Power Africa Awards Grants to Scale Solar-Powered Productive Uses of Energy in Liberia
Power Africa, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded grants totaling $669,330 to five solar energy companies operating in Liberia. This funding will assist the grantees to distribute solar-powered productive use of energy (PUE) technologies that let users harvest, process, and preserve agricultural produce and fish, or power small businesses.
Implementing their grant activities until April 2023, the grantees will partner with organizations across Liberia to expand the supply of PUE in the country, thus widening access to electricity, increasing productivity, and catalyzing income-generating activities for economic growth. Because female farmers provide more than 60 percent of Liberia’s agricultural labor, these grants create opportunities for women to benefit from PUE.
Liberia’s Rural Energy Strategy and Master Plan (RESMP) aims to electrify 35 percent of the country’s rural areas by 2030. One of the Liberian government’s measures to achieve this goal has been to suspend import tariffs on off-grid renewable energy products.
The World Bank indicates that little over 27 percent of Liberia’s population had access to electricity in 2020. Of this population that has access to electricity, the vast majority resides in urban areas, with approximately only eight percent of Liberians in rural regions having access to electricity.
Liberia offers much potential to adopt renewable power to meet its electricity needs in off-grid contexts and to electrify the country’s main economic activity, agriculture, from which 60 percent of Liberians gain their income. However, low productivity due to the predominance of manual labor and a lack of basic infrastructure leads to inefficiencies. For example, Liberia imports 80 percent of its rice, a staple food in the country. Scaling PUE in Liberia is a way to alleviate the energy shortfall and enhance efficiency at the same time.
These grants seek to scale sustainable business models to make more PUE products available on the Liberian market, stimulate demand for the products, and test several business models to supply clean energy. These models include offering pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) financing, establishing community service providers, developing a franchisee program, and setting up PUE centers.
To implement their business models, each grantee will partner with local farmers’ groups or fishing communities, small businesses, training institutions, or mobile network operators. The grantees will work throughout Liberia, from Cape Mount County on the Atlantic coast to inland farms in Bong and Nimba Counties. Power Africa awarded the grants to the applicants offering the greatest social benefit through innovative business models, strong partnerships, and clear plans for gender and social inclusion. The grantees demonstrated that their activities will meet the financial and energy needs of women, who compose most of the agricultural labor force, and improve the efficiency of several types of farming.
EasySolar will introduce PAYGO-enabled freezers, solar water pumps, and portable solar panel kits to power micro, small, and medium enterprises in remote areas across seven counties of northern Liberia. To increase access to solar-powered devices for business applications, the company will offer appliance financing to repeat customers. Founded in 2016, EasySolar sells a range of solar energy products in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The company will use its more than 60 distribution points in Liberia to market its products and provide after-sales service. It will partner with the mobile network operator Orange to enable mobile money payments from customers and will use Angaza’s PAYGO platform for managing sales and customer accounts. EasySolar estimates that the products it will distribute under this grant will treble end-users’ crop yields, increase the quantity of the products they sell by at least 15 percent, and lead to a 20 percent improvement in users’ sales revenue.
With its grant, EcoPower plans to set up franchises in the counties of Bong, Lofa, Margibi, Montserrado, and Nimba to distribute solar freezers on a PAYGO and fee-for-service model. More easily obtainable through PAYGO, EcoPower’s cold storage will help users get their crops to the market and reduce post-harvest losses, which EcoPower determined to be as high as 45 percent for farmers without access to cold storage. The franchise facilities will also function as decentralized solar power generation centers offering phone charging and other communication services. The company, founded in 2011, was the first business to introduce solar PAYGO to Liberia. EcoPower is particularly interested in reducing smallholder farmers’ post-harvest losses by supplying cold storage services, which preserve agricultural produce and prolong its shelf life. The company will partner with the Liberian Vegetable Seller Association and the Booker Washington Institute, a technical training institution in Kakata, which will showcase EcoPower’s products to the public and offer training on renewable energy for agriculture.
Liberian Energy Network Two (LEN) will scale its solar-powered fishing light pilot project in Robertsport, Cape Mount County, by supplying fishing communities with multi-pronged fishing lights and communal cold storage powered by mobile solar panels. A social enterprise established in 2011, LEN was the first Power Africa partner operating in Liberia. With its partners Blue Action Network and the local fishers’ co-management association, LEN will offer solar-rechargeable LED lights with built-in phone chargers on credit. These devices allow for extended night fishing, increasing yields and improving the fishers’ safety by enhancing their visibility to commercial freighters and removing the fire hazard of kerosene lamps. The project will also introduce solar powered freezer units to the fishing community for the preservation of fish.
Liberia Engineering & Geo-Tech Consultants aims to finance solar crop dryers and communal phone charging stations with smart freezers for small and medium-sized businesses. By partnering with the Bong Country Aquaculture Association (75 percent of whose members are women), JUA Technologies International, and 15 local businesses, Liberia Engineering & Geo-Tech Consultants will sell and deploy 500 portable solar crop dryers to farmers. The company will also deploy mobile community phone charging stations and smart freezers and provide training to users, most of whom will be women. This grant also enables the company to increase the proportion of its female staff to at least 40 percent. The company stresses the cost savings it observed when piloting mobile charging through solar energy, finding that users paid up to 73 percent less each month for mobile charging than they did when charging with a fuel-powered generator.
SJedi Green Energy will establish PUE centers in farming communities by offering solar-powered rice mills, water pumps, freezers, crop-dryers, and washing machines for laundry for a fee. The mills, in particular, are key to enhance farmers’ efficiency, with SJedi estimating that mechanical dehulling and grinding can increase amounts of rice processed per hour by an order of magnitude. SJedi was founded in 2011 and is among the first developers of nano-grids in Liberia. SJedi will work with six farmers’ organizations in Nimba County to create PUE centers in six villages, each represented by its local farming association. Each center will comprise a portable solar array powering a grain mill, food dryer, freezer, phone charging station, electric cooker, water pumps, a washing machine, and power to support several micro-entrepreneurs (e.g., barbers and tailors).
In parallel with this grant, Power Africa will study the effect of PUE in the grantees’ host communities by determining baselines for agricultural efficiency and assessing how more readily available PUE influences farming practices and yields.
These new PUE grant investments form part of Power Africa’s extensive work to develop the off-grid energy market in Liberia. Power Africa has published an off-grid solar market assessment, an assessment of off-grid PUE products for the country, and a catalog of off-grid PUE products available on the Liberian market.