. The Infrastructure Development
Company Limited (IDCOL) in Bangladesh already did it. Between 2003 – 2004, the IDCOL SHS
program in Bangladesh delivered 50,000 systems to consumers in rural areas, three years ahead of
schedule and USD 2 million below the estimated cost. By January 2019, 4.13 million SHS had been
installed, reaching 12% of the entire population in Bangladesh4. Now let us have a look at IDCOL and
how they were able to achieve this.
In an interview, Dr Fouzul Khan, the Founder CEO of IDCOL and professor of finance and economics
for over 12 years, answered two questions on what we need to know when starting such a
No, the model cannot be replicated, but is can be adapted. We borrowed the model from Sri Lanka. If
we had not tweaked some things to suit our context, we would not have achieved what we did. The
key word here is to adapt the model to the unique context in each country on the continent.
Currently, there is significant goodwill from ecosystem players conducting surveys 5 , 6 to find out how
off-grid companies (such as those distributing SHS) have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In
response, investors and development finance institutions have set up relief funds to address the
immediate financial needs of companies 7 , 8 . While many governments have not prioritised off-grid
electricity access 9 , there is a huge opportunity to leverage the efforts of ecosystem players to
accelerate progress towards the attainment of SDG 7 in rural areas. Adapting the IDCOL model to
finance the delivery of SHS will enable governments to reduce the electricity access gap and the
impact will remain even after the pandemic has gone or the world has found ways of coping with it.
In this blog, we shared what I needed to start off. In the next blog, we shall share on how the IDCOL
model was executed. Stay tuned.
The Africa Clean Energy Technical Assistance Facility (ACE TAF) is managed by Tetra Tech International Development.
This website has been funded by UK aid from the UK Government; however, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.