The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the lives of millions around the globe, straining economies and healthcare systems. The pandemic could be especially damaging to regions without access to reliable electricity, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where only 28 percent of healthcare facilities on average have access to reliable electricity.
Electricity is essential for providing key healthcare services, such as powering heart rate monitors, ultrasound machines, microscopes, refrigerators for vaccines, and providing sufficient lighting to diagnose and treat patients. As these facilities run the risk of being unable to provide essential services, the impact of COVID-19 could be devastating without intervention.
Off-grid solar companies are integral to increasing electricity access to healthcare facilities as well as the two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa without power. However, they are also facing challenges as they try to navigate the current business environment impacted by COVID-19. According to a recent survey by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, around 50 percent of member companies predict they will be in serious financial trouble as a result of the pandemic.
The Power Africa Off-grid Project’s Activities to Address the Public Health Crisis
The RTI-implemented and USAID-funded Power Africa Off-grid Project, which supports the expansion of off-grid energy access with the goal of facilitating 30 million new off-grid electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, is adapting to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This response includes a mix of new and newly-adjusted activities, such as providing grants to electrify healthcare facilities and supporting off-grid solar companies to adapt their business practices to operate under new guidelines and principles due to the pandemic.
Supporting the Electrification of Healthcare Facilities
The project is providing grants to increase electricity access in rural, peri-urban, and urban healthcare facilities across sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to electrifying healthcare facilities, these grants are also open to applicants to propose and develop new health-related products and services for combatting pandemics, as well as mobile clinics and equipment, such as respirators. These grants will support systems that have sustainable business models and will have a high positive impact in the fight against COVID-19.
Through this activity, the project is helping to establish partnerships between the health sector and off-grid solar companies, assisting in the global effort to electrify healthcare facilities. Off-grid energy companies can build on their experience providing energy services to a diverse clientele in the region and their innate pursuit for business models that promote sustainability.
Helping Off-grid Solar Companies Navigate the Pandemic
The Power Africa Off-grid Project provides tailored technical assistance to off-grid solar companies and investors in the areas of business performance, access to finance, market analytics, and government policy. This support has never been more critical, as many companies are struggling to stay in business due to the pandemic and face a challenging economic environment over the coming months.
To help off-grid solar companies during this trying time, project staff are providing information about COVID-19 policies and regulations in key countries, developing targeted COVID-19 factsheets, conducting empirical analyses related to COVID-19, and other forms of market intelligence. The team is also using modeling and scenario planning to help companies craft proactive responses to the pandemic.
In an effort to promote financial stability within the off-grid solar sector, the project’s finance experts are advising companies on their equity and debt-raising activities, as well as collaborating with industry stakeholders to help structure a sector relief fund. The team’s legal experts are helping companies understand how they might be able to negotiate more flexible loan repayment terms due to COVID-19. Additionally, project staff plan to release a new customizable financial modeling tool for companies to adapt their pay-as-you-go financing options for customers.
The Sustainability of the Power Africa Off-grid Project’s COVID-19 Work
As this health crisis evolves, Power Africa is continuing to adapt to meet critical needs while providing essential support to the off-grid solar sector and off-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Those selected for the first round of grants will begin their work to power healthcare facilities by the end of this year with the possibility for future grant opportunities.