From Gap to Opportunity: Business Models for Scaling Up Energy Access

From Gap to Opportunity: Business Models for Scaling Up Energy Access
From Gap to Opportunity:
Business Models for
Scaling Up Energy Access
In partnership with Austria
FOREWORD .............................................................................................................................................................. 7
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...................................................................................................................................... 8
ABBREVIATIONS ..................................................................................................................................................... 9
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY .................................................................................................................................... 11
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................... 21
Reframing Energy Access as a Market ......................................................................................................................... 23
Defining Ways to further Catalyze Commercial Success Stories ................................................................................... 25
CHAPTER 2: SIZING THE ENERGY ACCESS MARKET .................................................................. 27
CHAPTER 3: HOW COMPANIES ARE SERVING THE MARKET .............................................. 37
Household-level Devices and Systems ..........................................................................................................................40
Devices: Business Models – How Companies are Serving the Market ...........................................................................44
Devices: Key Business Model Success Factors .............................................................................................................. 60
Devices: Key Success Factors in the Ecosystem Environment ........................................................................................66
Community-level Electrification through Mini-Utilities ................................................................................................. 75
Mini-utilities: Business Models – How Companies are Serving the Market .................................................................. 79
Mini-utilities: Key Success Factors in the Business Model .............................................................................................88
Mini-utilities: Key Success Factors in the Ecosystem Environment ................................................................................ 93
Grid-based electrification: Centralized Utility Approaches ......................................................................................... 101
Grid Extension: Business Models – How Companies are Serving the Market ............................................................. 101
Grid Extension: Key Success Factors in the Business Model ........................................................................................111
Grid Extension: Key Success Factors in the Ecosystem Environment ........................................................................... 114
SUCCESS STORIES? ............................................................................................................................................117
Refining Business Models: Challenges for Operating Companies ............................................................................... 120
Rethinking Policy: Roles for Governments and their Development Partners ............................................................... 126
Refocusing Financing: Opportunities for Impact and Commercial Investors ............................................................... 133
A: Market-sizing Methodology ................................................................................................................................. 145
B: Socioeconomic Impact of Serving the Energy-Poor ............................................................................................... 159
C: How Mini-Utilities Grow into Big Utilities .............................................................................................................. 160
D: Grid Extension – Recent Relaxation of Exclusive Arrangements ............................................................................. 161
E: Photo Credits ......................................................................................................................................................... 162
NOTES ....................................................................................................................................................................... 163
REFERENCES ........................................................................................................................................................ 168
3.1 Tizazu makes improved cookstoves in Ethiopia ...................................................................................................... 47
3.2 Unilever Tea Kenya Limited has tapped CSR funding to successfully purchase and disseminate solar PV devices .... 52
3.3 Fenix’s ReadySet, deployed in partnership with MTN ............................................................................................ 53
3.4 Nuru Energy and its Rechargeable Solar Lamps ..................................................................................................... 55
3.5 Greenlight Planet: Building its own distribution network ....................................................................................... 62
3.6 Community-based systems have a role to play ...................................................................................................... 77
3.7 Vihearsur Electrify Enterprise, Cambodia ............................................................................................................... 82
3.8 Bonny Utility Company, Nigeria ............................................................................................................................. 83
3.9 Government policy drives mini-utility outcomes: Encouraging private developers in Tanzania ................................90
3.10 Government policy drives mini-utility outcomes: Community power in Nepal ...................................................... 97
3.11 Case studies on reduction of nontechnical losses – JPSCo and RAMI ................................................................. 106
4.1 Commonwealth Development Corporation as a mini-utility developer and platform company ............................ 123
4.2 Understanding financing constraints ................................................................................................................... 137
4.3 Risk-sharing facilities can encourage the provision of debt .................................................................................. 139
4.4 Examples of risk-sharing facilities ........................................................................................................................ 140
4.5 The Shell Foundation is taking a venture capital approach .................................................................................. 143
1.1 Share of people without access to modern energy in 2007 ................................................................................... 22
1.2 Analytical framework used to study companies operating in the energy access market ........................................ 24
1.3 Scope and methodology of the report ................................................................................................................. 25
2.1 Distribution of household expenditures on traditional energy ............................................................................... 28
2.2 Energy access solutions discussed in this report .................................................................................................... 29
2.3 Theoretically addressable market for “lighting plus” and improved cooking in 2010 ............................................. 30
2.4 Commercial price of modern energy alternatives .................................................................................................. 31
2.5 Theoretically addressable market by technology category ..................................................................................... 32
2.6 Sensitivity of the addressable market to up-front cost ........................................................................................... 33
2.7 Sensitivity of the addressable market to willingness to pay .................................................................................... 35
2.8 Penetration rates of energy and mobile phone services in developing markets ..................................................... 36
3.1 Overview of selected energy access ventures – subsector, model, and customer base ........................................... 39
3.2 Solar and rechargeable technologies for lighting and providing electricity for the home ....................................... 41
3.3 Characteristics of selected companies covered in this section ............................................................................... 43
3.4 Devices – how companies are serving the market ..................................................................................................44
3.5 Sample cost breakdown of a device made by an Indian solar lantern company ..................................................... 50
3.6 Sample cost breakdown of SHS installed by an Indian company ........................................................................... 56
3.7 Key success factors in the devices business model ................................................................................................. 60
3.8 What is your preferred type of light, excluding electric light bulbs powered from the grid?, Ethiopia .................... 63
3.9 Sample cost breakdown of a device made by an Indian cookstoves company .......................................................64
3.10 Key success factors in the devices ecosystem environment ..................................................................................66
3.11 Financing needs and obstacles early in the company life cycle ............................................................................. 70
3.12 Overview of mini-grid technologies ..................................................................................................................... 75
3.13 Electricity generation costs by mini-grid technology ............................................................................................ 78
3.14 Mini-utilities – how companies are serving the market ........................................................................................ 79
3.15 Generalized mini-utility operating model .............................................................................................................80
3.16 Shared Solar PV metering concept ...................................................................................................................... 87
3.17 Key success factors in the mini-utility business model ..........................................................................................88
3.18 Indicative cost structure of mini-utility, example from India ................................................................................. 93
3.19 Key success factors in the mini-utility ecosystem conditions ................................................................................94
3.20 Location of electrification entities profiled in this section .................................................................................. 102
3.21 Grid extension – how companies are serving the market .................................................................................. 102
3.22 Key success factors in the grid extension business model ...................................................................................111
3.23 Key success factors in the grid extension ecosystem environment ......................................................................114
4.1 Regional electrification rates and regional electricity access show the scale of the commercial opportunity in
providing new energy access solutions ...................................................................................................................... 118
4.2 Summary of key success factors and recommendations ...................................................................................... 119
4.3 Growth in base stations in developing regions (2007–12) ................................................................................... 122
4.4 Financing is needed in three areas: To support companies in their early stages (start-up and growth capital),
to support operations (working capital or trade finance), and to strengthen revenue streams .................................. 135
A.1 Addressable market for modern energy products and services ........................................................................... 147
A.2 Addressable market for improved cooking – charcoal ........................................................................................ 154
A.3 Addressable market for improved cooking – wood ............................................................................................ 154
4.1 Where energy access companies look for financing, off-grid lighting example .................................................... 141
A.1 Alternative modern lighting and electricity technologies...................................................................................... 148
A.2 Sensitivity analysis of up-front payments on the addressable market .................................................................. 150
A.3 Sensitivity analysis of up-front payments “across the board” on the addressable market ................................... 151
A.4 Sensitivity analysis of price on the addressable market ....................................................................................... 151
A.5 Sensitivity analysis of price “across the board” on the addressable market ......................................................... 152
A.6 Sensitivity analysis of willingness to pay for electricity on the addressable market .............................................. 152
A.7 Sensitivity analysis of household incomes on the addressable market in 2030 .................................................... 153
A.8 Improved cooking devices .................................................................................................................................. 154
A.9 Sensitivity analysis of up-front payment on addressable market for improved cooking ....................................... 156
A.10 Sensitivity analysis of up-front payment on addressable market for improved cooking – across the board ........ 156
A.11 Sensitivity analysis of price on addressable market for improved cooking .......................................................... 158
A.12 Sensitivity analysis of price on addressable market for improved cooking – across the board ............................ 158
A.13 Sensitivity of willingness to pay and income levels on the addressable market .................................................. 158
A.14 Sensitivity analysis of household incomes on the addressable market in 2030 .................................................. 158
B.1 Health and environmental benefits of modern lighting solutions ........................................................................ 159
B.2 Health and environmental benefits of improved cooking solutions ..................................................................... 159
The critical challenge of extending access to electricity and clean cooking fuels to the poor is
deservedly taking center stage in this International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, as proclaimed
by the United Nations Secretary General. Governments, members of the development community,
and representatives from the private sector are coming together around a goal of universal access to
modern energy by 2030. It is ambitious, but there is room to make significant progress that can create
opportunity and improve lives.
The challenge
Today, one-quarter of the world’s population lives without electricity, and almost one-half lacks clean
cooking fuels, depriving people of vital development opportunities and undermining progress on many
of the Millennium Development Goals. Despite intensified efforts at the national and international
levels, there remains a significant shortfall in the volume of investment needed to achieve universal
energy access. While it will cost $48 billion per year to reach this goal, according to the International
Energy Agency, only about $14 billion is available annually. Given the size of this difference, it is clear
that the public sector cannot meet the need alone. Leveraging the private sector—both in terms of
capital and innovation—will be critical to closing the energy access financing gap.
There is another way to look at the challenge: energy access as an opportunity for business. That is the
focus of this report.
The opportunity
We examine the size of the market for modern energy services. We discuss how profit-making firms—
be they local small and medium enterprises or global multinationals—are already supplying valuable
products and services to the poor. We analyze the operating fundamentals of these companies and
identify the conditions that have made them successful. We also suggest ways in which the market
can be further tapped by enterprises and catalyzed by policymakers and investors—both social and
Our research estimates that people worldwide spend about $37 billion annually on kerosene used
for lighting and biomass used in open fires or polluting traditional stoves for cooking. There are an
emerging number of manufacturers, distributors, and service providers offering enhanced technological
options—ranging from isolated mini-grids and solar home systems for electricity to solar lanterns for
lighting and improved stoves for cooking. These solutions offer greater value and quality, and are
healthier and better for the environment. Such firms are successfully innovating and developing new
approaches to serving the market, in many cases overcoming challenges along the value chain that have
in the past made it difficult to serve people living on the lowest incomes.
More than 100 businesses from around the world have been reviewed and assessed for this report,
demonstrating that there is demand for products and services offered commercially in energy access.
These examples show that companies can play an important role in serving a segment of the market.
Moreover, they demonstrate how collaboration among firms, governments, impact investors, and the
development community can open up markets for commercial investment, helping to close the energy
access financing gap and delivering services to the poor more efficiently and cost-effectively than
perhaps previously thought possible.
Nena Stoiljkovic
Vice President, IFC Business Advisory Services
This report, which explores the global market opportunity for expanding access to modern energy
services at the household level, was funded by the Government of Austria and prepared by IFC’s
Sustainable Business Advisory Department. The lead author was Pepukaye Bardouille, who also
managed the project with guidance and thought-partnership from Patrick Avato, and input from
Jeremy Levin, Alexios Pantelias, and Hendrik Engelmann-Pilger of IFC’s Global Clean Energy
Advisory Team. We would like to acknowledge the support of Castalia Advisors and Hystra
Consulting in undertaking background research, Terrestrial at the finalization and production
stages of the report, and Diane Stamm for final editing.
In addition, we are grateful for the input of external advisors, colleagues, and peer reviewers
who have been involved at various stages of the project. They include Roberto Bocca, World
Economic Forum; Anil Cabraal, Consultant; Raffaella Centurelli, International Energy Agency;
Simon Desjardins, Shell Foundation; Rodd Eddy, Consultant; Rajan Kundra, Acumen Fund;
Emmanuel Léger, Total; Kilian Reiche, iiDevelopment; Antonio Volpin, McKinsey & Company;
and Adam Wolfensohn, Wolfenson & Company; within IFC: Nana Asamoah-Manu, Leo Blythe,
Naomi Bruck, Vyjayanti Desai, Ricardo Gonzalez, Sabine Hertveldt, John Kellenberg, Geoffrey
Lang, Toshiya Masuoka, Hemant Mandal, Euan Marshall, Itotia Njagi, Reinhard Reichel, Dirk
Sommer, Russell Sturm, and Dana Younger; and at the World Bank: Adriana de Aguinaga de
Vellutini, Sameer Akbar, Katherine Deaton-Steel, Dan Kammen, Yogita Mumssen, Venkata
Ramana Putti, Dana Rysankova, and Bernie Tenenbaum.
We would also like to thank the many companies and organizations interviewed during the
course of the research for their invaluable data and insight, including Andoya, Barefoot Power,
d.light design, Dasra, Duron, E+Co, Electricité de France, Envirofit, Fenix International, First
Energy, Greenlight Planet, Grassroots Business Fund, GSM Association, Husk Power Systems,
Infrastructure Development Company Limited, Intellecap, KwaZulu Energy Services, MoserBaer,
Noble Energy Solar Technologies, Nigeria LNG, Nuru, Power Source, SELCO, Shared Solar,
Simpa, Soluz, TataBPSolar, Tecnosol, Tizazu, Toyola, and Vihearsur Electrify Enterprise.
The collaboration and assistance of all the people, organizations, and companies mentioned here
has enabled us to estimate the proportion of people currently relying on traditional energy to
meet their lighting and cooking needs that could be served commercially by modern alternatives;
to explore factors that have contributed to the success of some of the many businesses already
serving the energy access market; and to offer recommendations to operating companies, social
and commercial investors, and policymakers on how these promising but still nascent ventures
can be further scaled. We hope these findings will inform the debate on options for achieving
universal energy access.
DESI Power
Kf W
Ahmedabad Electricity Company Limited
Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (United Nations)
average revenue per user
Agricultural Transformation Agency (Ethiopia)
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies
base of the pyramid
Bonny Utility Company
a leading microfinance institution
Commonwealth Development Corporation (United Kingdom)
Clean Development Mechanism
the private utility serving the Brazilian State of Maranhão
chief executive officer
Cagayan Electric Power and Light Company (the Philippines)
certified emission reductions
China’s Utility-based Energy Efficiency Finance
corporate social responsibility
Development Assistance Committee (OECD)
Decentralized Energy Systems, India Power
Department for International Development (United Kingdom)
Dominica Electricity Services Limited
earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization
European Union
European Union Emissions Trading System
Energy and Water Utility Regulation Authority (Tanzania)
feed-in tariffs
Netherlands international development bank
gross domestic product
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, German Agency for International Cooperation
Grenada Electricity Services
the international association of mobile phone operators
Husk Power Systems (India)
International Comparison Program
Infrastructure Development Company Limited (Bangladesh)
International Energy Agency
International Finance Corporation
India Renewable Energy Development Agency
Jamaica Public Service Company
Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, Reconstruction Credit Institute (Germany’s development bank)
kilowatt hour
light-emitting diode
St. Lucia Electricity Services
Montserrat Electricity Services
an African mobile operator
North Delhi Power Limited
Noble Energy Solar Technologies
nongovernmental organizations
Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas
overseas development assistance
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Overseas Private Investment Corporation (United States)
Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Malaysia)
Morocco’s Global Rural Electrification Program
Indonesia’s state-owned power company
public-private partnership
purchasing power parity
research and development
Residential Advanced Meter Infrastructure
Rwanda Renewable Energy Promotions
Rural Energy Services Company (France)
risk-sharing facilities
savings and credit organization (Kenya)
solar home system
small and medium enterprises
short message service
an international nonprofit organization, started in the Netherlands
small power producer
a joint venture between Tata Power Companies and BP Solar (India)
Tanzanian shillings
United Nations
United Nations Development Programme
a subsidiary of France’s GDF-Suez
United States Agency for International Development
Unilever Tea Kenya Limited
value-added tax
Vihearsur Electrify Enterprise
St. Vincent Electricity Services Limited
very small power producers
World Health Organization
watt peak
World Resources Institute
While there is broad recognition that lack of access to modern
energy has major implications for development, the energy
access gap is increasingly being seen as a market. Given the
vital role it plays in socioeconomic development, providing
improved access to energy has typically been the role of stateowned power utilities, rural energy agencies, international
development and nongovernmental organizations, and other
public entities. However, with growing recognition of the
potential for “base of the pyramid” (BOP) customers to become
fast-growing markets for goods and services on the one hand,
and the emergence of novel models for serving them on the
other, the energy access gap is increasingly being recognized as
a commercial opportunity, too. The nature of that market, and
the segments within it, is the focus of this report.
Sizing the energy access market
Each year, the poor spend $37 billion on poor-quality energy
solutions to meet their lighting and cooking needs. This
represents a substantial and largely untapped market for the
private sector to deliver better alternatives. It is estimated that
over one-fifth of humankind lacks modern energy services and
that the cost of providing “universal access” to the electricity grid
and decentralized electrification systems would be in the tens of
billions of dollars annually (if the institutional and structural
issues in the utility sector could be addressed to enable such a
This report posits, however, that an estimated 90 percent of
(poor) people already spend so much on kerosene lamps, candles,
and disposable batteries to meet their lighting needs that they
could afford to purchase better options, such as solar lamps.
Even more people could afford efficient cookstoves because of
the fuel cost savings they offer. Those who are skeptical about the
prospect should consider the spectacular takeoff of mobile phone
devices. In Africa, the number of subscribers using devices that
cost as little as $20—which is at the low end of the cost of many
modern energy access devices—has been increasing at a rate of
30 percent annually for the past 10 years. On a continent of 1
billion people, of which some 73 percent live on less than $2 a
day, there are currently 620 million cell phone subscriptions, and
the user base is expected to hit 735 million in 2012.
Exploring how companies are
serving the market
The good news is that pioneering companies are already
making money from selling superior energy access options to
households spending as little as $2 on lighting and $1.50 on fuels
for cooking each month. A number of these players—ranging
from international social enterprises to local small and medium
enterprises (SMEs), domestic conglomerates, and multinational
corporations—have already established significant customer
bases, or hold promise for scaling up given the right conditions.
While this is still a nascent sector, many businesses are rapidly
moving beyond being cottage industries and are successfully
serving tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of customers.
Some companies are seeing profit margins of 10 percent to 30
percent, often with fairly small subsidies on capital costs (but not
on operational costs) or no subsidies at all.
“$37 billion spent each year on lowquality energy solutions represents
a largely untapped market
opportunity for the private sector.”
We explore three ways in which companies are providing
improved energy access:
• Household-level devices and systems—including solar
lanterns, solar home systems, and improved biomass cookstoves—offer a basic first step up the energy ladder and are
often the most cost-effective option for the dispersed rural
poor, and for those who live in urban slums.
• Community-level mini-utilities—often powered by hydro
or diesel generators but increasingly using biomass, solar,
and wind energy—provide households and small manufacturing and commercial firms with electricity, often for
much less than what they currently spend.
• Grid-based electrification—is proving to be a viable option
for new customers in many previously unserved urban areas. “Informal consumers” are also being regularized into
bill-paying clients.
This study of over 100 enterprises shows that with the right
business models and enabling conditions, the private sector
can play an important role in helping to close the energy
access gap. Each of these market segments exhibits particular
characteristics in terms of target consumers, technologies,
delivery approaches, and economics. They also require specific
business ecosystem conditions—that is, legal provisions and
regulatory frameworks—for success. But this analysis of
commercial ventures from around the globe shows that when
innovative companies, frontier financiers, and enlightened
policymakers come together, business can successfully deliver
valuable energy services to the poor.
Household-level systems and devices
The household-level systems and devices industry has attracted the greatest private sector
innovation. With barriers to entry fairly low, dozens of companies are active across Africa, Asia,
and Latin America. Local and international start-ups are growing quickly and some multinational
corporations are exploring entry routes into the market. Solar lanterns priced between $20 and
$50 are often the most affordable way for poor customers to purchase improved lighting services.
Rooftop solar home systems (SHS) that cost $300 to $500 can provide sufficient power for
a household or small retail business and have a fairly long history among both entrepreneurs
and development institutions. Companies are also selling efficient biomass cookstoves for as
little as $5 to $25. These stoves offer improved fuel consumption of 30 to 50 percent, meaning
dramatically reduced operating expenditures, reduced indoor air-pollution levels, and a reduced
burden on the environment.
The business models adopted by lighting and cooking device companies vary. Many of the smaller
international solar lantern players, in particular, focus on design and marketing, and outsource
their manufacturing. Cookstove companies are often indigenous SMEs that employ artisans to
make no-frills devices tailored to local tastes and conditions. But a few international players are
entering the stoves space, offering more sophisticated and generally more expensive products.
They prioritize design appeal and product quality, and often work with public sector partners to
help market stoves, and to spread the word about their benefits. SHS players are typically active
across much of the value chain. Given that system sizes and add-ons are best designed to address
local conditions and user requirements, many of them develop and assemble components, and
provide comprehensive installation services and after-sales support.
“When innovative companies, frontier financiers,
and enlightened policymakers come together,
business can play an important role in helping to
close the energy access gap.”
Affordability is an obvious success factor for devices, and firms try to build this into as many
aspects of the business as possible. Homegrown cookstove SMEs often leverage open-source
designs (typically shared by nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] and development partners)
while concentrating internal efforts on low-cost manufacturing using locally available materials,
including cheap scrap metal. In the lighting market, economies of scale have led to solar lantern
and panel prices dropping sharply, thus increasing their relevance to low-income consumers.
But research and development (R&D), too, has played a role in the emergence of very lowcost products. “Solar kits” have surfaced as an alternative to traditional SHS—which can be
too expensive for commercialization at scale in many markets without either direct subsidies or
the availability of large amounts of concessional finance that the SHS provider can on-lend to
customers, thus helping to spread payments over time. Solar kits are portable systems that allow
households to run multiple lights and charge small devices. Priced at $100 to $200, these kits are
more affordable than SHS and require no installation or regular maintenance. Smartly designed
solar kits are also proving to be aspirational, helping to increase market penetration. On the
payment side, rental and pay-as-you-go billing approaches are helping to reduce the up-front costs
for consumers.
For higher-priced items such as SHS, companies must
typically offer consumer credit to make them affordable; this
is often done in partnership with microfinance institutions
that have access to concessional financing for on-lending to
consumers. Despite the historical emphasis on the importance
of microfinance for helping BOP customers access products,
many companies are seeing that this may not be needed for
smaller-ticket items, such as solar lanterns and cookstoves,
especially since technology costs have fallen. A handful of firms
are tapping carbon finance, notably in the cookstove space.
However, they are finding that significant support is needed to
get through the process of applying for credits.
But device manufacturers also have to work hard to create
consumer confidence in new technologies. As with any new
equipment supplier, leading-edge device players are faced with
cautious customers reluctant to risk their money on unfamiliar
technology. Overcoming this can become a major marketing
cost—exceeding conventional brand-building expenditure.
Manufacturers have used a variety of highly effective lowcost tactics to overcome this barrier, such as word-of-mouth
marketing, publicly funded radio campaigns, and roadshows.
But, for many, awareness raising and market development is an
important financial sink; companies report that this typically
adds 6 percent to 10 percent to device costs.
Fundamentally strong distribution networks and supply chain
financing are “make-or-break” for devices businesses. In order
to effectively penetrate BOP markets that are often in hard-toreach rural areas, some companies sell devices through partners
that have largely overcome last-mile distribution challenges
to sell or distribute their own offerings, notably NGOs and
microfinance institutions. The results have been mixed since
incentives are not always aligned. Most companies stick to
traditional retail channels in urban areas while establishing
their own sales force in rural communities; typically, these rural
salespeople go door-to-door in their own and in neighboring
villages, demonstrating how products work and building trust
that the seller can be traced if the product needs repair. Still
others incentivize dealers to stock their items by offering a
disproportionately high percentage of profits, leaving them to
manage marketing, working capital, and other downstream
issues. However, financing the length of the distribution
chain, from the import of containers to wholesalers, through
to distributors and then on to often many levels of retailers,
can be costly.
Device companies thrive in an ecosystem where the playing
field is level. That is, when there is sufficient technology
awareness, product standards exist, and tax and duty regimes
do not discriminate against them. When these factors are
combined with training and support of entrepreneurs, finance
for growth, and in some instances carbon credits to help bring
down the cost (of cookstoves in particular), successful device
firms emerge and grow rapidly.
Financing distribution is typically a natural comparative
advantage of larger companies. Multinational corporations,
in particular, are leveraging strong balance sheets, taking
advantage of their brand names to get into the game and then
quickly developing strong supply chains—from warehousing
infrastructure to distributor credit facilities—to capture
market share. There are, however, early signs of smaller players
exploring innovative ways to deal with working capital by
selling to large, nonconventional dealers—in some cases, local
conglomerates or multinational corporations—that serve as
aggregators and are well placed to provide the necessary trade
finance to retailers downstream. In one instance, a major oil
and gas company interested in the access market is establishing
distribution channels (that tap its petroleum filling stations in
selected countries) for solar lanterns, with the jury still out as to
whether it will develop a proprietary lighting product.
Community-level mini-utilities
Small, decentralized mini-grid businesses—we call them
“mini-utilities”—are found in poor areas across the developing
world and can offer sufficient power for both household and
productive use. These entities vary enormously in scale but are
generally from 30 kilowatts (kW) to 500 kW and use a range
of technologies, from simple diesel generators to hydropower,
biomass, photovoltaic, or hybrid systems. Many mini-utilities
deliver electricity at $0.20 to $0.50 per kilowatt hour (kWh),
allowing most families to meet basic energy needs for less
than $10 per month. This is a significant expenditure, but the
economics are attractive in many places because households
already spend as much on kerosene and charging services for
small appliances. Importantly, mini-utilities often provide
sufficient power for activities such as water pumping, milling,
grinding, and other forms of processing, thus supporting local
economic development.
Profitable mini-utilities have an adequate demand for power; a
reliable, cheap fuel source; and good bill collection approaches.
For mini-grids to size systems optimally and operate efficiently,
they require sufficient baseload. This is often achieved by
serving a mix of household and SME customers, with the latter
providing a more predictable demand for electricity over time,
and the ability to pay for it. While diesel is often a preferred fuel
given its availability, many companies use renewable energy to
keep costs down and more predictably stable. Where available,
biomass feedstock is a good option, but it also creates several challenges in controlling supply that
mini-utilities must overcome. On the revenue management side, some companies are installing
low-cost meters and switches that allow for easy disconnection in the case of nonpayment.
Others charge fi xed monthly fees for a limited service, such as sufficient power for a couple of
lights and charging of appliances, generally collected a month in advance. Beyond formal billing
systems, developing close ties to the community is important, and successful mini-utilities work
hard to be an integral part of the community. Interestingly, formal business skills are not an initial
requirement for mini-utility success, but they do become critical for scaling up beyond a single
site or a handful of sites. This is especially true for mini-utilities using renewable technologies,
which are more sophisticated or have higher maintenance requirements than diesel generators.
Mini-utilities thrive in an ecosystem where they have the right legal and regulatory framework
and good financing options. Simply put, mini-utilities must be allowed to operate and to do so
under a regime where tariffs allow an attractive return on investment. Perhaps surprisingly, this
is not always the case—in some countries mini-utilities are not permitted and in others they
are subject to onerous regulations or non-cost-reflective tariffs. Where the right environment
exists, profitable businesses operating one or a handful of plants can be found. But there are
circumstances where some degree of subsidy is provided to make mini-utilities profitable. This
is generally the case where governments are seeking to encourage private developers to enter the
market but where tariffs alone are not commercially sustaining, where low population density
increases the cost of building distribution networks, or where consumers are simply too poor to
support the required revenues. In most instances, public financing comes in the form of a capital
subsidy, ranging from 30 percent in India to up to 80 percent in Mali. More broadly, these
companies need sizable investment to scale, yet most struggle to raise sufficient debt and equity
for this. We believe that the ongoing success of mini-utilities will be linked to their ability to
access these funds.
Grid-based electrification
For almost all governments, universal grid-based electrification is the endgame, yet levels remain
very low in many parts of the world. Grid-based electrification supports economic and social
development imperatives by providing the quantity and quality of services required for large
energy-intensive industrial activities. It also allows for economies of scale in generation and
efficiency in establishing peaking and back-up plants, reducing overall system costs. But only 30
percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa and 60 percent in Southeast Asia are connected
to a network. Even when access to the grid is available, customers in many developing countries
are plagued by unreliable power. Where system inefficiencies and theft create significant losses,
utilities are unable to cover their costs. The result is that companies struggle with solvency and are
unable to provide high-quality service to existing customers, let alone deliver new connections.
Hence, despite having “access,” it is not unusual for households and businesses to rely on expensive
power from back-up generators to make up for poor utility service.
There is a market opportunity to connect previously unserved households profitably. Beyond the
prospect of providing improved service to existing grid-connected customers, some companies—
most notably in urban and peri-urban areas in Brazil, India, and Colombia—have through
choice or circumstance become smarter at serving the poor. In some cases, they have achieved
this by turning households and businesses that were purchasing excessively expensive and often
intermittent services from informal suppliers in their communities into utility customers. In other
instances, they have taken money off the table by regularizing
consumers who may not have formally been paying for the
services they used. All have typically succeeded by installing
prepayment meters, providing payment flexibility, offering
consumer finance to encourage the use of legal connections
and, more broadly, operating their businesses efficiently.
Grid extension can benefit from policies that explicitly support
private participation. This means removing limits on service
areas where it makes sense, relaxing restrictions on serving
informal settlements, allowing flexibility in tariff regulation,
and financing the connection of the end customer.
But high costs and limited consumption by low-income
consumers mean that purely commercial models for gridelectrification are still rare; public funding has played an
important role in the success of most truly large-scale extension
programs. The capital investment required to generate power
and extend lines means that grid extension is costly. Meanwhile
many unconnected customers have low incomes and therefore
have limited consumption, resulting in slim returns. In
addition, a large portion of unelectrified urban households live
in slums, with the implication that they are unlikely to have
legal tenure and may thus not qualify for—or are prohibited
by municipalities from formally accessing—electricity services.
Where providing widespread grid-based access for the energy
poor has been successful, as in China, South Africa, and
Vietnam, this has largely been a result of explicit policies
mandating it and has been backed by significant financial
commitments from the public purse. Commonly, governments
choose to award concession contracts for new or privately
owned distribution companies to serve currently unserved
areas. This can also be combined with smart subsidies to
extend access even further than would be viable on a purely
commercial basis. Private companies often bring access to
capital and new management approaches, which allow them to
increase connections more quickly than public utilities, while
improving the bottom line.
Acting on the findings: what can be
done to scale-up energy access success
There is a real market opportunity for closing the energy gap;
however, scale-up and replication challenges will need to be
addressed. This report asserts that energy access is not just a
development gap, but also a real market opportunity for the
private sector. Around the world, entrepreneurs are already
seizing the opportunity to profitably supply appropriate,
affordable goods and services to the poor. But despite
the progress made in technology innovation and delivery
approaches over the past decade or so, there remains much
to be done before this becomes a more “mainstream” area on
par with mobile telephony, for example. In particular, very
fundamental scale-up and replication challenges will have to
be addressed if the sector is to achieve its potential. There are a
number of areas on which operating companies, policymakers,
and impact investors (social venture capitalists and donors) can
focus to further catalyze commercial activities in energy access.
Refining business models: challenges
for operating companies to address
Companies should continue to design for radical affordability
in every area of operations. Businesses serving the BOP
invariably require volume to make up for typically low margins.
Affordability is critical for this and can continue to be achieved
through innovation on product and service design, business
model innovation, and provision of consumer finance, either
directly or indirectly.
Perhaps the most important factor for all device companies is
to secure robust distribution channels. Partnering strategically
with companies that have already established strong distribution
channels is one way of getting products to market more quickly.
For example, tie-ups with mobile telephony network operators
could be a good start, because the products are complementary
(charged cell phones benefit the mobile operator’s average revenue
per customer) and they require similar supply chains for getting
goods to customers and financing them along the way. Equally, if
a company has been able to develop strong networks of its own, it
could leverage this asset to cross-sell other products. These might
be other energy devices (such as cookstove manufacturers that
also sell solar lanterns) or other products that would be desirable
to end users such as radios, irrigation pumps, and water purifiers.
Device players, that is, companies in the device market, should
also concentrate on ensuring sufficient working capital to support
retailers in stocking products; in many cases, this will require
partnering with firms able to provide such financing.
For mini-utilities, the operating basics are focused on innovative
approaches to developing multisite systems. Once they have
mastered the reliable supply of low-cost fuel and secured sufficient
demand, most companies struggle to find a replicable business
model that allows them to leverage the economies of scale that
are critical for growth. While there are no easy remedies, one
option to explore could be the “anchor client” model. Here,
a mini-utility would partner with mobile network operators
(to manage the power needs of off-grid base stations) or other
businesses, such as commercial farms or extractive industries,
and in parallel, sell electricity to close-by communities. Another
approach could be to supply rural government institutions such
as agricultural extension facilities, clinics, schools, and possibly
railway installations with power on a contract basis and then to
build community mini-grid operations around such demand
centers. Or they could provide power on an offtake agreement
to existing mini-grids, for instance, remote systems operated by
the central utility. This would allow the central utility to focus
on increasing connections rather than adding off-grid capacity,
and likely reduce overall costs of operations if it were based on
renewable energy rather than diesel generation. Contracts with
any of these entities would need appropriate advance payments
or guarantees, and long-term agreements to serve multiple areas.
If growth were to take off, mini-utilities would need to develop
the right span of control over dispersed systems to manage the
operating complexity and resulting overheads that typically come
with running several dispersed systems. One idea that could
help businesses scale efficiently is an “umbrella company” that
plays, among other roles, a contract negotiation and governance
function, assists in raising financing, provides resource assessments
and strategic planning advice, and procures equipment centrally.
For grid-based utilities, the basics fundamentally mean being fit for
purpose, which is achieved by enhancing system efficiency. This
begins with investing in reducing both technical and nontechnical
losses. While the skills and access to capital that have led to largescale grid extension in some countries will take time to replicate
in others, many more straightforward tactics can be employed
universally. These center on preventing theft, managing payment
risk, and introducing flexible payment options. Utilities in
Brazil, Colombia, India, and Uganda provide evidence that such
measures can lead to enhanced utility commercial viability and,
in turn, (often aided by smart subsidies), increased connections
for the poor.
To succeed over the long term, companies need to play to their
strengths and build a compelling business case—and a strong
development story—and should consider professionalizing their
management teams in order to secure financing and grow their
businesses. Smaller companies, especially those that are locally
run, have several advantages. They are often nimble and have
low costs, good knowledge of the market’s product preferences
and ability to pay, and have customer reach through innovative
networks. Larger firms typically have deep pockets; broader
management expertise; and some value chain advantages
including procurement, convening power, and the ability to scale
across geographies. But this alone is not enough to be a successful
player in the long term. Given that many start-ups (especially
the device manufacturers) begin life as social enterprises, the
social benefits of their endeavors are usually well communicated.
Potential investors are looking for both a strong business case
and a great story about potential development impact; rarely is
the latter sufficient for consistently attracting capital, even from
impact investors. Hence, a well thought out commercial business
plan is fundamental to securing financing, and, fairly soon after
they get going, smaller firms should also think about how best to
professionalize their management teams to ensure that they take
the business forward and help it grow.
Larger companies making tentative forays into the market
should ensure that such ventures are given the required resources
and internal visibility. While they may begin below the topmanagement radar screen, these ventures should quickly be
showcased within the company—as a CEO-sponsored effort,
for example. They would do well to use this platform to leverage
core competencies, from distribution to procurement, across the
business. And, here too, capital and strong management skills are
needed for them to grow. So, an initiative may be incubated in the
corporate social responsibility department, or another “soft start”
area of the business, but cannot be allowed to remain there. Once
sufficient time has been given to nurturing an innovative model, it
must be treated commercially and resourced accordingly.
Rethinking policy: Roles for
governments and their development
For policymakers—that is, governments and the development
partners with which they work—leveraging business as far
as possible to increase energy access should be a priority;
this strategy would allow public funds to be directed toward
reaching the “last mile.” As the examples in this report show,
conducive policy can help to attract the private sector to all
three energy access markets. This means that household-level
systems and mini-utilities should be recognized in policies
as good options, and be fostered accordingly. It also means
that the private sector should be seen as part of the solution;
development imperatives and profits need not be incompatible.
If policymakers encourage business to address a sizable portion
of the access gap, they can concentrate their own limited public
funds on those segments of the population that can only be
served through public means. Meanwhile, in order to ensure
economic efficiency, those public funds that the private sector
accesses would be limited to closing the “viability gap”—that
is, the shortfall between revenues that customers are able to
contribute and those needed for enterprises to be financially
While energy access can, in many instances, be a complex
political issue, policymakers would do well to resist giveaway
programs and unrealistic promises where markets exist. First,
smart subsidies can be an invaluable tool for providing services
to the poor. But, carelessly thought through “giveaways”
can distort the market and limit the success of otherwise
commercially viable offerings. Customers who are willing and
able to pay the full price for a product or service will of course
hesitate to do so if they know that others received a giveaway
and that they may be next to enjoy this benefit. Second, if they
favor certain types of products, giveaway programs risk stunting
innovation and encouraging companies to manufacture
according to specifications that are not always optimal for
the market. Finally, free products also deter businesses from
investing by creating risk that they will have to compete with
Policymakers should consider removing discriminatory import
tariffs across energy access products. This report illustrates the
ways in which many governments impose penalties on modern
energy access products that are higher than the duties and
taxes on conventional energy products. Often the effects are
discriminatory and perverse, creating a bias in energy provision
toward a better-off grid-connected population and away from
poorer households, and toward conventional rather than
renewable generation sources. Countries that have instituted
successful renewable energy access programs have typically
relied on removing such tariffs.
For mini-utilities, there are a number of supportive policies
that can be implemented, including rethinking service areas,
instituting appropriate “light-handed” regulation, and creating
a solid revenue framework for firms. Rethinking service areas
involves being clear on where potentially competing grid
extension projects will head, and relaxing exclusivity on who
can operate in other areas. Instituting appropriate “lighthanded” regulation means streamlining requirements for SMEs
operating mini-grids, instead of applying rules in this subsector
that were originally designed for large utilities. Creating a solid
revenue framework for companies means establishing market
pricing for mini-utility tariffs, subsidizing connection costs
where needed to close the viability gap and, if appropriate to the
business model, helping to manage payment risks for service
contracts with large offtakers, including incumbent utilities
that buy excess power.
For grid-based access, public-private partnerships such as
concessions hold the potential to extend reach when they are
carefully structured with incentives to connect end users. For
grid access to be successful, service areas need to be prioritized,
subsidies structured to cover viability gaps, and delivery
mechanisms put into place to ensure that concessionaires are
each implementing their part of the bargain as promised, or
alternatively, allowing for regulatory counterparts to adjust
contracts where this is below par.
Refocusing financing: Opportunities
for impact and commercial investors
Investors can play a strategic role in helping to catalyze commercial
approaches to improved energy access. Commercial lenders, social
venture capitalists, local development banks, philanthropists
and international development agencies would do well to keep
investment mandates broad and beyond a single technology. This
will attract a wider selection of promising companies to invest
in and build a stronger portfolio. Investors should also establish
deal marketplaces and local presence to discover hidden gems.
Without these, it will be difficult to identify those lower-profile
companies that hold great promise—many of which may initially
be community-level efforts.
First, financing from both impact and commercial investors is
needed at various stages of the business life cycle. In the energy
access industry, there are roles for impact investors (particularly
at the earlier stages) and commercial investors (especially for
growth capital), but these should be directed at the needs of
the investable companies. While innovators often start as social
ventures, they have the potential to become sizable double
bottom line companies.1
But to do so, they need help from impact investors to become
bankable. Support could take the form of start-up grants,
concessional financing at attractive terms, or loan guarantees
to allow firms to borrow from commercial banks, for example.
Alternatively, support could be used to guarantee revenue
streams, for instance from large but perhaps less creditworthy
offtakers, such as entities that serve as anchor clients for miniutilities. Given the difficulty in identifying and assessing
individual companies, it would make sense to channel
programmatic monies via wholesaling mechanisms: this
means that impact investors should work with intermediaries
that are set up specifically to support a portfolio of energy
access businesses rather than attempt to cherry-pick “winning
companies” themselves. Commercial investors should then
address deal size, especially the “missing middle,” typically
between $50,000 to $100,000 and $3 million to $5 million,
while providing both debt and equity at the start-up phase and
throughout the company life cycle. In this market, there is also
a particular need for trade finance and carbon prefinance (to
support the carbon credit registration process, and front-load
payments for emissions reductions) for many companies.
Second, both investment and enterprise development support are fundamental to company
success. Hence, at the individual company level, funds for business model refinement and
management capacity building should be coupled with financial investments. The goal should
be to help executive teams implement organizational structures and operating approaches and to
develop robust growth strategies that allow the business to really scale. This is a model common
in venture capital firms, which provide early-stage firms with active guidance designed to ensure
that the investee delivers a suitable return. At the subsectoral level, donors can also help to support
the design and testing of business models for companies operating at the frontier in energy access
where there are difficult opportunities with high potential. This is the case, for instance, in the
mini-utilities subsector, where profitable businesses have difficulty growing beyond a few isolated
systems. Impact investors could potentially help to demonstrate proof of concept of scalable
models by partially funding an umbrella firm setup or franchising plan.
Third, donors can help reduce first-mover costs by addressing public good issues, namely
providing market intelligence and information on the availability of resources and helping to
build consumer trust and awareness. As with all emerging sectors, there are high first-mover
costs in the nascent energy access space. Certain critical inputs to the development of a business
venture may be prohibitively expensive to secure. Many such inputs can also be seen as public
goods. These include collecting information on the availability of resources (such as biomass
or hydropower potential) needed by mini-utilities, and gathering market intelligence on local
customer spending patterns and preferences to help device players refine offerings. The same is
true for building consumer awareness of and trust in new technologies, and putting into place
appropriate standards to ensure that high-quality products enter the market as a whole.
Finally, it is important to have effective institutional capacity to deliver on energy access targets.
Governments sould consider establishing “delivery” units specifically tasked with managing the
rollout of targeted energy access efforts including, as applicable, market-orientated programs to
stimulate device uptake, mini-utility development, and grid extension programs. Effective local
standards agencies for device manufacturers and regulatory bodies to manage mini-utility power
purchase agreements or large electrification concessions are also needed. These areas can all
benefit from donor funds.
Chapter 1: Introduction
In a world where an estimated 1.5 billion people live without electricity, and almost 3 billion
do not have clean fuels for cooking, access to modern energy is a development imperative. It
has been well documented that without electricity and efficient cooking and heating options,
economic activity is curtailed and advancement toward the Millennium Development Goals
is constrained—particularly in meeting health, education, and local environmental targets.
Children cannot study well at night, and overturned kerosene lamps used for lighting can cause
deadly house fires. Indoor air pollution associated with cooking on open fires and inefficient
stoves is responsible for an estimated 2 million deaths each year—more than the number of
deaths from malaria. People are deprived of information, communication, and entertainment.
Productive enterprise—from small-scale manufacturing to service businesses—is stifled. Forests
are harmed by the unsustainable collection of fuel wood and charcoal production for use in rural
and urban households. The global extent of the problem is illustrated in figure 1.1.
< 25%
> 90%
Figure 1.1: Share of people without access to modern energy in 2007
Source: Legros et al. 2009.
Note: Based on UNDP’s classification of developing countries and the United Nations’ classification of least developed
countries. Modern energy refers to electricity for lighting and clean fuels for cooking. Populations typically rely on
kerosene for lighting and biomass or charcoal used in unimproved stoves or in traditional fi res for cooking.
N/A = not available.
Several useful reports have made the case for universal access to modern energy,2 estimated what
it would cost, and explored how delivery could be financed.3 Most recently, the International
Energy Agency estimated that the annual cost of achieving universal energy access would be $48
billion. Using a base case, they sized the gap between expected costs and available funding at $34
billion annually.4 This is one-quarter of total overseas development assistance (ODA)5 of $129
billion, 30 percent more than all ODA to Sub-Saharan Africa of $25 billion, and five times the
$7 billion in public investment (from developing country governments, ODA, and multilateral
agencies) in energy access in 2009. Because it is unlikely that public monies alone can close the
gap, the private sector is increasingly being called upon to be part of the financing solution.
Reframing Energy Access as a Market
While the socioeconomic rationale is clear, the business case for private investment in energy access
has not always been apparent. As with many other infrastructure services, a public sector mindset
has often dominated the energy access debate. Pilot projects in remote areas have proliferated
while commercial solutions have generally not been encouraged. Moreover, well-intentioned but
sometimes badly designed or unnecessary donations from governments, philanthropists, and
development agencies have often scared entrepreneurs away. And, where businesses have taken
root, more often than not they have struggled. Information on consumer willingness to pay is
scant. Technology costs have been high and distribution networks weak. In some cases, legal
and regulatory frameworks have been inappropriate and requisite financing for new ventures not
readily available. In addition, motivated entrepreneurs have not always understood “base of the
income pyramid” (BOP) markets or had the skills to succeed in or scale their business operations.
This report finds, however, that a convergence of exciting trends is set to reignite business interest
in the energy access market. It is not surprising that, until very recently, there has only been
scattered business activity in the energy access domain. But several parallel developments are
reshaping the debate, including the emergence of new technologies and declining costs of existing
ones such as PV (photovoltaic) panels, LEDs (light-emitting diodes), and batteries; increasing
fossil and cooking fuel prices that are forcing innovation; recognition of the critical relevance of
the access agenda to the Millennium Development Goals; and the rise of social entrepreneurship
and impact investing.
A growing number of entrepreneurs are demonstrating—often at a relatively small but rapidly
rising scale—that profitable ventures can indeed be built in low-income markets. Both local
SMEs and conglomerates are succeeding in selling modern lighting and cooking devices, off-grid
electrification and, to some degree, grid extension services to the BOP. Ambitious international
start-ups are also emerging, particularly in the household energy devices space. There has been an
appetite among some large multinational companies to expand their markets to the poor, too—
and not solely as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. Some firms in the devices
and mini-utilities markets are making 10 to 30 percent profit margins. Promisingly, financiers are
starting to express interest, with both commercial venture capitalists and impact investors making
some tentative but high-profile and potentially instructive plays in the past two years. And there is
mounting evidence that enabling ecosystems—the legal and regulatory frameworks within which
the private sector operates—can be improved and donor interventions structured in such a way
as to nurture businesses.
This report’s analytical framework covers both the business operating model and the wider
ecosystem. Figure 1.2 illustrates how we examine each step of the value chain to identify the
success factors and areas where the greatest challenges lie and assesses ecosystem conditions that
hinder or support profitable business activities.
“In this report we examine each step of the value
chain to identify the success factors for businesses.
We also identify the ecosystem conditions that
hinder or enable profitable private enterprise.”
Supply of cooking
fuels, procurement
of fuels/feedstock
for mini-utilities or
central utilities
Development of
product or service
offerings for the
Design /
Production /
Creating awareness
of new offerings
Finding customers
and delivering the
product or service
Sales &
Collection of
revenues from
customers, product
payment, or fee for
Billing /
Providing a means
to reduce the
up-front cost of
Legal & Regulatory
Tariffs, legal
requirements, and
Corporate Finance
Manufacturing of
products or
generation of
investment and
working capital to
fund growth and
Using public
monies to break
even or produce
maintenance, and
Carbon Finance
Securing income
from carbon credits
FIGURE 1.2: Analytical framework used to study companies operating in the energy access market
Source: IFC analysis.
Other sectors are already actively exploring the market potential of consumers at the BOP, and
there is much that can be learned from these innovations. Multinational corporations such as
Unilever and Danone are selling shampoos, nutritional complements, and consumer goods to
poor households. Social ventures have created innovative and affordable healthcare solutions.
These include Aravind in India, which pioneered low-cost eye surgery using a high-patient-volume
approach, and CFW shops in Kenya, which provide basic health care and prescription drugs
to poor families using a franchise approach. Utilities such as Water Health International and
Manila Water are serving rural communities at scale, while other businesses have experimented
with bundling multiple utility services. There has, of course, been a proliferation of extensive
microfinance products—from loans to insurance—over the last two decades across Africa, Asia,
and Latin America. More recently, the mobile phone industry has confounded expectations
by delivering huge growth among the poor. In 1998, mobile phone penetration in developing
countries was just 1 percent. By 2010, it was 72 percent, and 65 percent in Africa, making it a larger
market than Latin America. When the Nigerian government began encouraging competition in
telecommunications in 2001, the country’s 140 million people (55 percent of whom live below the
national poverty line) had 500,000 fi xed telephone lines. By 2007, there were 30 million cellular
subscribers, and today there are over 93 million.
Defining Ways to further Catalyze Commercial Success Stories
Today’s energy access dynamics present a unique opportunity to further catalyze private sector
action in the commercially viable portion of the energy access market, while focusing public
resources on populations that cannot realistically be served by business. This report takes a fresh
look at energy access products and services, based on recent market analyses of the BOP. Given
that people are currently spending a significant portion of their incomes—often 10 percent or
more each month—on basic energy needs, this is a proven, cash-based market. It is also, therefore,
a huge opportunity for firms able to develop the right business models to capture it. Eschewing
the more common development view, but recognizing nonetheless the importance of the public
sector in advancing the universal access agenda, this report argues that policymakers and donors
should direct a good portion of their efforts to catalyzing private sector action and helping it seize
the market. The public sector can then refine its own focus to those populations that cannot be
viably served by commercial actors.
The energy
access gap is
also a market
Size the market
level: Devices
and systems
Study the
approaches to
serving the
Identify key
success factors
in the business
Grid extension
FIGURE 1.3: Scope and methodology of the report
Source: IFC.
Identify key
success factors
in the ecosystem
For business
For policy makers
For investors
About this report
This report is intended for business decision makers, policymakers, and impact and commercial
investors. It covers the areas of the energy landscape that present an opportunity for making a
profitable business out of extending energy access to the poor (that is, those who earn less than
$2 a day).
The scope of the report (see figure 1.3) is global, covering developing countries in Africa, Asia, and
Latin America, where many people do not have access to modern energy. While there is a range
of energy services that people need—not least energy for productive uses—and various solutions
available to meet these needs, this report focuses specifically on technologies and services that
provide improved lighting, or “lighting plus” (primarily lighting but solutions that can generally
also avail other electricity-related services) and cooking for the household market.
Three solutions are considered for lighting: (a) solar lanterns, solar kits, and rooftop solar home
systems; (b) electricity supplied by mini-grids operated at the community level (which we term
“mini-utilities”); and (c) electricity supplied through grid extension from a central utility. In the
cooking space, we review improved biomass cookstoves. The rationale is that the greatest growth
and innovation appears to be in these offerings, with fairly large numbers of businesses starting
to operate at scale. In addition, based on current cash expenditures and from a levelized cost
perspective, they are affordable to a sizable portion of those people currently relying on traditional
The report is laid out as follows. Chapter 1, the introduction, discusses energy access as a market
and defines ways to further catalyze commercial success stories. Chapter 2 explores how companies
are serving the market, with an in-depth analysis of energy devices, mini-utilities, and grid
extension. Chapter 3 discusses what can be done to help scale-up energy access success stories,
with an emphasis on refining business models; rethinking policy and the roles of governments and
development partners; and refocusing financing, including a discussion of the opportunities for
impact and commercial investors.
Our approach has been to first estimate the “size of the prize,” or revenues that could potentially
be generated; this provides the market size. Next, we study what the private sector is already doing
and what can be learned from its successes. To do this, extensive interviews were undertaken
with a range of companies active in this space and with the organizations that support them.
Secondary research provided additional data on selected case studies. Having gained this insight,
our analysis identified the factors attributable to the businesses themselves and those attributable
to the environment in which they operate. We then distilled the key success factors into a set of
recommendations for business, policymakers, and social and financial investors.
Chapter 2: Sizing the Energy
Access Market
Cumulative Off-grid Households (million, 2010)
Population that could be theoretically
served by improved cooking solutions
Monthly Expenditures on Cooking ($,2010)
Population that could be theoretically
served by improved lighting solutions
Monthly Expenditures on Lighting Plus ($, 2010)
Poor households spend about $37 billion6 annually on “traditional” energy, representing a major
opportunity for businesses to reroute existing expenditure to safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective
solutions. We estimate that the base of the pyramid (BOP) currently spends about $18 billion
annually on lighting and charging services for small appliances. Other figures range from $10
billion in Sub-Saharan Africa7 up to $36 billion in global sales of kerosene used in simple wick or
larger hurricane lamps to illuminate homes, workplaces, and community areas. An additional $19
billion is spent annually by many of these same households on wood and charcoal for cooking and
heating on inefficient stoves and fireplaces. This $37 billion in annual energy purchases constitutes
a sizable market.8 Some analyses put the amount spent at 10 percent of a household’s monthly cash
outlays. Figure 2.1 summarizes current expenditure patterns for traditional fuels, illustrating the
distribution of monthly energy spending by number of households (cumulative) globally.
Cumulative Traditional Cooking Households (million, 2010)
Lighting Plus (lighting and charging services)
Cooking Fuels
FIGURE 2.1: Distribution of household expenditures on traditional energy
Source: IEA 2009; IFC-WRI 2007; UN 2011; UNDP/WHO 2009; Demographic and Health Surveys, ICF
Macro, various years; and National Sample Survey Office, India 2005.
How many people could afford to purchase better energy products and services instead? This
question must be answered separately for each of the two broad types of energy relevant to this
report: electricity and thermal energy.
First, there is the market for modern lighting devices and small appliance-charging services—what
we refer to in this chapter as “lighting plus.” Modern lighting uses electricity, even if powered
from a solar cell. Solutions that offer lighting often provide additional household electricity. This
is obvious for grid- or mini-grid-based electrification. But even fairly simple lighting devices now
allow charging of mobile phones (which have high penetration even in poorer parts of the world)
and other small appliances. Modern energy solutions—be they devices or power supplied by minigrids or central utilities—could replace spending on traditional lighting and small electricity
expenditures, such as on kerosene, candles, disposable batteries, and battery-charging services.
Second, there is the market for improved cooking devices. The baseline for this segment is the
money currently spent on fuels that provide thermal energy for cooking, specifically charcoal and
wood. Charcoal is mainly used by urban households and traded on a cash basis. Wood, however,
is much more common in rural households, which collect much of the fuel themselves. For the
addressable market, (that is, the revenue opportunity available for a product or service), only cash
purchases are considered as expenditure for wood. Our rationale is that, while it often takes a
significant amount of time to collect firewood, this time or opportunity cost cannot be easily
converted into cash, and therefore it is difficult to assume that it could be diverted to purchasing
improved cooking devices or fuels.
“Lighting plus” alternatives can be broadly categorized into three groups: (a) solar and rechargeable
lanterns, (b) “plug-and-play” solar kits, and (c) modern electrification solutions covering rooftop
solar home systems or a connection serviced by a mini-grid or central grid. Figure 2.2 describes
various technology solutions. Simple solar and rechargeable lanterns start at an up-front retail price
of $6 to $20 and can be commercially provided at a levelized monthly cost of around $1.25. “Plugand-play” solar kits power several lights and small appliances and offer better energy storage; these
start at a monthly levelized cost of around $5.50. Finally, more holistic electricity solutions (rooftop
solar home systems and, where available, connection to decentralized mini-grids or a centralized
grid) start at monthly levelized commercial costs of around $8 to $9.
Improved cookstoves
Cookstove with higher efficiency
and lower emissions, using biomass
(wood, charcoal, other processed
solid fuel)
Solar home systems
Fixed installation, typically on
rooftop, provides good storage of a
few days, can run lights and
appliances, e.g., refrigerator, TV, fans
Solar and rechargeable lanterns
Integrated device combining small
solar panel, batteries, and typically
LED lights; sometimes offers limited
external charging, e.g., cell phones.
Also covers rechargeable lanterns
Small generation facilities using
diesel, biomass, hydro, wind, or solar
with distribution network to a local
Solar kits
Plug-and-play system including
portable solar panel, batteries,
multiple lights, and sockets for
running small appliances, e.g., black
and white TV, radio
Grid extension
Extending access from the national
electricity grid to communities in
urban, peri-urban, and rural areas
FIGURE 2.2: Energy access solutions discussed in this report
Source: IFC 2007. Photo credits: First Energy; Sundaya; IFC; Terrestrial; and Greenlight Planet.
Improved cooking appliances fall into two main categories: those based on biomass (wood,
charcoal, or processed briquettes), and those using more advanced fuels. Most improved cookstoves
are based on easily available biomass fuels. They start at a commercial cost of around $5 up front (or
a levelized cost of around $0.40 per month) and, owing to enhanced efficiency, can save a family 30
to 50 percent per month in fuel costs. Households spending as little as $0.90 for wood or $1.30 for
charcoal could afford to purchase a cookstove based on these expected monthly fuel savings. The
other category is for cookstoves that use more advanced fuels, notably pelletized biomass, kerosene,
and liquefied petroleum gas. In the case of improved fuels, the more economic cookstove and pellet
combinations cost around $9 a month (including fuel costs), while more expensive kerosene or
liquefied petroleum gas variations range from $15 to $30 a month.
Our analysis shows that more than 90 percent of households without access to clean lighting and
cooking solutions could afford improved products and services, since they already spend more on
traditional energy than the commercial cost of superior, more modern energy. Based on current
spending patterns and the cost of modern alternatives, some 256 million households could afford
improved “lighting plus” and 394 million could afford cleaner cooking solutions. As indicated in
figure 2.3, these households spend more than $1.25 each month on “lighting plus” and over $1.30
each month on wood and charcoal for cooking.
The theoretically addressable market can be segmented into a range of available modern energy
options depending on how much various groups of consumers can afford to pay. As shown in
figure 2.3, and described in greater detail in Appendix A, the market for “lighting plus” is split
into solar lanterns and lanterns that are charged by community- or village-level solar cells or other
forms of energy (but not disposable batteries), solar kits, rooftop solar home systems, mini-grids, or
grid-based electrification. The cooking market is divided into cleaner-burning cookstoves that use
charcoal and wood, and more expensive stoves using improved fuels.
Households cooking with traditional biomass
Households without modern lighting & electricity
Total = 426 million
Solar & Rechargeable
% of Households
% of Households
Not commercially adressable
Improved Cookstoves - Wood
Improved Cookstoves – Charcoal
Alternative Fuels**
Not commercially adressable
Total = 274 million
Monthly household spending on traditional energy
$0.90 (wood) to $1.30 (charcoal) and $9*
Monthly household spending on traditional energy
*The lower bound for monthly spending on wood (~0.9) is below the charcoal
limit (~1.3) because the efficiency gains from wood-fired improved cookstoves
(~40%) are higher than the efficiency gains from charcoal cookstoves (~30%).
**Alternative fuels include pellets, LPG.
FIGURE 2.3: Theoretically addressable market for “lighting plus” and improved cooking in 2010
Source: IFC analysis.
Note: The segmentation of improved energy alternatives is indicative, reflecting current estimates of technology costs and pricing and
how much households spend at the global level. This should not be interpreted as a fi xed market size for specific products or services,
which is best determined on a country level using local technology costs and pricing and willingness and ability to pay.
The addressable market is really a conservative lower bound as it is based on current cash spending
on traditional energy and does not assume savings opportunities for the poor, or subsidies.
Estimating the addressable market for access to modern energy starts with the total current cash
expenditure on traditional energy. Then, using price ranges for various energy products and
services, we approximate the number of households that could afford each “technology category”
at current energy expenditure levels. Appendix A provides a more detailed breakdown of how the
market size was calculated and key assumptions.
However, this market can also be described as “theoretically addressable.” Our calculations are
based on levelized commercial costs, which assume an even distribution of the product cost over
the entire life time of the product9 and no additional regulatory or other obstacles to uptake.
The sensitivity section later in this chapter examines the impact of variations in key drivers and
assumptions such as cost and willingness to pay.
Capital cost, $
Capital costs per connection for mini-grids start at about $50
and can increase to $300 or more, depending on the service
level and distance from the system. The lower bound of $50 is
used for the threshold calculation. Grid extension to sufficiency
adjacent off-grid communities starts at approximately $500
and are used for the threshold calculation.
Solar kits
Solar lantern/
(cylinder &
20–40, 6–20
Operating costs per month ($)
Levelized monthly cost to the end-user ($)
FIGURE 2.4: Commercial price of modern energy alternatives
Sources: IFC analysis based on Demographic and Health Surveys, ICF Macro, various years; IEA 2009; IFC-WRI 2007;
UN 2011; and UNDP/WHO 2009.
Devices and household-level systems account for the lion’s share of the market, followed by minigrids and grid extension. Based on current spending patterns and reflecting the aforementioned
levelized cost ranges (figure 2.4), the potential addressable market is distributed unevenly across
technology categories (figure 2.5). At an estimated $31 billion, the device and household-level
systems market is the largest, followed by mini-grids at $4 billion, then grid access at $2 billion
annually. That said, it is important to stress that this market size and segmentation is primarily
derived from current cash expenditure patterns of BOP energy consumers. Thus, it represents
an immediately accessible market. Changing cost structures or consumer preferences, and the
introduction of subsidies, could easily change this. Expected increases in income levels, possible
further reductions in technology costs, increased consumer awareness of alternatives, and new
business models for delivering them could all trigger demand for higher-end devices, for instance.
It could also be assumed that targeted public-private financing structures would increase both the
overall market size and the share of mini-grids or grid-based electrification solutions.
Grid extension
Grid extension
Modular SHS
Modular SHS
Advanced fuel
Advanced fuel
Solar lanterns
biomass stoves
31 billion
Solar kits
Solar lanterns
Solar kits
biomass stoves
Households (millions)
Market for modern energy services ($ billion)
FIGURE 2.5: Theoretically addressable market by technology category
Source: IFC analysis based on Demographic and Health Surveys, ICF Macro, various years; IEA 2009; IFC-WRI 2007; UN 2011;
and UNDP/WHO 2009.
Note: The segmentation of improved energy alternatives is indicative, reflecting current estimates of technology costs and pricing as well as household
spending at the global level. This should not be interpreted as a fixed market size for specific products or services, which is best determined on a
country level using local technology costs and pricing and willingness and ability to pay. SHS = solar home systems.
“At an estimated $31 billion, the device and household-level system
market takes the lion’s share, followed by mini-grids at $4 billion and
grid extension at $2 billion annually.”
Besides huge market opportunities, closing the energy access gap could significantly improve the
living conditions of millions of households around the world. If every family in the addressable
market were to use improved technologies or solutions, an estimated 550 million kerosene lamps
would be replaced by cleaner alternatives for lighting, and 400 million families would be using at
least improved biomass cooking devices. As a result, around 250 million sick days and 800,000
premature deaths related to indoor air pollution from traditional lighting and cooking fuels
would be avoided each year. About 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions would
be mitigated, mostly from a decrease in deforestation owing to fuel savings. (See Appendix B for
details on the impact of improved energy access.)
Key market drivers and sensitivities
Certain drivers affect the extent to which the theoretically addressable market is adjusted to a
“likely addressable” market. A sensitivity analysis shows that the up-front cost of products and
services, and the customer’s willingness to pay are the most significant drivers of the market size.
The impact of regulatory changes is an important factor, too. For simplicity, we estimate the impact
of tariffs and duties assuming the same effect as price increases or the introduction of additional
up-front cost elements.
Up-front payment as % of commercial cost
(the remainder being distributed
over time in form of levelized cost)
Solar and rechargeable lanterns
Solar kits
Solar home systems
Grid extension
FIGURE 2.6: Sensitivity of the addressable market to up-front cost
Source: IFC analysis.
Base case
Addressable households (millions)
Up-front costs
The addressable market estimate assumes that costs are broken down into monthly payments;
the estimate would be much smaller if users were required to pay the total cost up front. The
addressable market base case is a function of the levelized monthly costs of a product or service. If
payment of a product or access to a service were required up front, the addressable market would be
much smaller than if users were allowed to spread them over time. It is precisely to address this upfront payment sensitivity that companies around the world offer leasing options, consumer loans,
and other means of paying off costs over time.
Figure 2.6 shows the impact of increasing up-front costs on the theoretical market size. In the case
of solar lanterns costing $20 to $50, for example, a required down payment of 20 percent would
reduce the addressable market by about the same amount, dropping this by 13 million households
to 90 million households. For solar kits, a 20 percent down payment would more than halve the
addressable market, reducing the number of households that could afford this technology from
about 90 million to just under 40 million. A 10 percent down payment halves the market for solar
home systems, reduces it by about one-third for mini-grid connections, and virtually eliminates it
for grid-based electrification.
In reality, however, it is difficult to know just how much people can afford. A very imperfect
understanding of poverty and consumer spending has been demonstrated time and again in the
design of social and economic development programs, product pricing, and company go-to-market
strategies. Nonetheless, as discussed in Chapter 3, energy access product retailers and service
providers are starting to recognize the importance of designing product and pricing strategies to
spread up-front consumer costs, so the subject is explored here. Some utilities waive the initial
connection charge and offer financing options that allow customers to spread cost over time.
Solar home system suppliers frequently bundle microcredit with their offerings, thus reducing the
need for large up-front payments and amortizing a significant portion of the costs over time. For
cookstoves or solar lanterns, which are smaller-ticket items, hire purchase,10 recharging services, or
pay-as-you-go models are sometimes offered to maximize market penetration.
Willingness to pay
A customer’s willingness to pay for a good or service is the second key driver for the addressable
market estimate, and is based on customer awareness, expectations, and, critically, the perceived
value of energy solutions. Customer education on the benefits of modern technologies, valued extra
features (like phone charging), product performance guarantees, and social recognition can all
increase willingness to pay. These are some factors that can be targeted by businesses, policymakers,
and donors. But other factors such as hard-to-predict customer spending choices, affect willingness
to pay and, therefore, the market penetration of a product. The growth of mobile telephone sales
across the developing world has shown that the poor can often find a way to pay for something
with perceived value, or something that they simply desire. Less than a decade ago, the billions of
people living on $2 a day barely appeared on the radar screens of mobile phone operators. Today,
they are a critical market and a rapidly growing part of corporate revenues. Handsets costing $20
to $50—well within the range of low-cost clean energy devices—can now be found in very remote
areas, and are overwhelmingly purchased without credit from the retailer or subsidies from donors.
A change in willingness to pay has the largest impact on the market for more expensive products.
The base case estimate uses a conservative assumption that households would be willing to spend
on modern energy solutions what they could save by switching from traditional energy. The
sensitivity analysis in figure 2.7 illustrates the impact of changes in willingness to pay on the size
of the addressable market, showing that the largest impacts are on more expensive products on a
levelized basis. A 20 percent increase in willingness to pay for solar home systems, for example,
could increase the addressable market by roughly 60 percent.
Addressable households (millions)
(base case, %)
Willingness to pay
(in percent of current spending on traditional energy)
Solar and rechargeable lanterns
Solar kits
Solar home systems
Grid extension
FIGURE 2.7: Sensitivity of the addressable market to willingness to pay
Source: IFC analysis.
Precedents for market capture
The estimates above suggest that the addressable unserved market is significant: 374 million for
improved cookstoves and fuels and 256 million households for lighting solutions, most of which
also offer broader energy services. However, given the challenges linked to selling almost any
product to the poor, these estimates of potential customer numbers clearly do not directly translate
into sales forecasts. It is virtually impossible to foretell the commercial success of modern energy
services given the complex drivers involved. But some broad trends and indications can be derived
from other global sectors and from certain national markets where energy access technologies are
starting to take off. Figure 2.8 shows the speed of penetration of new energy technologies and
business models into a number of national markets in developing countries and the spectacular
growth of mobile telephony subscriptions in developing countries. While the explosion of access
in telephony does not predict the same path for energy services, it does indicate that customers in
hard-to-reach areas can be served, even through capital-intensive delivery systems such as minigrids. GSMA, the international association of mobile phone operators, estimates that there are
around 550 million off-grid subscribers in rural areas. New mobile base stations are routinely
added, and GSMA estimates there will be about 639,000 off-grid systems by 201211 across rural
areas in the developing world.
On- and off-grid electrification - Morocco
Guatemala Utility Case – Electrification
% of households
On-and-off grid electrification - South Africa
Mobile subscriptions – Developing countries
Solar lanterns – Kenya
Solar home systems – Bangladesh
Minigrids – Cambodia
FIGURE 2.8: Penetration rates of energy and mobile phone services in developing markets
Source: IFC analysis.
The success of modern energy access at scale in certain countries indicates that it is possible to
capture the unserved energy market under the right conditions. Take solar home systems in
Bangladesh, for example. In 2000, penetration of the addressable market was less than 1 percent.
Ten years later, about 1 million systems have been installed, reaching 40 percent of the addressable
unelectrified population by blending concessional loans and consumer payments, and leveraging
private sector companies to manage operations. Countries like Morocco have achieved essentially
universal electrification using a combination of grid extension and SHS, delivered largely in a
commercially viable manner. Consider also mini-utilities in Cambodia. After a little more than 15
years of development, mini-utilities serve 28 percent of the rural population on a commercial basis.
Toyola, the Ghanaian cookstove company, has seen rapid growth in annual sales since beginning
formal operations in 2006, and is now serving 30 percent of its addressable urban market with
approximately 150,000 units sold benefitting around 750,000 people. Replicating this kind of
success across rural Africa and South Asia, where the majority of people without access to modern
energy reside, would translate into enormous impact and business potential.
As the examples in Chapter 3 will show, where good business models meet appropriate financing
and enlightened policy, rapid penetration of the market is possible. In summary, while it is clearly
naïve to assert that the entire addressable market can be captured, it would be equally imprudent to
assume that the conditions for viable commercial ventures can never be met.
“Where good business models meet appropriate
financing and enlightened policy, rapid penetration
of the market is possible.”
Chapter 3: How Companies Are
Serving the Market
Broadly speaking, basic energy needs can be met through household-level devices and systems,
community-level mini-grids, and grid extension. Household-level devices and systems—covering
cooking devices, solar lanterns, and solar home systems—offer a first step up the energy ladder.
While generally suited only to a limited number of tasks, they are often the most cost-effective
option for the dispersed rural poor, and for many families living in urban slums. Communitylevel systems—mini-grids that serve from a dozen to several hundred households—provide
electrical energy to power lights, appliances, and, beyond the home, small manufacturing and
commercial firms. The “mini-utilities” that operate such systems serve customers often for much
less than they currently spend. Finally, grid extension provides a more comprehensive solution,
typically supplying enough energy for electrical and cooking needs. In addition, the grid can
provide energy for productive purposes which, over time, enable socioeconomic development.
Over the years and across geographies, a range of approaches has been employed by the public
and private sectors for providing the unserved with such modern energy alternatives. In some
cases, focused national policy has led to the extension of the power grid to remote communities,
or the installation of village-level systems, almost exclusively funded through the public purse. In
other cases, appropriate consumer demand and ability to provide appropriate offerings have led to
entrepreneurs selling energy products and services profitably. There are also many instances where
energy access activities occupy a middle ground of “quasi-commercial.” Here, companies may
have to spend excessively on raising consumer awareness about a new technology, or they might
even make a deliberate decision to charge subcommercial prices or rates for a product or service
based on a social responsibility aim. In many cases, the difference between the cost of providing
a service and the target consumers’ willingness or ability to pay is what limits a firm’s commercial
returns. These ventures would be profitable under slightly different circumstances or with some
grant support, given that they otherwise embody the elements of an efficient private enterprise.
This chapter focuses almost exclusively on what we term “commercial, enterprise-based”
approaches to serving the market for energy access. These businesses operate primarily or entirely
with a profit motive, and are already considered commercially viable or are on the cusp of becoming
so. In some instances, notably in the mini-utilities and grid-based electrification subsections, we
explore particularly interesting quasi-commercial business models. All case studies cover ventures
that serve the poor as all or a significant part of their customer base, employ enterprise-based
business models to deliver a product or service, have gone beyond the concept stage and are
already operating at scale, and employ business models that we believe have the potential to grow
further and be replicated under the right conditions. A selection of all of these types of businesses
is shown in figure 3.1.
(fully or nearly
viable; product
sales or
and Fuels
Husk Power,
DESI Power,
West Africa,
North Delhi
Limited, India
Power, India
Soluz PV,
Moser Baer,
Nuru Energy,
First Energy,
Philips Solar,
Bonny Utility
Katene Kadii,
Sri Lanka
South Africa
South Africa
Light Haiti,
World Bank,
Jiko Stove,
Qori Q'oncha,
Number of devices sold/customers
connected to the system:
*IFC investee
government or
using CSR or
PPP approach)
Solar Home
Systems and
Solar Kits
~10 000
~50 000–100 000
South Africa
250 000+
Company not reviewed in this report
Households typically have 5 to 10 people, so total number of people reached is significantly higher
FIGURE 3.1: Overview of selected energy access ventures – subsector, model, and customer base
Source: IFC analysis.
Note: Some mini-utilities listed as “commercial” receive subsidies to cover a portion of their capital costs or, alternatively, have access to government funding
to cover a portion of connection costs to end users. These firms are considered to be commercial because they are operationally self-sustaining. CSR = corporate social responsibility; PPP = public-private partnership.
Household-level Devices and Systems
A range of household-level devices and systems has emerged
in recent decades to meet the basic clean lighting and cooking
needs of households around the developing world. This report
focuses specifically on lanterns (largely solar lamps but also a
handful of innovative rechargeable lantern models that use solar
or kinetic energy), solar home systems (SHS), and improved
biomass cookstoves, because these devices and systems have
shown the greatest innovation and growth. These segments
have seen the largest number of new entrants to the market or
companies already delivering services at significant scale.
Several hundred companies exist in the devices space—many
of which are growing rapidly, reaching hundreds of thousands
of customers and producing good profit margins. Device
companies are often commercially viable because the retail price
of their products typically matches a few months’ expenditure
on traditional fuel and is thus either immediately affordable
or can be made affordable by spreading payment over time.
Some firms are reporting operating profit margins of 15 to 20
percent and returns on equity of 10 to 30 percent. However, the
low product price also means that revenues are generally small,
limiting the extent to which they are able to attract investors
looking for big transactions.
Across all technology categories, we see the greatest development
in solar lanterns and improved cookstoves, where barriers to
entry are typically low. Priced at $20 to $50, with some newer
offerings as low as $10, solar lanterns are gaining popularity
with the BOP as a cost-effective alternative to kerosene lamps
because they are safe and clean, do not require the expensive
disposable batteries that traditional torches use, are portable,
durable, charge quickly, and provide illumination that lasts
for much of the night between charges. Increasingly, lanterns
designed especially for the needs of the poor also have builtin radios and allow for mobile phone charging—providing
additional energy services that are of high and growing value
to households. A number of nimble international start-ups have
developed solar lantern offerings; they include Indian pioneer
NEST (Noble Energy Solar Technologies); U.S.-originated but
now India-headquartered Greenlight Planet and d.light design;
and Australian-originated Barefoot Power, active in East Africa
and India. More seasoned players—multinationals like Philips,
Sanyo, Schneider Electric, and Total, and emerging market
conglomerates such as India’s Moser Baer and TataBPSolar,
and China’s Trony—are also developing value propositions for
low-income consumer segments.
While most of the lighting players, even the smaller ones,
take a multicountry or even global view of the market, local
entrepreneurs are much more prevalent in the improved
cookstoves space. Companies like Tizazu in Ethiopia and
Toyola in Ghana are profitably selling efficient artisanproduced charcoal and wood-burning cookstoves for $5 to $25.
Other firms are producing more advanced stoves (costing $25
to $75), improved fuels, or both; these include India’s Servals
and BP spin-off First Energy (which sells a stove together with
processed biomass pellets in India) and U.S.-based Envirofit.
While they are not considered in this report, a number of local
businesses and multinational companies are creating innovative
ways to sell liquefied petroleum gas in small-size cylinders
(which make the cost of both the device and of refilling more
affordable) across urban centers in Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria,
and Thailand, where charcoal is particularly expensive or where
kerosene is used for cooking due to lack of a wood-based fuel
Kerosene devices such as this unsafe stove are dangerous
(Credit: Terrestrial)
Solar home systems have a fairly long history among development institutions but are increasingly
an energy access solution offered by local entrepreneurs. Modular rooftop PV (photovoltaic)
panels use daylight to charge batteries that store this electrical energy for use in devices. Costing
$300 to $500 for smaller units, solar home systems are a marked step up from lanterns because
they provide more comprehensive energy services, powering from a few lights to several large
appliances. Often found in predesigned combinations from 20 watts peak (Wp)12 to 150 Wp,
with 50 Wp being a common size, they can also be designed according to specific users’ needs.
Panels have the advantage of a 15-to-30-year life, with no operating costs as such, but must be
installed by trained technicians and require regular maintenance. While SHS allow households to
meet their electrical energy needs, even larger solar home systems are typically not an option for
thermal energy, and hence other devices are required for cooking or heating (figure 3.2).
Solar lanterns
Solar kits
Solar home systems
Solar lanterns are single
devices with an associated
PV panel to charge them.
Solar kits comprise more
than one light, offering
phone charging, radio, or
additional lights.
Solar home systems are a
larger PV panel, permanently
installed on a roof or pole,
with various uses.
TOP: d.light
MIDDLE: Kamworks
BOTTOM: Greenlight Planet
TOP: Barefoot Power
BOTTOM: Sundaya
TOP: Tecnosol
BOTTOM: Sunlabob
FIGURE 3.2: Solar and rechargeable technologies for lighting and providing electricity for
the home
Source: PV = d.light, Barefoot Power, Tecnosol, Kamworks, Duron, SELCO, Greenlight Planet, Sundaya, and Sunlabob.
Note: PV = photovoltaic.
Some of the more notable examples of large-scale operations include Bangladesh’s Grameen
Shakti; India’s SELCO, which has also ventured into Vietnam; and Soluz which has operations
in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. These firms, along with others such as Ghanaian
Deng and Nicaraguan Tecnosol, serve several thousand customers and operate largely integrated
(and often diversified) businesses, providing end-to-end offerings that bundle system design,
component assembly, rooftop installation, servicing and, generally, customer financing. Some
private enterprises have been able to operate profitably without any subsidies. Rahimafrooz is a
case in point. This leading Bangladeshi manufacturer of batteries has been supplying batteries to
solar home systems for a while, but, seeing the growth of its orders, decided to begin selling panels,
too. To date, the company has installed more than 120,000 home systems and achieved breakeven
after six months of operation.
However, subsidies have played a key role in helping to scale most solar home system businesses.
In its business model, Grameen Shakti, for example, has leveraged favorable borrowing terms and
regulations provided by the Bangladeshi government via IDCOL (Infrastructure Development
Company Limited), which in turn enjoys concessional funding from international development
institutions including the World Bank and Germany’s development bank, Kf W. Likewise, SELCO
and TataBPSolar have also tapped sizable soft financing or subsidies from the Government of
More affordable “solar-kit” technologies are emerging, expanding the reach of household systems.
Solar kits are “portable solar home systems” that integrate panels, battery packs, and a charge
controller with plugs for equipment. They power several lights, device chargers, and even small
appliances such as a black-and-white television. Retailing at $100 to $150, they are more expensive
than solar task lanterns but less than half the cost of a modular rooftop solar home system of
similar capacity. They can also be bought off-the-shelf and do not need installation or much
maintenance. Not insignificantly, they appear to be an aspirational purchase. Customers do not
simply view them as a “collection of small lamps” to replace kerosene. Rather, solar kits seem to
be seen as both a physical asset and a product for which many poorer people are willing to pay
extra. There is early evidence of unexpectedly rapid penetration of solar kits in some markets.13
They are increasingly popular with manufacturers, and producers include Indonesia’s Sundaya,
and U.S.-based Duron and Fenix International for the Indian and African markets, respectively.
With an estimated size of $31 billion, the market is far from reaching its potential. While it is
encouraging to see a plethora of innovative local and international firms serving the BOP, the
devices industry is still nascent and highly fragmented. Players operating in this space are often
small and dispersed, limiting their ventures for now to a few select geographic areas. Some choose
to enter certain states in India where energy access rates are low or the presence of microfinance
institutions is high, while others select African countries with high kerosene or charcoal costs.
Partnerships at various points along the value chain—from supply of materials to high-quality
manufacturing, distribution to working capital finance—that more established sectors can take
for granted are still delicate. And, not immaterially, given that it takes time to secure strong
cash flows, it is often difficult to keep start-ups with good ideas going long enough to become
real businesses. So market entry, survival, and scale-up are not without their challenges. But
companies able to address these hurdles should be well placed to take a share of the huge market
Larger Entities
Emerging Market
Have local
capabilities and
distribution to go
with their scale
(Africa, Indonesia)
Brand Builders
Integrate their value
chain to drive
distribution & scale
Have good
local context
Integrate their value
chain along their
core technology or
Smaller Entities
(Latin America)
(India, Africa)
(Sri Lanka)
Have good
design and
customer touch
(India, Africa)
(India, Africa)
Global Focus
Local Focus
Stove companies
Solar lantern companies
Solar home system companies
FIGURE 3.3: Characteristics of selected companies covered in this section
Source: IFC analysis.
Devices: Business Models - How
Companies are Serving the Market
The business models adopted by device companies vary, but
they can be grouped loosely into the following four categories,
reflecting the origins of these ventures and how they operate
along the value chain (figure 3.3).
Integrators: Companies that work along the entire value chain,
mainly as a function of their technology focus. They are able to
combine technical fundamentals such as manufacturing and/
or installation of a system, after-sales service, and financing that
helps customers manage the larger up-front cost of that system.
Most operate in the solar home systems market, but a handful
also sell stoves with processed biomass fuels.
Local Entrepreneurs: Homegrown small and medium
enterprises (SMEs), which typically manufacture products
from low-tech, locally adapted, or open-source designs. These
companies are mostly in the improved cookstove space, but
have some presence in lighting.
Brand Builders: Multinationals or established local
conglomerates that leverage existing brand power in other
areas, distribution chains, and sometimes manufacturing
capabilities to sell energy access technologies—covering one or
more of solar lanterns, solar home systems, and cookstoves—
alongside other offerings.
International Independents: Start-ups and smaller companies
mainly with Western roots, which focus on the design and
marketing of a single product or segment and generally
outsource manufacturing and partner with other players
for distribution. Primarily present in the solar lantern and
cookstove categories.
Figure 3.4 shows the analytical framework used in this report,
with a description of the activities of the companies in these
categories along the value chain. As the report analyzes these
firms along the value chain, it will show how these categories
differ in their approach to the market.
Few players are
fuels but some
offer both fuels
and stoves
Lighting players
focus on in-house
design, but some
companies use
open source
Design /
Brand Builders
leverage their
reputations, but
build the brand
from scratch
Varying degrees
of integration of
Sales &
Some through
corporate funds
but most via
Billing /
Some companies
have found
low-cost ways to
Legal & Regulatory
Corporate Finance
Outsourced or
depending on
technology, skills,
and import
Mostly impact/
double bottom
line investment
for now
FIGURE 3.4: Devices - how companies are serving the market
Source: IFC analysis.
Some companies
use grant funds
to break
even or produce
Some companies
have innovative
ways to spread
the up-front cost
Carbon Finance
Only now
emerging as a
possible income,
especially for
R&D and Design
The R&D and design portion of the value chain usually focuses on ensuring affordability, and
designing offerings to meet the specific needs or demands of the poor. This is an area of especially
strong focus for International Independents active in the solar lantern market. Once seen as niche
products for high-end campers, thanks to recent innovations, solar lanterns now offer the promise
of cost-effective, high-quality, safe lighting for the poor. International Independents in the lighting
space (and to some degree in cookstoves) generally have a strongly user-centric design approach,
using extensive field research to understand customer needs, and applying those insights to inform
the design of new, “BOP-appropriate” products. A number of entrepreneurs focused specifically
on solar lamps have emerged from Western university research labs and MBA programs, and view
themselves as pioneers in leveraging cutting-edge technology, design leadership, and savvy customer
touch. d.light design is a good example. Founded in 2007 by a pair of young entrepreneurs in the
United States but now based in India, d.light has developed two flagship products—a task lamp, and
a wide-beam light that can also be used to charge a cell phone.
Players in the emerging solar kit sector have taken a similar R&D-heavy approach. But there are
also local companies with strong offerings. India’s NEST, started by a Delhi-based engineer and
technologist with expertise in PV technology, designed the popular Aishwarya compact fluorescent
lantern in 1999. Indonesia’s Sundaya, which has been working in solar home systems since 2009,
used its knowledge of PV technology to develop the Ultium solar kit system in-house. Kamworks
has also crossed over from experience with solar home systems in Cambodia to design devices such
as its S20 to S80 solar lantern models. Both companies built on their experience in rooftop systems
to craft new offerings specifically for poor rural consumers. With its founders coming from Silicon
Valley’s high-tech cluster, where they focused on product innovation, Fenix International has been
able to capitalize on strong in-house research, development, and design skills to develop an attractive
$150 solar kit, the ReadySet.
In the cookstoves segment, some International Independents use proprietary R&D and design, but
many of the most successful players are local entrepreneurs that leverage open-source technology or
country-specific designs developed through government or donor programs. The cookstoves area
has been the subject of much research and international development assistance programming in the
last decade. Taking advantage of designs initially developed or offered by universities, appropriate
technology providers, or development agencies, many homegrown SMEs have begun to produce
devices at scale—albeit often using artisanal methods—and to sell them commercially. This
is the case for the Tizazu Stove in Ethiopia and the Anagi Stove in Sri Lanka, which combined
government- and donor-funded development of a locally adapted design with training of artisans,
who then began making the device commercially. First Energy, which started as a BP subsidiary but
which was bought out in 2009 by its management team and a private equity firm, also benefited
from technology developed in partnership with the Indian government. This uses an innovative
top-lit updraft design; the stove accepts waste biomass, such as crop residues, and provides up to 75
percent fuel savings compared to the 30 to 50 percent that is typical for improved biomass stoves.
Their design was also made available through philanthropic donors.
Brand Builders are increasingly developing sophisticated in-house design capabilities, even though
their competitive strengths often lie further along the value chain in manufacturing and distribution.
Sanyo Electric Company, a global electronics company based in Japan, has used a cutting-edge solar
technology to develop various pro-poor products targeted to the African market, including solar
stations for charging electronics products such as mobile phones and a solar lantern. Netherlandsbased Philips, a leader in the global light bulb and LED (light-emitting diode) markets, has built on
this advantage to develop a range of BOP products including solar-powered LED torches, the MiniUday rechargeable lantern, an improved wood-burning cookstove, and a portable water purification
system. Trony, the largest amorphous silicon thin film solar cell manufacturer in China, has built
on in-house research capabilities to move down the consumer chain, innovating progressively from
large-scale solar cells to solar home systems and on to solar lanterns.
Some PV companies have used their technology platform to extend the product line and reach the
BOP. Deng Limited from Ghana started life in 1988 as a commercial engineering company supplying
generators and pumps, before moving into solar home systems and later expanding its offering to
include solar lanterns, which it assembles locally after procuring parts from the Netherlands. This
has helped Deng to grow based on photovoltaics alone; in 2009, Deng had 25 employees (with
an additional 50 working indirectly for the company) and a turnover of $1.5 million from sales.
On a larger scale, Moser Baer, an Indian-based emerging multinational, leveraged its strengths in
manufacturing PV panels and consumer electronics to offer a range of solar lanterns and solar kits
that do not require technicians to be installed.
ABOVE: Various cookstoves discussed in this report clockwise from top left: Envirofit, First
Energy, Katene Kadji, Ugastove, Jiko, and Toyola
Source: Envirofit, First Energy, Katene Kadji, Ugastove, Jiko and Toyola.
The manufacturing methods used to produce modern energy devices vary greatly in terms of
required components and complexity of assembly. Some cookstove technologies are fairly simple,
and so lend themselves to production by hand with rudimentary tools. Solar lanterns and home
systems are generally more intricate, and need advanced production facilities, especially if quality
is to be assured. Ethiopian stove-maker, Tizazu (see box 3.1), is one of many small businesses with
in-house manufacturing that can be found across Africa and Asia. The company employs two
dozen artisans to craft—entirely by hand—stoves in several sizes using locally available scrap metal
and ceramic liners produced in-house. Ghana’s Toyola is perhaps more unusual because it makes
its Coalpot stove using a franchise model whereby self-employed artisans in peri-urban and rural
communities make certain components of the device that are then combined with elements that the
company itself produces. Despite limited automated processes, this profitable firm has been able to
sell over 100,000 stoves in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
Box 3.1: Tizazu makes improved cookstoves in Ethiopia
Tizazu is a good example of a local cookstove manufacturer. The
company was started in Ethiopia 15 years ago by the eponymous
entrepreneur—a former employee of the Ministry of Energy
who had previously worked on an improved cookstove design
and dissemination program. At its initial stages, the program
also received support from the German bilateral international
development agency, GIZ, for awareness-raising efforts.
Tizazu manufactures several models of smartly painted
silver stoves (see figure B.3.1) (adapted to a range of needs,
from traditional njera preparation to coffee ceremonies) at
a warehouse in Addis Ababa and sells them for $5 to $20,
depending on the model, at markets across the city and through
a handful of local supermarket chains. Some models use wood,
other use charcoal. In addition, a specific honeycomb-styled
brick made of compacted charcoal can be purchased for some
models at a cost of $0.25. Distribution and marketing is fairly
straightforward; each time a truckload of stoves is taken to
markets, employees give a demonstration on use to interested
customers. When a new stove comes out or a new market is
targeted, test users are selected to serve as ambassadors for
the product’s efficacy, reliability, and durability. Sales are
undertaken by on-site retailers. If there are any issues with
the stove, customers may return them to the point of sale and,
when the next delivery is made, the company replaces them at
no cost.
Tizazu has sold an estimated 500,000 units, with annual sales
of about $20,000 and a 10 to15 percent profit margin. This
reflects the use of a subsidized warehouse.
Tizazu stoves are widespread in Ethiopia, but limited exports
have also been made to Djibouti, Kenya, and Yemen to
expatriate Ethiopians. The company plans to continue to
expand activities both domestically and in the region, but is
constrained by a lack of financing (its owner estimates that
$125,000 to $200,000 would be needed for him to import
equipment enabling the construction of a more efficient
production facility) and collateral.
Does not include costs of
warehouse since this is
provided free of charge by
the government
$, per unit sold
Improved cookstove
Annual sales are approximately
24,000 units. Stove prices vary from
$6–$25 and total revenue is thus
about $300,000 annually
Figure B3.1 Cost breakdown for the smallest Tizazu cookstove
Source: Interviews with Tizazu staff.
RIGHT: Local manufacturing of the
Tizazu cookstove outside
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
(Credit: Pepukaye Bardouille)
In some cases, however, the value-added tax and duty
exemptions are applicable only to complete products and are
not applied to their components. In that case, the incentive
for companies to take advantage of cheap labor to set up local
assembly facilities is reduced, because a locally finished product
may actually end up being more expensive.
quality control as the rationale behind focusing on this part
of the value chain. (Figure 3.5 shows the cost structure for a
company that provides a high dealer margin as an incentive to
stock its solar lanterns.)
Most solar home system companies either design and
manufacture in-house, or procure components for on-site
assembly, but fundamentally, play across the value chain. India’s
TataBPSolar, a joint venture between Tata Power Companies
and BP Solar, operates cutting-edge PV manufacturing
facilities and is active in a wide range of segments from
megawatt-scale power plants to residential solar home systems
and devices. Some battery manufacturers, such as Bangladesh’s
Rahimafrooz, have also successfully expanded into solar home
systems, using their production capabilities to construct other
key components. These companies must design products
that meet the needs of local communities, convince them to
purchase these big-ticket items, undertake installation and
regular maintenance, and often provide or facilitate financing
so that customers can afford them (or find a way to reclaim
the product in the event of default). Thus, they are, by default,
Integrators. This “full service” approach plays across an often
complex value chain requiring a solid presence on the ground to
furnish the various parts of their service offering both upstream
and downstream of the manufacturing element. It also means
that operating costs are generally high.
At the manufacturing stage, device companies must pay close
attention to product quality assurance. Ensuring productionline quality is essential, especially when manufacturing is
outsourced, given the risk of market spoilage. BOP customers
are particularly sensitive to product quality, and providing
acceptable replacement services in the event of breakdown can
be expensive. Greenlight has tight control of its production; six
staff members are permanently based in China and manage the
quality of parts and assembly at the factory contracted to make
the lights. This unusual focus on the manufacturing part of
the value chain is expensive but worth it, since it ultimately
closes the quality loop down the distribution chain to the
retailer and back, protecting the reputation of the product.
Fenix has established manufacturing partnerships in China’s
Hong Kong/Shenzhen region, where electronics supply chains
are considered to be among the strongest in the world, thus
keeping the cost of production low and quality standards high.
NEST is an unusual example of an SME player that has its own
manufacturing plant, citing the importance of ensuring tight
Solar Lantern
Manufacturer has sold
150,000 lanterns at $25,
putting total revenue at about
$3.8 million
Distributor margins are high,
but this is intentional – to ensure
that dealers are incentivized
to sell product
$, per unit sold
FIGURE 3.5: Sample cost breakdown of a device made by an Indian solar lantern company
Source: Interviews with company staff.
Sales & Distribution
Brand Builders often have an advantage in marketing,
although Local Entrepreneurs and International Independents
sometimes do a better job of leveraging their local knowledge
and networks to execute effective grassroots outreach
campaigns. As with most consumer categories, low-income
consumers typically prefer known brands because they are
perceived to have better performance and quality. Companies
with recognized brands—the Brand Builders—therefore aim
to leverage this inherent advantage when offering new products.
Larger players also often enjoy the financial backing of parent
companies to fund eye-catching marketing campaigns. Local
Entrepreneurs and International Independents, on the other
hand, have to build their name from scratch. This cost can be
significant for start-ups, of which only a minority are generally
able to mobilize the requisite grant or commercial funding
for their market-building activities. They therefore frequently
capitalize on word-of-mouth and relationships at a local level,
but low-cost marketing campaigns can be effective, too. The
Ghanaian cookstove company Toyola, for example, actively
works to turn satisfied early adopters into “evangelists” and
ultimately distributors. Evangelists start operating in their
village and then collect and regroup orders from surrounding
villages. Toyola sells about 60 percent of stoves directly to users
through this channel. Tecnosol in Nicaragua buys solar home
system units from overseas suppliers, then promotes, sells, and
installs them in rural areas through a similar “early adopter”
model. Tecnosol’s first customers in each area, typically rural
merchants or shopkeepers, act as local agents who advertise the
benefits of the service and provide feedback to the company on
any technical issues.
Distribution is one of the overriding challenges for device
companies attempting to reach low-income markets.
Customers typically live in remote rural areas and do not shop
at established retail channels where they would discover new
technologies. “Typically new technologies start in the urban
areas and spread out into the rural areas. But in this case you
really have a product that is designed for people who are offgrid, living in the rural areas, and they may not have a chance
to see it first in the cities,” explains Ned Tozun, president of
solar lantern company d.light. Local distribution chains are
fragmented, and cash-poor merchants struggle with working
capital constraints, low sales volumes compared to other
products that they could stock, and limited shelf space. Yet
other sectors such as beverages, pharmaceuticals, and mobile
telephony have become very good at distribution in low-income
markets. The companies that are able to do this in the energy
access market typically do well.
Roadshows and other traditional media are popular at the
BOP, and the use of other traditional media can also work
well to promote products. Dutch multinational consumer
electrics firm Philips’s “Cape Town to Cairo” 2010 and 2011
road show traveled across 12 countries and was designed to
promote the benefits of solar lanterns with consumers and other
stakeholders from the public and private sectors. By addressing
both direct consumers and organizations that work with social
development issues and the BOP, they increase product visibility
markedly, and product information trickles down to end users
from multiple sources. SolarNow, a Dutch company that
trains a network of African entrepreneurs to sell and maintain
standardized solar home systems, has a network of retailers in
Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. It uses a
single brand to help the public identify good-quality products
“where they see the sign,” and runs extensive radio campaigns
designed to make it a trusted name in its target markets.
Brand Builders are leveraging their parent companies’ capital
and existing market presence (or strong partnerships) to grow
distribution, creating a real advantage over other players. Brand
Builders with a local footprint already sell other products incountry (for example, radios, fans, batteries) and can convince
retailers to stock new energy access items under a name that is
easily recognizable. Critically, they can also extend capital or
offer attractive payment terms to small shop owners. Sanyo, for
example, is leveraging its long-standing reputation for quality,
experience with lower-income products, and deep pockets,
to aggressively grow in the Kenyan market. The company’s
strategy is based on its partnership with a local distributor,
which sells directly to retailers and to rural sub-distributors.
Importantly, it also provides working capital to its distributors
to drive sales deep into rural areas.
Philips is at an early stage of testing a new product, financing,
and distribution approach in Ghana. This is part of an ambitious
plan to develop a commercially sustainable distribution chain
for energy services for the poor, creating additional income for
at least 35,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa and to provide 10
million people in the region with affordable, appropriate, and
sustainable energy services by 2015. Philips’s approach includes
collaboration with NGOs, government, its suppliers, and
complimentary companies like African mobile operator MTN.
Similarly, Schneider Electric, a French-based multinational, has
set out to serve 1 million people in India with modern lighting
services between 2009 and 2011. After one year, it had reached
250,000 people. The key to this rapid growth is that Schneider
leveraged its own national wholesale and retail network to
serve urban areas, but partnered with NGOs and microfinance
institutions and the Indian Oil Company’s retail network and
local electricians to serve rural areas.
French-based oil company Total, a relatively new entrant
in the lighting devices space, has made distribution its core
competence in this space, using its network of retail outlets
to resell PV lanterns in Cameroon, Indonesia, and Kenya.
Unlike other multinational counterparts that design their
own products, Total has selected a handful of existing lighting
devices supplied by d.light, Phocos, and Sundaya and signed
sales agreements to get the products to market. It focuses
on reaching the last mile and leaves design to smaller, more
nimble companies. Total purchases large volumes of desirable
products, uses well-branded outlets to sell them, and offers
flexible payment terms and working capital to its partners.
A central Paris-based purchasing entity deals with all issues
related to suppliers and to importing and distributing product.
In return, device suppliers gain access to finance and visibility
in these markets under their own brand name. Total is aiming
for 100,000 products sold by early 2012.
International Independents often have a harder time mastering
networks or financing distribution alone, but sometimes partner
with social sector players to overcome challenges. Unable to
leverage internal or existing partner resources more common to
larger players, International Independents often sell into thirdparty channels or work with NGOs, community organizations,
or village entrepreneurs to get their product to market. For
instance, d.light uses two approaches to product distribution—
partnering with Indian NGOs that have established means of
reaching the end user in some areas, and employing a network
of local entrepreneurs for others. Similarly, Barefoot Power has
established subsidiaries in Kenya and Uganda, where it works
closely with microfinance institutions to identify entrepreneurs
BOX 3.2: Unilever Tea Kenya Limited
has tapped CSR funding to successfully purchase and disseminate solar
PV devices
Not itself a device supplier, Unilever Tea Kenya Limited (UTKL)
recognized the importance of providing modern energy access to
its workers. After realizing that kerosene use among tea pickers
living on unelectrified plantations was resulting in high numbers
of respiratory illnesses and burns, UTKL began supporting the
supply of good-quality solar lanterns to their staff. They worked
closely with IFC’s Lighting Africa program to define acceptable
quality standards for these devices and develop a consumer
education initiative. In parallel, they designed a distribution and
purchase model that would be financially sustainable over the
longer term.
able to sell the product. These have trained hundreds of
microentrepreneurs who typically sell $30 worth of solar
lanterns per day, and given the relatively high income that this
provides, are significantly incentivized to expand sales. In the
Philippines, solar lantern company SunTransfer is a shareholder
in Hybrid Solutions, a local distributor which itself has built
partnerships with NGOs and microfinance institutions that
have long-standing and extensive networks in villages.
In several East African counties, Solar Aid is building a
network of franchisees to sell its “Sunny Money” product
through local entrepreneurs. NGOs are involved, but only
to promote the franchise business opportunity to potential
microentrepreneurs. Sunny Money handles the relationship
with franchisees directly, giving them a one-week training
course and access to capital and supply chain support. Solar
lantern company ToughStuff has only 20 employees but has
sold 200,000 units through third parties. The disadvantage of
this model compared with the integrated distribution approach
of larger players is that it reduces market reach and squeezes
margins, effectively limiting the ability to grow the business.
Using a different tactic, U.S.-based Envirofit, which started in
2003 as a nonprofit and began producing stoves for sale in East
Africa and India in 2007, has accelerated its expansion using
donor funds14 to discount cookstoves as an incentive for its
distributors to stock their product rather than those of more
expensive competitors.
Box 3.2 provides an example of how corporate social
responsibility (CSR) funds were successfully used to disseminate
solar PV devices.
UTKL staff are members of a number of officially recognized
savings and credit organizations (called Saccos), and are familiar
with saving in and taking loans from these groups. The tea
company’s management decided to support the Saccos as an
efficient way of providing end-user financing for energy devices,
and invested money for the purpose of providing staff loans for
the purchase of lanterns.
To buy a device, a staff member places an order at a central
purchase point offered by UTKL and signs on for an equivalent
loan from his or her Sacco. A portion of the device costs are
paid for up front using a bank transfer, cash, or the Kenyan
Mpesa mobile payment system. These orders are collated and
sent to a local product distributor. On supplying the goods, the
distributor is paid from the UTKL/Sacco account. The staff
then receives the products as per their order and begins servicing
the loan.
A few players are developing partnerships with other companies across sectors. San Francisco-based
design and engineering firm, Fenix International, has adopted such a tie-up for their new ReadySet
Solar Kits (see box 3.3). The company demonstrated through pilot studies the potential for increased
revenue for MTN, and showed that the operator’s distributors would be keen to sell the product
themselves. Fenix developed an exclusive distribution and licensing agreement in Uganda for an MTN
cobranded solar kit. MTN imports (handles logistics, clears customs), warehouses, distributes, and
assists in servicing devices (dealing with warranty and any product take-backs or replacements). This
partnership solves several critical challenges faced by many small device innovators, notably achieving
brand recognition in rural areas, scaling product delivery logistics, securing working capital finance
for retailers, and providing comprehensive after-sales service in remote communities. The solar lantern
companies selling products to Unilever Tea Kenya Limited (see box 3.2) are also leveraging this
businesses customer base and distribution channel.
Box 3.3: Fenix’s ReadySet, deployed
in partnership with MTN
Beginning in 2009, Fenix International spent three years
developing a $150 plug-and-play solar charging device that
can power phones, lights, and other appliances. Fenix’s 15 Wp
ReadySet solar kit comprises a monocrystalline solar panel,
which is small, durable, and high performance. In addition to
being solar-chargeable, the kit comes with an adaptor that allows
it to be plugged into a power outlet where there is electricity
available, or into a diesel power generator. Accessories include
a USB charger for Nokia phones, which have the largest local
market share; a universal phone battery charger; and an energy
saver lighting kit. The system is modular and can be added to
over time. In addition, it has open-source charger sockets (a
12-volt car charger and 5-volt USB) that can be used to power
a range of small appliances.
With its founders coming from Silicon Valley’s high-tech space,
Fenix was able to secure manufacturing partnerships in China’s
Hong Kong/Shenzhen region, where electronics supply chains
are considered to be among the strongest in the world, thus
keeping the cost for production low and quality standards high.
They knew, however, that reaching end users in many parts of
their target markets in Africa would be a challenge.
After initially exploring opportunities to work with beverage,
pharmaceutical, and fast-moving consumer goods suppliers,
Fenix created a strategic partnership with, the
Grameen Foundation, and MTN in Uganda. They felt that
mobile operators had the closest alignment with energy access
services, given that the average revenue per user (ARPU) is a key
measure for commercial viability in the sector, and it depends on
users being able to keep their phones charged. Without access
to charging services, ARPU is unnecessarily limited; indeed,
it is estimated by the GSMA that lack of access to electricity
reduces an operator’s ARPU by 10 to 14 percent. Fenix research
corroborates that number, and finds substantial supplementary
income opportunities for owners of the ReadySets through
lighting access and phone-charging services. Thus, solving the
issue of access to charging services is not only a development
goal or an opportunity for energy companies, but also an area
of interest for the mobile phone and technology sector.
See box 3.4 for how one enterprise in Rwanda developed an
interesting charging model.
LEFT: Fenix’s Readyset in use in Rwanda; RIGHT: the components of the set (Credit: Fenix)
need new image
Box 3.4: Nuru Energy and its Rechargeable Solar Lamps
Rwandan social enterprise Nuru Energy developed an interesting charging model for its solar
lantern business, which allows the consumer to vary his or her spending in line with income.
The concept is to sell low-cost lanterns that can be charged using pedal power. Entrepreneurs
purchase 50 lanterns ($5 each) and a POWERCycle ($150) from Nuru, with financing from
a partner microfinance institution, and begin serving a demarcated area. Each franchise sells
lights, normally at a small margin ($6) to local customers, and then receives ongoing revenues
by charging customers a fee of $0.25 to charge each lantern. The majority of its customers are
subsistence farmers and do not have regular cash incomes; average incomes are reported to be
under $1.25 a day.
The primary merit of Nuru’s approach is that it mimics the pattern of kerosene expenditures and
the income volatility of its customers. So far, most of the company’s operations have focused on
Rwanda, where it has been able to reach significant penetration in some rural communities. In the
Mayange sector of the Bugesera District in Eastern Province, for instance, Nuru has sold about
1,500 lights. The community has a population of roughly 25,000, or 5,000 households. As of
March 2011, it had 70 entrepreneurs and had sold 10,000 lanterns.
Nuru is also tapping carbon finance as an additional revenue stream through an agreement that
gives Bank of America Merrill Lynch the option to purchase several million certified emission
reductions (CERs) over a 10-year period, all of which will be generated in Sub-Saharan Africa.
ABOVE: Nuru lights being charged on a POWERCycle operated by an entrepreneur (Credit: Nuru Light)
After-sales Service
After-sales service is particularly important in low-income
markets. This is due, in part, to the fact that, for the BOP, the
purchase risk for new or untested technologies is so high and the
public understandably wary of what they do not know. In some
places, it is also relevant, because low-quality products that may
have entered the market in the past have had an impact on the
reputation of energy access technologies as a whole.
Device companies are increasingly focusing on the BOP despite
the high relative cost of offering customer service for products
under $50, and practical or supply-chain difficulties in providing
service to consumers in remote areas. Greenlight Planet’s solar
devices, for example, are sold directly by someone living in or
near a village, so that they can easily be returned and repaired
if something breaks down. Moser Baer and TataBPSolar’s lamps
come with a warranty, and the companies provide a consumer
hotline for customer complaints, promising to service or replace
the product in the event of defect.
“Formalized” comprehensive after-sales service can be expensive,
especially in sparsely populated areas. Ethiopia’s Tizazu overcomes
this problem by offering customers the option of returning
stoves to the point of sale and pledging to replace them when
the next delivery is made, limiting costs to both parties. Tizazu’s
reputation in the market means that this informal arrangement
works well. NEST offers a one-year product warranty and keeps
$, per unit sold
Post-installation maintenance, or at least offering such service
agreements, is particularly important for overcoming hesitation
on the part of the poor to invest in solar home systems, but can
be very costly. Maintenance costs increase with the distance
between houses (which can sometimes be several kilometers).
Some service providers complain that multiple visits to customer’s
homes can result in half the revenues from each system being
eaten up every year. Nuon-Raps (NuRa) and KwaZulu Energy
Services, both privately owned concessionaires in South Africa
that deliver SHS-based electrification in rural parts of the
KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo
provinces, therefore rely on a government basic energy subsidy,
channeled through local municipalities, which covers half of
customers’ monthly rates. Separately, as a result of its particular
concession set up almost a decade ago, a capital subsidy from the
South African Department of Energy covers up to 80 percent
of capital costs. While typically not as high as that provided to
concessionaires in South Africa, the implication is that solar
home systems companies providing comprehensive service—as
opposed to those selling systems alone—typically require some
degree of subsidy to make these larger household-level energy
systems affordable to BOP customers (see figure 3.6).
Average cost breakdown in $
Systems sold at around $300 each at an
approximate 15,000 systems per year, thus an
annual turnover of around $4,500,000
costs of servicing this down by training its approximately 70
Indian dealers on how to service lanterns, providing them with a
stock of replacement parts, and only taking products back to the
factory if they are beyond repair.
Company receives a government subsidy of
$27 for each system sold at $300
last-mile customers, reducing margins below
the level they would otherwise be if client
base were only fully commercial
Marketing Transport Installation Training
maintenance collection
and sales
FIGURE 3.6: Sample cost breakdown of SHS installed by an Indian company
Source: Interviews with company staff.
Consumer Financing
Despite the savings they provide, modern energy devices—in particular, solar home systems—can
be too expensive for low-income consumers to buy up front, requiring companies to offer credit and
staggered payment solutions. With product costs that can reach $300 to $400, solar home systems
companies need to offer financing to their customers. To increase affordability, they typically
provide a combination of credit to cover a deposit and also offer the option of making additional
monthly payments to cover the balance. TataBPSolar, for example, has “replaced” the up-front cost
of its solar home system units entirely in favor of monthly payments over five years, financed through
a mixture of the company’s own balance sheet, a $60 subsidy per connection from the Government
of India, and carbon credits. The company had installed 100,000 systems by the end of 2010, and
added another 100,000 in 2011. Grameen Shakti has also developed an in-house financing solution
for solar home systems, which is independent of its mother company, Grameen Bank. Customers
can either pay $374 in cash for a unit, or make a down payment of $58 and pay an $11 monthly
installment for three years. This implies a loan from Grameen Shakti to the customer at an interest
rate of 15 percent.
A more common and possibly less burdensome approach is to partner with microfinance institutions
and rural banks that already provide financing in target markets. SELCO relies on such tie-ups,
working with about 40 rural banks that offer micro-loans to its customers in India. If a customer is
unable to repay their loan, SELCO can reclaim the device and sell it on the second-hand market,
returning the revenues to the bank. While less common for devices, there are cases of partnering with
microfinance institutions. Hybrid Solutions, a Filipino distributor of solar lanterns, has developed an
interesting partnership with CARD MRI, a leading microfinance institution that sells solar lanterns
to its members bundled with a loan for the purchase, creating an additional distribution channel for
the company and revenue for the microfinance institution.
Despite lower up-front product costs, cookstove companies have also experimented with consumer
financing to increase reach among the poorest. Ugastove in Uganda makes its $7 improved wood
and charcoal cookstoves more accessible by allowing flexible repayment terms that correspond to
the cash saved on charcoal. Since 2006, Ugastove has sold around 80,000 devices and is expanding
into more remote parts of Uganda and neighboring countries. Toyola offers customers the option to
buy on credit and to pay back the loan over two months using the money saved on charcoal, with
many stashing their savings in a “Toyola Money Box.” Annual saving on charcoal of around $27 is
significant for a household with an annual cash income of around $800 a year, and means that the
cost of buying a Coalpot is recovered within three or four months, with the company claiming a
repayment rate of 99 percent. The funds it needs for such a credit plan come from concessional loans
and are expected to be met by carbon finance in the future.
Devices: Key Business Model Success Factors
Affordability, distribution, and consumer confidence are the key success factors for device companies.
Enterprises in the household lighting and cooking markets clearly have different preconditions for
commercial success, depending on technology and positioning along the value chain. The three
factors that stand out for the household-level devices and systems subsector are:
• Making products affordable to cash-constrained customers and, in particular, providing end-
user financing for solar home systems
• Building, tapping, and financing distribution networks
• Strengthening consumer confidence in energy devices (see figure 3.7).
Making products
affordable to cashconstrained
customers and, in
particular, providing
end-user financing
for solar home
Design /
confidence in
energy devices
Building, tapping,
and financing
Sales &
Financing the upfront cost for end
users, either
corporate funds
or finance
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Corporate Finance
Carbon Finance
FIGURE 3.7: Key success factors in the devices business model
Source: IFC analysis.
Make products affordable
It may seem obvious, but companies attempting to penetrate the
BOP market must go to extremes to strip out costs and make
product prices as low as possible. Design innovation, supply
chain efficiencies, and distribution are all areas for cost reduction,
although the implications are quite different for capital-intensive
solar devices and systems on the one hand, and more laborintensive cookstoves on the other hand.
Design innovation coupled with falling component prices has
already helped cut costs of solar devices, and further declines of
40 percent are expected by 2015, largely driven by lower solar PV,
battery, and LED prices.15 But scale economies in the production
process are also important for capital-intensive solar devices and
favor a high degree of central manufacturing. Outsourcing of
the manufacturing portion of the value chain to more efficient,
specialized companies is therefore frequently the most costeffective option.
For cookstove companies, supply chain efficiencies focus
around labor. Local Entrepreneurs such as Tizazu and Toyola,
for example, have removed costs by keeping design very simple
and leveraging local artisans, often reducing their cost bases
below those of International Independents and Brand Builders.
Tizazu also benefits from a subsidized building that serves
as a storage center for raw material, a production line, and an
end-product warehouse. Toyola achieves efficiency and quality
control by outsourcing all but the key ceramic liner portion of
its stoves, and by encouraging the artisans who form its supply
chain to specialize in specific components. Some International
Independents and Brand Builders are considering shifting to
local fabrication to reduce transportation and import tariffs.
The international transport component alone, of Envirofit
stoves manufactured in China and sold in India, for example,
is estimated at 20 percent of total costs, driving the company’s
move to localize production in India.
Distribution is another major cost driver in the supply chain.
The examples above have demonstrated the choice is between
proprietary distribution channels, which add fi xed costs but may
bring competitive advantage, or third-party distribution, which
can add flexibility but also introduces a middleman and erodes
margins. Either choice requires a diligent focus on controlling
Another tactic for maximizing affordability is to adopt a payment
profile that mirrors the traditional spending profile of customers
who would otherwise use kerosene for lighting or charcoal for
cooking, as discussed below. As described above, the subscription
or fee-for-service model is a good solution for solar home systems,
and allows customers to make regular payment for use rather
than covering the entire cost at once. But this can be applied to
devices, too, as has been done by Nuru and Sunlabob.
End-user financing can be critical for ensuring affordability but
introduces complications. We saw, above, how end-user financing
is also relevant, particularly for making solar home systems
affordable. This is also discussed in a number of publications
including Selling Solar.16 Firms that operate in regions such
as South Asia, where strong microfinance organizations are
prevalent, may therefore have an advantage here. Certainly,
Bangladesh and India, where microfinance is most entrenched,
have produced the most successful solar home system businesses.
In-house financing, however, offers management full oversight of
the business but requires deep pockets and can create balance sheet
complications for most companies. This is therefore probably
best suited to those larger Brand Builders (in this case, typically
local conglomerates as opposed to multinational corporations)
that have the necessary skills to manage loan arrangements and
payment tracking, on top of the already complex process of
system delivery and maintenance in remote communities.
Many solar home systems companies would have struggled
to succeed without the availability of soft loans from either
international or local development institutions, which can be
on-lent at a reasonable mark-up to customers. The success of
Grameen Shakti and other solar home systems entrepreneurs
in Bangladesh is closely linked to government-owned IDCOL,
which provides concessional monies for end-user financing.
Established in 1997, IDCOL is mandated to promote private
sector financing in the infrastructure and renewable energy
sectors, and is currently implementing solar home system,
domestic biogas, solar mini-grids and pumps, biomass, and
biogas power projects.
In addition to providing concessional loans for end-user finance,
IDCOL has played a vital role in building the solar home
system market in Bangladesh, initially as a main component of
the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development
Project of the World Bank, by establishing solar home system
product certification supported using a subsidy incentive plan.
The Government of Bangladesh finances IDCOL at 3 percent
and acts as a conduit for financing by the Asian Development
Bank, GIZ, Kf W, the Islamic Development Bank, the Global
Environment Facility, and the World Bank. For a solar home
system bought with a three-year credit with a 15 percent down
payment, IDCOL lends to the distributor 80 percent of the
amount borrowed at 6 to 8 percent over 7 to 10 years, with a
one-to-two-year grace period. Using this capital, firms that
are approved as suppliers of products with IDCOL’s technical
specifications on-lend to customers at an annual interest rate
equivalent to 15 percent.
Building, tapping, and financing distribution
Fundamentally, distribution makes or breaks the devices sector,
and this is only likely to become more important as all devices
move toward product commoditization. Kerosene for lanterns,
the latest mobile phone models, disposable batteries, soap
products, and bottles of Coca-Cola have all managed to reach
the most remote customers across the developing world. To
date, since these are early-stage businesses, many solar lantern,
solar home system, and cookstove players are still struggling to
secure last-mile distribution. This report’s assessment is that,
against a backdrop of potential product commoditization, the
strategic weight of this industry is shifting from the design and
manufacturing gurus to the distribution “gatekeepers.”
Box 3.5 explains how Greenlight Planet is building its own
distribution network.
Box 3.5: Greenlight Planet: Building its own distribution
Greenlight Planet is a pioneer in the market for photovoltaic lighting for the poor, and its story
highlights the central challenges for device companies launching new technology in hard-to-reach
villages: distribution and customer awareness. The company was started by Mayank Sekhsaria,
Anish Thakkar, and Patrick Walsh in 2005 while they were students at the University of Illinois
in the United States. At that time, there was really no market for solar lanterns—only a need. The
trio’s response was to create a for-profit company. It started selling its Sun King solar lantern in
mid-2008, first in India and now in 10 African countries. Six years later, it has reached breakeven.
Greenlight experimented unsuccessfully for a year and a half with traditional distribution chains
into rural India and had to navigate at least four links in the chain from master distributor down
to a village retailer. Each link takes 8 to 15 percent margin and requires credit.
Even with 50 percent added to the manufactured cost, and sufficient credit extended to get it to
the retailer, the product would sit in a store without anyone knowing of its existence. The market
is still so new that even today consumer misconceptions about solar lanterns abound. Some
believe that the product will break prematurely or, without knowing the actual price, assume that
it must be too expensive. Established consumer product companies overcome these problems with
road shows that travel from village to village promoting new products—an expensive and not
particularly effective way to get the job done, especially for a big-ticket item like this.
Greenlight decided to sell its products directly by recruiting respected members of the community,
like a teacher or subsistence farmer, to become a part-time salesman for the company. These “saathis”
spend several hours a day visiting people in their area of about 2,000 homes demonstrating and
selling the product. Saathis can expect to about double the $50 to $80 per month that they earn in
their “day job” with the extra income from selling lamps. Product demonstrations, together with
the fact that saathis are known by and accountable to their neighbors, reassure customers about
the product and increase uptake. Greenlight now has 650 saathis selling about six to eight units a
month each, saturating 70 percent of their villages within six months, often with repeat purchases.
The saathis report that at that point, they move on to other villages.
Knockoffs have appeared in small numbers without much sales success, but they do damage the
reputation of solar lamps in general, resulting in market spoilage. For now, however, Greenlight
is not concerned about the threat of competition; it believes that its distribution system is unique
and hard to replicate, making this the main defense against competition.
The downside of building a distribution channel from scratch is that it limits a company’s ability
to quickly scale. While Greenlight has ambitious expansion plans, it still sells only 8,000 units per
month. When it expanded into Africa from India, it opted to use third-party distributors rather
than recreating the saathi system, partly due to the scale issue, and partly due to the challenge of
managing different national regulatory systems and cultural norms.
Strengthening consumer confidence in energy devices
Low-income customers are understandably cautious when asked to spend a large proportion of
their small and often sporadic income on unfamiliar technology, and companies need to work
hard to build consumer confidence. Perhaps counterintuitively, many customers will in fact prefer
existing solutions to more economical modern alternatives (see figure 3.8), particularly when
cheap but unreliable versions have already entered the market. If the device breaks down before
it breaks even, the customer will be financially worse off, deterring future customers and leading
to market spoilage.
Paraffin lamp
with a glass cover 25%
Light bulb in socket or a lamp
connected to a car battery 18%
lantern 15%
stand-up lantern 12%
lamp 9%
Simple paraffin lamp
with wick and no cover 5%
Candles 5%
Flashlight 5%
FIGURE 3.8: What is your preferred type of light, excluding electric light bulbs
powered from the grid?, Ethiopia
Sources: Lighting Africa, IFC.
In the words of one developing markets consumer expert: “The issue is the life cycle of the products.
When you launch a soap or a detergent, people will know after one week if the product is good and their
neighbors will hear about it. It takes more than a year for customers to see by themselves that a solar lantern
is a worthwhile investment [given the payback period].” 17
Consumer awareness is critical but costly, and can usefully be supported by donors. The cost of
building public awareness can be the difference between a company making a profit or posting
a loss. As figure 3.9 shows, the marketing expenditure of one improved cookstove company in
India—of which 85 percent is attributed to building consumer awareness and only 15 percent to
brand association—is 2 percent of total company costs. When R&D costs are added, it incurs
significant costs. Rather than breaking even or making a small profit, this company is just
breaking even on this particular product, and cross-subsidizes the product with revenues from
fuel sales to households and higher-end product sales to restaurants.
Operational breakeven
subsidization with commercial stove sales
$, per stove sold
Marketing expenditure breakdown
Awareness Raising
Training of
Brand association
Stove sales
R & D Manufacturing Import
(in China)
Marketing Distribution After-sales
FIGURE 3.9: Sample cost breakdown of a device made by an Indian cookstoves company
Source: Figures provided by company staff.
Four marketing approaches effectively build brands, create awareness, and reassure customers
about product quality and reliability. They are:
• Word-of-mouth: As the Tizazu and Toyola examples have demonstrated, this is often the best
way to sell goods that require people to “experience” the benefits in order to convince them to
make the purchase, especially when the audience may be illiterate or off the regular media grid.
• Leveraging publicly funded campaigns: The Lighting Africa program’s success in Kenya shows
that these campaigns can be effective in creating legitimacy and trust.
• Leveraging existing consumer brands: Philips is using its brand to sell its solar products. BP
cobranded First Energy’s products when it owned the company.
• Providing product guarantees: Warranty and after-sales services can be vital to successfully
building a market. However, it is critical that companies be able to honor these through their
Devices: Key Success Factors in the Ecosystem Environment
Even with the right business models in place, device companies need to be supported with an enabling
environment. The most important ecosystem conditions are:
• Building technology awareness in the market
• Enhancing product quality assurance and creating quality standards
• Training and supporting local entrepreneurs and industry contributors
• Ensuring that tax and duty regimes do not discriminate against specific energy access technologies
• Financing company growth and operations from an early stage
• Supporting access to carbon credits (see figure 3.10).
Creating quality
Design /
awareness in the
Sales &
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Ensuring that tax
and duty regimes
do not
against specific
Corporate Finance
Training and
supporting local
and industry
company growth
and operations
from an early
FIGURE 3.10: Key success factors in the devices ecosystem environment
Source: IFC analysis.
Building technology awareness in the market
In general, companies—or in some cases sector organizations—invest significantly in promoting
market awareness of new technologies and building consumer trust. Almost without exception,
businesses that seek to bring modern and affordable energy solutions to the unserved poor are
operating in frontier territory. They are creating new markets. Beyond the branding of specific
products (discussed in the previous section), a broader effort is therefore required to promote market
awareness and confidence in new technology, especially where early poor-quality products have
damaged consumer trust. Where there is high awareness of solar technology, as in Kenya, product
sales are also higher. But market awareness of energy access solutions in many developing countries
is generally extremely low. For instance, Cambodian device firm Kamworks reports that only 10
percent of its target market knows of alternatives to kerosene lighting.
Carbon Finance
Financing the
carbon credit
Advertising campaigns, standard-setting regimes, and training
of distributors are critical for market development initiatives.
Efforts intending to build technology awareness and assure
product quality must ideally include these three central elements:
public advertising campaigns, credible labeling and certification
standards that can be understood by consumers and bulk buyers,
and training of entrepreneurs and distributors on the safe use
of new technologies—particularly where installation and
maintenance is required.
Donors have extensive experience in consumer awarenessraising tactics across sectors such as education and health care,
which should be leveraged for energy services. This is already
happening in some places. The Global Environment Facility
and the United Nations Development Programme have worked
to promote understanding of solar options in Tanzania by
installing solar systems in schools or hospitals.18 In Ethiopia,
the Ministry of Agriculture, together with Germany’s GIZ, the
Shell Foundation, and the Netherlands Directorate-General of
Development Cooperation, were instrumental in promoting
clean cooking options. They focused specifically on the opensource Mirt Stove, but the impact has been much wider, with
local companies benefiting from improved awareness. So, while
they are socially oriented in their objectives, public awareness
efforts can also help establish conditions for commercial market
Enhancing product quality assurance and
creating quality standards
Quality standards are important for new and emerging
technologies because they help consumers identify the right
products to meet their needs, and they foster trust. If welldeveloped quality standards provide valuable information to
customers and create a level playing field in which companies
compete on the basis of not only price but also performance,
ultimately, cost-effective but also ethical competitors will enjoy
an advantage, not because their products have been given an
unfair advantage, but because their products have been given
the opportunity to demonstrate their value. At the same time,
such standards need to be sufficiently practical to encourage,
rather than hamper, innovation and competition.
“If the device breaks down
before it breaks even, the
customer will be financially worse
off, deterring future customers
and leading to market spoilage.”
In addition to supporting consumer awareness, IFC’s Lighting
Africa program has played a significant role in establishing
initial quality and performance standards and certifications to
help consumers make informed choices, with very good results.
One component of the program is the development of a locally
appropriate, easily recognizable quality seal for solar lanterns in
Kenya. The program worked with test laboratories in China,
Germany, and the United States, and recently in Kenya, to
establish low-cost testing services for lighting products. The
tests allow manufacturers, distributors, NGOs, and other
players to accurately measure a product’s performance. In
Kenya, a mobile telephone SMS (short message service) has
been launched, whereby a blank text message sent to a local
number generates a real-time update on approved solar lantern
products. This provides information to customers while they are
in a shop and greatly reduces the need for separate advertising.
The biannual Lighting Africa Business Conference and Trade
Fair is seen as the industry reference event, facilitating business
partnerships. Over 600 participants from 50 countries attended
the 2010 conference. To date, companies that have passed
Lighting Africa quality tests sold 175,000 products, translating
into more than 850,000 people with access to modern lighting.
It is now expanding activities into Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, and
Tanzania. Initiatives are under way to develop quality standards
for stoves through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
More than awareness, this illustrates that donors and
governments can add significant value by developing standards
that spur confidence in new technologies.
Training and supporting local entrepreneurs
Governments and development partners have helped
companies by providing training and support to energy
access entrepreneurs. A thriving device sector requires strong
capabilities along the value chain, including local entrepreneurs
who understand the opportunity and have the capacity to seize
it. In many places, public sector players and other development
partners are involved in training artisans, retailers, and
technicians, particularly those entrepreneurs involved in lastmile distribution. In the cookstove industry, the Grassroots
Business Fund provided enterprise development support to
Servals in India, while in Ghana, Enterprise Works trained
tinsmiths, ceramists, and retailers, and a developer that has
supported Toyola. Lack of trained personnel has also been a
barrier to the scale-up of solar home systems.
Also in Ghana, a local firm, Deng, established a training center in conjunction with the Kwame
Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, developing accredited courses for technicians
financed with grant funding (this center has recently been spun off into a separate entity).
Ultimately, developing a cadre of trained professionals has served its own business.
“Training and supporting entrepreneurs does not
simply build improved products, but can help to
build an industry.”
It is crucial that governments, donors, NGOs, and other social entities play a role in market
development and transformation activities. The goal of the initiatives described above is not to
build improved cookstoves, solar lanterns, or solar home systems, but to build an industry. Early
market development efforts such as technology awareness campaigns have high costs and little
return on investment for companies themselves, because fast-follower competitors can easily reap
the benefits. This is a gap that can usefully be filled by the public sector and development partners.
Ensuring that tax and duty regimes do not discriminate against
specific energy access technologies
Inconsistent government duties discriminate against one technology over another, and can
distort markets while limiting the potential for disruptive technologies to enter and reach scale.
Governments sometimes impose heavy import duties on solar lanterns and home systems,
improved cookstoves, or their key components, which increase sales prices and limit market
penetration. This is surprising, given that grid extension often benefits from subsidies, and that
tax revenue contribution from improved off-grid energy access devices is likely to be low in the
bigger scheme of things.
A recent Lighting Africa survey19 in a dozen West African locations where solar lighting products
are not prevalent showed that import duties range from 5 to 30 percent, and additional taxes
such as the value-added tax can be up to 19 percent. This led to a total tax and duty burden of up
to half of end-user cost in some countries. In Kenya, Envirofit pays $8 in tariffs for a $15 stove.
In Malawi, solar panels are subject to a 50 percent duty. In India, import duties and taxes add
about 11 percent to the cost of d.light’s solar lanterns and 12 percent to the cost of First Energy’s
improved cookstoves. In Cambodia, there is a 35 percent import tax on finished solar lighting
products. The result, understandably, is slower uptake of energy access products.
It is important that tax exemptions be consistent across technologies and that import processes
be streamlined. Interestingly, when tax exemptions exist, they might, for example, apply only
to PV panels and not to other complementary solar home system components, or to lighting
devices or stoves. And even where countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania have eliminated
or substantially lowered such taxes, importers still complain of lengthy procedures at the port of
entry that stem from a lack of understanding of solar products among customs agents, corruption,
inconsistent tax treatment of goods, or all these factors.
Financing company growth and operations from an early stage
Energy access entrepreneurs frequently struggle to finance company growth and operations from an
early stage. Larger Brand Builders may benefit from the support of their mother companies to finance
new business ventures. But smaller players have an inherent disadvantage, and combine the difficulties
of being a start-up in an emerging industry with the structural difficulties of selling durables to the
poor. Common financing needs and challenges of these small businesses can be illustrated along the
stages of a stylized company life cycle (see figure 3.11).
Business Model Development
Companies often have
untested products and
limited management
experience. They also
sometimes face high
R&D and other
development costs.
Proof of Concept
Companies have a high
cash burn and little to
no revenues.
are now in
the growth
Technology/business model advancement
Early stage companies require grant
and angel financing to stay afloat while
they work toward proof of concept.
The need at this stage is
for venture capital with
management assistance
to establish operations.
Maturing companies need
long-term, local-currencydenominated debt to grow.
Working capital and trade finance
are also required.
FIGURE 3.11: Financing needs and obstacles early in the company life cycle
Source: IFC analysis.
Early-stage funds are difficult to secure, especially for companies originating in the developing world.
During the R&D phase, entrepreneurs typically require grants or angel financing and incubation
support to turn a good idea into a solid concept and to prove technical feasibility. Even if an idea looks
good on paper, this stage is clearly risky, and finance can be hard to secure. Many of the fastest-growing
International Independents have enjoyed early-stage financing from social and double bottom line
investors, particularly in the lighting sector, where there has been some high-profile venture capital
interest in recent years.
For instance, in 1997, SELCO received a $128,000 start-up loan from USAID (the U.S. Agency for
International Development). d.light design secured $6 million in Series A financing from a group of
venture capitalists including the Acumen Fund, Draper Fisher Jurveston, Garage Technology, Gray
Matters Capital, and Nexus Venture Partners. These investors have been involved in a second round of
$5.5 million in Series B financing, which also includes a new social investor, Omidyar Network, now
the largest investor in d.light. Barefoot Power, too, has had support from investors willing to take a
higher risk, securing a €1 million grant (about $1.4 million) in 2010 from the European Union. Fenix
International has raised several million dollars from New York- and Silicon Valley-based angel investors.
But, in general, early-stage funds remain difficult to secure, especially for companies originating in the
developing world that have low visibility to international impact investors and a limited pool of local
venture capitalists or a limited tradition of philanthropy in the social enterprise space.
Patient capital and other forms of equity are critical as companies seek to prove commercial
viability. After the development phase, start-ups need to prove commercial viability, but revenue
generation and operational breakeven can take time. Cash-burn is often high while revenues
are low. Entrepreneurs are rarely able to borrow from banks, and management teams need to
stay motivated, and fed. This is where patient capital, such as that provided to Envirofit by the
Shell Foundation and other partners—collectively helping the business to transition to a for-profit
venture and sell some 300,000 stoves—can be of great help.20
As companies move into the growth stage, long-term investment in the form of both debt and
equity is important. As operations enter steadier ground, entrepreneurs begin to focus on scale,
which requires long-term investment. Both equity and debt are important, with debt ideally
denominated in local currency to protect against exchange rate fluctuations for those companies
whose costs and revenues are primarily in local currencies. But even after many years of profitable
operation, many local SMEs find it difficult to borrow money. The number one constraint to
growth for Tizazu’s stove business in Ethiopia, for example, is an inability to borrow money
to buy equipment and automate its production line. Mr. Tizazu requires about $125,000, but
does not have sufficient collateral to secure capital from local banks, which are asking for a 200
percent guarantee. He does not own a warehouse and his inventory of cookstoves and supplies
would neither suffice nor count toward the requirement. Meanwhile, these financing needs are
well below the threshold for most foreign investors, including development finance institutions
looking for a larger financial play. Mr. D. T. Barki of NEST, whose lenders require 150 percent
collateral on loans, has been able to secure bank financing to expand his operations because his
manufacturing facility—built with his own equity—serves as an asset.
“Early-stage funds are difficult to secure, especially for companies originating
in the developing world that have low visibility to international impact
investors and a limited pool of local venture capitalists or philanthropists.”
Besides the longer-term issue of corporate financing, the day-to-day challenge of working capital
is critical for lighting and cookstove companies and has led to tangible bottlenecks along the
value chain. Some companies have managed to secure short-term working capital financing. The
Grassroots Business Fund, via Oikocredit, is providing Barefoot with a $1 million line of credit
tied to international purchase orders to meet its working capital needs. In the case of Toyola, its
first $70,000 loan allowed the company to buy a truck, and provided enough working capital to
help unlock a good part of its supply chain by supporting suppliers and distributors with favorable
payment terms. Distributor finance is especially necessary for solar home system companies.
To meet the cash flow needs of its distributors, Ghanaian supplier Deng provides three months’
credit on components to its network of rural dealers, some of whom use this to allow reliable
customers to pay two-thirds up front and the remaining third within three months—the credit
term they have from Deng. In the case of commercial solar PV systems, all costs are paid for
at installation. These examples show how a greater supply of working capital credit for device
companies could help unlock potentially crippling bottlenecks along the value chain, catalyzing
their growth. We estimate that the annual working capital needs of rapidly growing Independents
such as d.light, Barefoot Power, and Greenlight Planet is about $3 million to $5 million each.
But accessing even this relatively small amount of funds is not trivial, since working capital is not
readily available from most investors interested in the space.
Supporting access to carbon credits
Carbon finance is proving to be an important alternative
revenue stream for some cookstove manufacturers, which some
believe could potentially transform the sector. The opportunity
for companies to subsidize the end price of cookstoves with
large carbon revenues is just emerging. In 2007,21 it became
feasible for the first time to earn and sell carbon credits from
the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that results when
people switch to improved cookstoves. The Gold Standard
Cooking Stove Methodology V.01 followed in June 2008. The
Gold Standard is a form of accreditation allowing emissions
reductions from improved cookstoves to be sold to other
Several cookstove suppliers are starting to leverage carbon credits
to allow for price reductions that increase market penetration.
In 2009, Toyola registered the second-ever Gold Standard stove
project worldwide23 with the assistance of E+Carbon, selling
the first tranche of carbon credits to Goldman Sachs in 2010.
In 2009/10, Toyola derived 28 percent of its $550,000 income
from carbon finance. Future revenues from carbon credits
are also expected to reduce the price of the Toyola cookstove,
enabling deeper market penetration. Players like Envirofit are
targeting $15 to $20 per stove from carbon credits in eligible
areas to help bring the retail price of its stoves to a commercially
viable level. A number of cookstove projects in Ghana, Kenya,24
Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, and Uganda have also registered to
receive carbon payments.25
Carbon credits have the potential to disrupt the cookstove
market and drive market penetration much deeper than
previously seen. An improved cookstove typically uses 35
percent to 50 percent less fuel than a traditional cooking
solution, reducing emissions by up to 1 ton of carbon dioxide
per year. Assuming that a reduction of 1 ton of carbon dioxide
is worth $1526 on the carbon market, a single stove, lasting
five years, could in theory generate as much as $75 in carbon
payments. In practice, because stoves generally break before five
years and because of other adjustments in the methodology, $20
to $30 is a more likely achievable figure. Given that the cost of a
new cookstove is between about $7 and $25, a company able to
qualify for and leverage carbon credits could in theory use them
to cover most or all of the cost of a stove. This development has
the potential to disrupt the cookstove market and significantly
increase market penetration. Also, for lanterns and solar
home systems, recent developments in the programmatic
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)27 might start to
shift the cost-benefit balance in favor of carbon finance. For
example, AMS-III.AR methodology (for calculating emissions
reductions achieved by substituting fossil-fuel-based lighting
with LED lighting systems) is now harmonized with Lighting
Africa quality assurance specifications, opening carbon finance
for compliant products.
“Patient capital is, of course, key
for device companies to grow,
but working capital is also critical;
without this, even low-cost products
cannot get to small, last-mile
distributors and retailers.”
While there is potential for carbon finance to catalyze the device space, there are four main
• Up-front cost: Registering a cookstove company for carbon credits can be expensive, typi-
cally costing $120,000 to $200,000, which is prohibitively high for smaller companies. One
developer estimates that only companies with sales of 12,000 units per year can reduce the
price through carbon payments.28
• Time lag in receiving carbon revenues: Carbon payments are only generated after a crediting
period and issuance of the first emission certificates, which are then sold on the carbon market. It can typically take two years for revenues to flow. When they do come, revenues are paid
annually. The need to fund fairly high outlays associated with strict monitoring requirements
during the initial registration process means that most cookstove companies must access some
form of external finance to start their carbon payment programs.
• Uncertain prices for carbon credits make it difficult to access external financing: There is
often uncertainty over whether a project will be able to access carbon finance. Even if it does,
the price at which credits will be sold is uncertain.
• Often complex and expensive registration process. To benefit from the potential of carbon
payments, cookstove and other device companies generally need to access finance that spreads
the cost of registration and covers the cash-flow gap between subsidies and carbon payments.
Community-level Electrification through Mini-Utilities
Hundreds of nonutility operators in developing countries are running decentralized village power
systems, or mini-grids, that provide electricity to poor areas unserved by the central network.
Mini-grids use a range of technologies, mainly simple diesel generators or hydro systems, but
also biomass, PV, and sometimes wind or hybrids (see figure 3.12). They vary enormously in
size, too. These businesses, which we call “mini-utilities” given that they operate as electricity
companies, just on a smaller scale, may have as few as 10 customers or serve several thousand
connections, but generally use systems of 30 kW to 500 kW (compared to the 500 MW29 typical
centralized plants). Many mini-utilities run systems that have no connection to a central grid.
But in some cases they are also grid connected (often with varying reliability), which allows them
to draw power from the system and feed back any excess power generated. What is important
is that they operate a system that can stand alone and serve a small community. Depending on
the business model, they serve commercial, institutional, and household demand, distributing
electricity directly to end users.30
s Generate power
from gasified
(agricultural and
forestry residues,
energy crops,
household and
industrial waste)
s Generally
Solar PV
s Convert the
s Harness force or
s Use solar cells to
s Use diesel or
kinetic energy of
wind into electric
s Require wind
speeds of 4–5m/s
to be viable
energy from
running water to
generate power
s Typically
run-of-river but
some-times with
a reservoir
convert sunlight
into electricity
s Can be mounted
on rooftops as
solar home
systems or as
larger arrays
other liquid fuels
(e.g., biodiesel)
s Combination of
diesel engine and
s Low operating
s Well-understood
s Suitable for
s Low operating
almost any sunny
s Low operating
s Simple to operate
s Raw material
s Still considered
s Systems have
s Still considered
supply chains can
be complex
s Biomass supply
may be seasonal,
and fluctuations
affect operating
"technologies in
s Although fairly
standard systems,
technology has
relatively high
capital costs
s Power generation
can be
broad range of
capital costs
linked to nature
of project site
s For run-of-river
sites, power
generation can
depending on
"technologies in
s Although fairly
standard systems,
technology has
relatively high
capital costs
s Power generation
can be
FIGURE 3.12 Overview of mini-grid technologies
Source: IFC analysis.
and maintain
s Widely available
fuel and spare
s Not a renewable
energy resource
s Linked to the
price of oil so
costs can be
highly volatile
s Fuel supply
logistics can add
to costs in remote
Decentralized power systems usually offer a significant jump up the energy ladder31 from
household-level devices and solar home systems because they allow AC (alternating current)
appliances to operate. Mini-utilities do not always result in customers accessing comprehensive
electricity services—in many cases they are initially only used for lighting because end users
simply cannot afford more than this. Sometimes they provide unpredictable power, for instance,
when there are diesel fuel shortages, when rivers run dry during parts of the year in hydro systems,
or when poor maintenance results in outages. In addition, mini-utilities generally do not address
thermal energy needs such as cooking or heating. However, what is important is that they do
provide the option of more than just lighting, affording a much broader set of energy services,
including the “productive” use of energy beyond the home, such as for running machinery,
manufacturing, or service activities. This, in turn, can support income generation and economic
Mini-utility business models can be complex, requiring site planning and installation, institutional
setup and governance, financing and technical services, and maintenance. Some mini-grids
are fairly straightforward, comprising a small generator and some wires, and run next to the
demand center. Others, particularly those based on renewable energy, need significant resource
measurement and site planning before they can be (sensibly) built. Many need fuel supply chains,
whether for diesel or biomass. Mini-grids also clearly need much more investment than householdlevel solutions (devices and solar home systems); they can cost from tens of thousands of dollars
for a small diesel/biomass plant to the low hundreds of thousands for a hydro system, excluding
the cost of power distribution infrastructure and meters. This needs to be recouped over a longer
time frame and, ideally, from different customer categories. But the nature of the technology
also means that a good operator must effectively source and manage the fuel used, or in the case
of renewable energy, fully understand the resource potential, to generate power cost-effectively.
Given that they are suppliers of electricity, mini-utilities are also often regulated, much like their
larger counterparts.
Mini-utilities have sprung up around the developing world, from Cambodia and India to Bolivia,
Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, across the Philippines, and in many parts of Mali and Nigeria,
selling power to a mix of well-off and poorer customers. In Cambodia, for example, 42 percent
of electrified households outside the capital city of Phnom Penh are served by decentralized minigrid systems. In Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines, entrepreneurs are supplying power in a
similar manner. In Nigeria, it is not uncommon for operators to efficiently serve sizable urban
pockets that would otherwise resort to running expensive individual diesel generators as a backup
to unreliable grid supply. In Colombia and Mali, privately owned and operated systems are
central to the governments’ electrification strategy for rural and remote areas, and in Rwanda, one
entrepreneur has created a profitable mini-utility from an abandoned donor-financed plan. It is in
these locations, where grid electricity does not reach people who are willing to pay for electricity,
given what they already spend on kerosene, that mini-utilities become viable.
There are also many examples of community-run mini-grids in countries such as Brazil and Nepal.
Community-based power producers may be a good substitute to profit-making entrepreneurs
in some areas, especially for very small villages (see box 3.6). However, this report focuses on
companies that seek a commercial return on investment and are either profitable or potentially
profitable. Hence, ventures with a purely or largely social mandate fall outside its scope.
Box 3.6 Community-based systems have a role to play
It is important to distinguish between firms that follow
a fully (or mostly) commercial model, and mostly donorfunded community power producers and village cooperatives.
There are notable exceptions, but most often communitybased systems are difficult to grow, or prove unsustainable,
often due to complicated local, institutional, and governance
arrangements and associated incentives. A World Bank
surveya of small power providers found that most systems in
Bangladesh and Cambodia are privately run, and are profitable.
In contrast, most mini-grids in Kenya were community run,
but were less financially sustainable. The survey also included
a group of 10 community-based hydro-powered mini-grids in
the Philippines, which were unable to cover their operating
costs and had an average negative gross operating margin of
17 percent.
Despite this, some community-based systems have reached an
impressive scale, such as Creluz in Brazil. Started in 1966, this
cooperative procures power from the grid but has also added 4
MW of run-of-river hydropower to the local network, manages
4,500 kilometers of power lines supplying power to 80,000
customers in 36 municipal areas and to rural communities,
and had a turnover of $12.8 million in 2009. Another largescale example is the United Nations Development Programme’s
(UNDP’s) multifunctional platforms in Burkina Faso, Mali,
and Senegal, in which almost 2,000 micro diesel generators
have been installed. This initiative has facilitated productive,
income-generating activities for thousands of local women with
the added benefit of extension for household electrification in
some cases.
Others are small scale (such as the Intermediate Technology
Development Group/UNDP/Ministry of Energy pico-hydrob
system in Kenya), but have been instrumental in demonstrating
the value of off-grid approaches and have good replication
potential. IBEKA (the People Centered Economic and
Business Institute) in Indonesia, too, has been in existence for
20 years and brought power to nearly 40 communities using a
cooperative model.
Note: a. Kariuki, Mukami, and Schwartz 2005. b. Pico hydro is a term used for hydroelectric power generation of less than 5 kW.
While the potential market is much smaller than that for household-level devices, due to higher capital
costs and population density requirements, at least32 30 million households could be served profitably
by mini-utilities, representing a market of up to $4 billion dollars. As shown in figure 3.13, the levelized
cost of electricity generation varies by technology and location, but ranges from about $0.20/kWh for
a biomass gasifer or micro-hydro33 plant to US$0.30/kWh for a small-scale wind or solar PV plant to
$0.40/kWh for a diesel generator. At an estimated cost to the end user of $8 to $9 a month for basic
“lighting plus” services, this is significantly higher than the device alternative. In addition, only a
small fraction (the exact share is unknown) of the addressable market lives in villages or close enough
to densely populated areas to be connected to a mini-grid. As discussed in Chapter 2, however, if
technology costs declined or capital costs were subsidized, the market size would be much larger.
Many “single system” mini-utilities are operating profitably where the load is such that efficiently sized
systems can be installed, where incomes are sufficient for customers to pay rates that allow companies
to make a return on investment, and where the regulatory environment is conducive to doing business.
Numerous entrepreneurs are running plants that are cash-flow positive without any public sector
financial or other preferential support. They report operating profits of 10 to 30 percent, and returns
on equity of 20 to 25 percent.34 Most mini-utilities are simply doing business on their own.
There are also a handful of companies that are growing to multiple and, in one case, several dozen,
systems—but it is clear that growth remains a challenge in the subsector. Enterprises such as
Husk Power Systems and DESI Power, both biomass mini-utilities in India, are already operating
several systems that are profitable on an individual plant basis. To address high corporate overhead,
which brings down overall profitability and makes management of the business complex, they are
exploring replication using ideas such as microfranchising. But these models are yet to be refined
to a point where they become easily replicable and scalable. In addition, financing is a constraint—
most mini-utilities are not yet straightforward deals for commercial investors or lenders. But this
subsector holds real potential and merits greater attention on the part of operating companies,
policymakers, and investors.
“Mini-grids offer an important jump from basic household devices
because they offer electrification and can support productive activities.”
Levelized cost of electricity, US cents/kWh
Capacity FactorsXCT[
or Micro-hydro
Solar PV
&KHƂEWNVaccess to
Solar PV, Mini-wind,
or Micro-hydro
FIGURE 3.13: Electricity generation costs by mini-grid technology
Source: ESMAP–World Bank, McKinsey analysis.
Note: kW = kilowatt; kWh = kilowatt hour; MWh = megawatt hour; O&M = operations and maintenance; PV = photovoltaic;
WACC = weighted average cost of capital.
n.a. = not applicable.
Mini-utilities: Business Models How Companies are Serving the Market
Unlike household-level device companies, most mini-utilities handle the full value chain inhouse, from fuel sourcing to billing and collection (figure 3.14). As shown in figure 3.15, across
technology types, connections to the end user are made, power is generated in relatively close
proximity to the community being served and, using an often crude distribution network, sold
to customers. Importantly, there is also a billing and revenue collection function, generally
complemented with a small team undertaking repairs and maintenance to ensure integrity of the
Either diesel,
hydro, biomass,
solar, or wind
Some innovation
in biomass but
mostly known
Design /
Generation in
Some revenue
and simple
Sales &
Monthly metered
billing or flat-fee
model, often
collected in
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Corporate Finance
For mini-utilities,
context is vital since
they tend to be
Even commercial
entities struggle
to secure
financing since
sector is fairly
new and not well
understood by
Some use
subsidies to
finance the
connection cost
for customers
FIGURE 3.14: Mini-utilities – how companies are serving the market
Source: IFC analysis.
R&D, Fuel, and Generation
Mini-utilities typically focus less on R&D than device companies, but there are some interesting
developments in biomass-based plants, notably in India. Husk Power Systems (HPS), started in
2007 by a U.S.-educated engineer originally from the Indian state of Bihar, opted for a biomass
gasification approach in India. It operates 80, 32 kW to 100 kW biogas-based mini-grids in
villages across India’s rice belt in the state of Bihar, serving villages of 400 to 500 households. HPS
currently reaches about 30,000 households, or about 200,000 people, and plans to add a further
30 plants by early 2012, and eventually to scale-up to 2,000 facilities across India and Africa.
The company uses the same biomass gasification technology (based on rice husks, a form of
agricultural waste) that farmers have used for some time to power their mills. With support from
the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, HPS modified the technology to allow systems to
run purely on biogas rather than in conjunction with diesel, making them more cost-effective.
Carbon Finance
Only a few
examples of
carbon finance
income; this
applies to
biomass plants
Other aspects of the value chain have required innovation, as
well. HPS supplies three-phase electricity35 using a 220-volt
system. Initially, it was unable to find low-cost transformers
for subsystems and faced a similar challenge with circuit
breakers. The company, therefore, has invested significantly in
R&D, crafting a number of tailored solutions in partnership
with Indian engineering colleges and other local experts. This
technology has significantly reduced investment costs, but
also led to higher operating and maintenance costs, which
the company is now struggling to better manage. To generate
power, they favor primary resources that are locally available,
and generate power using proven technologies sited close to the
communities they serve.
Also in the biomass space in Bihar, DESI (Decentralized Energy
Systems, India) Power uses standardized gasifiers, which need
less maintenance than HPS’s proprietary technology. The firm
was established in 2001; its founder had decades of experience
with traditional energy companies and created a partnership
with DASAG Seuzach, a Swiss energy technology company
Distribution Grid
- Carries electricity to
that acquired the license for biomass gasification technology
developed by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and
with technology provider Netpro Renewable Energy. It currently
operates four plants serving primarily microenterprises, but
also has a household customer base.
Where biomass fuel is available, thermal plants run on this
resource can have distinctive cost advantages. HPS typically
opts for rice-producing communities and their neighbors, to
ensure a ready supply of husks. It buys rice husks from local
cooperatives; incentivized by the prospect of accessing electricity
in return, they are expected to sell the feedstock without much
margin, further reducing fuel costs. The company puts its cost
of delivered electricity at $0.20 to $0.25/kWh and estimates
that costs could fall to $0.08 as plant use increases from the
current level of about 40 percent to 85 percent, in tandem
with growing demand from its customer base. DESI Power’s
technology was initially designed to run on 30 percent diesel
and 70 percent biomass, but with rising diesel costs, it moved
to pure biogas engines.
- Fueled by diesel, PV,
wind, gas from biomass
digestion, or a
micro-hydro system
Mini-Utility Employees
- Measure power consumption
- Circuit breaker limits
consumption allowed for a
fixed monthly bill
FIGURE 3.15: Generalized mini-utility operating model
Source: IFC analysis.
- Sign-up customers
- Collect money
- Operate and maintain generator
- Fix faults in distribution grid
Where hydropower is an option, this is often the basis of
electricity generation, since it has no fuel-related operating
costs. Rwanda Renewable Energy Promotions (REPRO), for
example, uses hydropower for its plant, as do Brazil’s and
Nepal’s community-based systems, almost without exception.
Diesel, which is generally readily available, is used wherever
renewable resources such as hydropower or biomass are not an
option. There is no such thing as a typical diesel generation
mini-utility business. But if there were, it might look like
Vihearsur Electrify Enterprise (VEE), a company serving
Vihearsur commune, just outside Phnom Penh in Kandal
province, Cambodia. This company (see box 3.7), like many
others around the world, uses diesel to fire its mini-grids. The
fuel is readily available in local markets and runs in small
generators that are easy to operate and have fairly low capital
There are a handful of examples of large Western-based
companies tentatively entering the mini-utilities space in
developing markets, primarily using conventional energy
for power generation. In the late 1990s, Electricité de France
established a Rural Energy Services Company (RESCO) with
local partners in Mali, Morocco, South Africa, and more
recently in Botswana. Korayé Kurumba is one such partner.
A Malian company established in 1999 by shareholders
Electricité de France and Total, Korayé Kurumba 36 has used
diesel generators to electrify 15 villages and expects to add a
further 8 villages to the system in 2012. The firm serves 4,000
households or about 80,000 people (in this case, counting 20
people per household). Koryé Kurumba is preparing hybrid
solar PV-diesel power plants to reduce operating costs and
manage the volatility of fossil fuel costs.37 Nigeria’s Bonny
Utility Company (BUC) is supplied by excess power from a
modern gas-fired turbine operated by parent company Nigeria
Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). Established as part of
NLNG’s community value proposition or CSR efforts (see box
3.8), this gas-turbine-based mini-utility operation is a rare find
by most measures, because the capital costs run in the millions
of dollars, operations are advanced, and the fuel availability is
very specific to its location.
ABOVE: The co-owner of Cambodia’s Vihearsur Electrify
Enterprise with his generators (Credit: Castalia)
Box 3.7
Vihearsur Electrify Enterprise, Cambodia
Vihearsur Electrify Enterprise (VEE) was established in 2007 with $50,000. The partners knew
about generating power from running an ice-making business with its own generator. They had
seen mini-utilities operating in other towns in Cambodia and realized that such a business was
relatively simple to run and could offer steady, reliable revenue. The company has expanded to
supply power to 1,760 customers, 24 hours a day. The company plans to add another 2,000
customers over the next two years.
VEE’s customers pay around $8.44 for about 13 kWh of power per month. To put the cost in
perspective, households that are not connected to a mini-utility may face monthly charges of $20
to $50 a month. Kerosene for lighting could cost $3.50 to $4.00; dry cell batteries and car batteries
cost $5 to $7 for light only and $10 to $12 for light plus a small black and white TV. Cell phone
charging can cost $3 to $5 per month. Solar home systems or individual household generators cost
$30 to $50 per month in this village. Average income levels among VEEs customers are $400 per
month per household, or $13 per day per household.
Like most mini-utilities in Cambodia, VEE uses a monthly billing system. Users pay for metered
use at the end of the month. There is a charge of $50 for new connections. However, VEE will
finance 50 percent of the connection charge for one year at zero interest and offers $10 to help pay
for household wiring. In addition to price, key value propositions include the fact that villagers
want to watch TV, that students can study at night, and that private schools can operate at night.
Small businesses use power to operate a range of machinery.
Total investment in the business is now $250,000. Of this, $60,000 is funded with loans from
commercial banks (ACLEDA Bank, a local commercial bank loaned $50,000, with a four-year
tenor and a 13 percent interest rate; and ANZ Royal Bank loaned $10,000 with a two-year tenor
and a 12 percent interest rate per year). The Rural Electrification Fund provided $45,000 in
grants; this is in the form of a $45 connection subsidy paying for 1,000 new connections. The
remaining $145,000 is the shareholders’ equity investment.
The company sells 270,540 kWh per year at an average rate of $0.65 per kWh, for annual revenue
of $175,848. After expenses, including interest, the company’s profit is $40,956, a return on
equity of around 28 percent. To strip out the effect of the subsidy, it can be assumed that the
$45,000 in grant funding had instead been borrowed on commercial terms at 12 percent interest.
Interest costs for the year would have been $5,400 higher than they actually were, reducing net
profit to $35,556, for a 25 percent return.
BOX 3.8:
Bonny Utility Company, Nigeria
The Bonny Utility Company (BUC), a mini-utility operating
on Bonny Island in Nigeria, is remarkable in that it is a CSR
initiative that is transitioning into a financially sustainable
Taking advantage of a government decree allowing private
power generation and distribution, Nigeria Liquefied Natural
Gas (NLNG) signed a memorandum of understanding with
the local community and negotiated a contractual agreement to
supply power on the island. In the same spirit, the business is run
under an inclusive governance structure bringing together the
oil industry, local leaders and representatives, and government
officials. BUC offers customers a progressive tariff schedule
comprising six levels; there is a free basic allowance followed by
increasing energy charges as a function of consumption. As a
result, customers—who range from low-income households to
larger service sector businesses—receive an indirect subsidy of
from zero to 70 percent.
Contrary to market practice in many parts of the world, lowconsumption users are subsidized by heavy consumers, and not
the reverse. The utility uses prepayment metering and cashfree transactions to collect revenues. Customers—including
businesses—pay their bill in advance at one of several bank
branches in the vicinity, based on an estimated consumption
for the month ahead. Proof of payment need not be presented
to BUC’s front office, since end users receive a 20-digit token
directly from the bank teller, which is inserted into the meter. A
central system allows BUC to track usage and alerts operators of
any irregularities, and each connection is checked twice a year.
A back-up meter can check whether customers have attempted
to bypass the system. Nonpayments and irregular payments are
estimated at 1.3 percent.
Currently, BUC serves 9,300 customers (corresponding to about
75,000 people), essentially covering the entire island via its 50
kilometers of distribution network. Approximately 40 percent
of the company’s customers enjoy free service without buying
credits, a further 40 percent are small residential customers
paying up to $6.50 per month, and the remaining 20 percent
are commercial customers, who account for 70 percent of sales
owing to their higher tariff levels. The mini-utility earns an
estimated monthly revenue of $37,000. In 2010, the company’s
annual revenues were $500,000, but they are projected to
increase to $1.9 million by 2015.
A total of $6.5 million has been invested in modern facilities,
with connection costs of about $760 being a major cost driver.
This investment has provided five years of disturbance-free
operation for NLNG. There has been high local development
impact, with per capita electricity consumption increasing
from under 250 kWh per year to 960 kWh per year, a power
availability of over 98 percent, and nearly 200 full-time jobs
BUC has had to overcome several stumbling blocks on the road
to success, notably initially not consulting with or involving
the community in its design or otherwise giving them a
sense of participation and ownership, tolerating low levels of
professional management, and miscalculating both pricing and
demand. Lessons learned include:
1. Declare the venture part of the mother company’s core
Ensure that there is a champion of the project within
top management of the company; do not leave design of
strategic projects in the CSR department.
Ensure that there is adequate organizational support
and that other areas of the business are leveraged where
appropriate, for example, in gaining access to logistics
teams and in securing fuel supplies for the system.
Link community development to company management
and operational targets so that projects achieve both
financial and broader development objectives.
2. Plan to be in the game for the long term
Bring stakeholders along, even if they risk initially
slowing project implementation. Rather than rush the
process, ensure that project lead times are long enough to
accommodate it.
As part of a “shared social contract,” develop a sense of
ownership among stakeholders, build commitment to
ensuring their continued involvement over time, and
develop roles to help ensure that involvement.
3. Make clear agreements
Avoid ambiguous deliverables. List both what the business
venture will do and what is excluded. For instance, it will
provide electricity but not cooking fuels.
Do not cluster projects. Be explicit about individual project
components, what their objectives are, and how and when
they will each deliver against specific milestones.
Define a clear exit strategy. At what point and under what
conditions and to whom will the mother company spin
off the venture? What are the post-handover activities
that must be undertaken to maintain the operational
integrity, financial viability, and social and environmental
sustainability of the business?
Keep all communications formal and in writing.
Distribution & Sales
Mini-utilities generally use simple wiring systems to distribute power—without the need for a
transmission system—from the generation facility directly to household and business customers.
Distribution lines may be built out on poles that would not meet utility standards elsewhere. This
helps lower the cost of building infrastructure, but can also come with the downside of reduced
reliability and service standards. Given that loads are difficult to estimate and manage in a small
grid with little diversification, smart grid technologies can help manage loads more effectively and
improve overall performance, such as by prioritizing certain loads or sequencing them in “waiting
lists” so as not to overstress the grid. Research on such smart mini-grid applications is currently
under way in various places, including at TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) in India.
LEFT: Husk Power Systems power lines on rough overhead poles;
RIGHT: A Husk Power Systems biomass plant (Credit: Husk Power Systems)
Most mini-utilities distribute and sell directly to consumers or small businesses, but there are
exceptions. For example, DESI Power serves microenterprises directly but reaches households via
entrepreneurial intermediaries, rather than distributing directly to the microenterprises. These
retail suppliers purchase power from DESI and can set their own prices and collection schedule
with end users based on the services provided. Households are typically charged a daily rate of
about $0.10 for sufficient power to run a 60-watt bulb during evening hours. DESI’s business
customers are either charged on a per-kilowatt-hour basis or a set rate, for example $1.15 for an
hour of irrigation pumping, which is slightly below what they would pay for power from a diesel
Mini-utilities need to recover fi xed costs and achieve an acceptable rate of return, which makes it
critical to ensure that customers purchase sufficient volumes of power. Poor customers can typically
only afford a small number of appliances and therefore have limited electricity consumption, so
mini-utility companies use a range of strategies to achieve requisite sales volumes to make their
businesses viable. Philippines-based Power Source, for example, has an innovative approach that
it calls a “Community Energizer Platform.” This is a modular system in which one container
holds a generator while others house electric-powered equipment that can be valuable to the
community, such as water purification systems, communications (cell phones, computer, Internet,
fax), refrigeration, ice-making, and entertainment (a movie theatre and small video game parlor).
These modules both supply power to the community with limited distribution infrastructure, and
create the demand for that power by offering services that require electricity, and are considered to
be important for individuals or groups within that community.
Other mini-utilities have bolstered income by developing a more diversified revenue base. REPRO,
for example, supplements household billing income by feeding surplus power back to Rwanda’s
national utility. BUC in Nigeria has instituted one of the more sophisticated revenue models
by securing contracts with “anchor” commercial clients to help subsidize less profitable poorer
customers. The benefit of anchor clients is that they assure demand for the power generated,
allowing for better planning and growth. With larger customers providing the backbone of its
income, BUC is able to slash tariffs for low-consumption customers, many of whom pay little or
nothing thanks to its multitiered tariff system. HPS is diversifying its current business beyond
households to serve SME clients and, beyond power, is beginning to sell rice husk char39 and to tap
carbon payments, the latter of which is estimated to contribute about 5 percent of revenues today,
but which could account for as much as 50 percent of total sales by 2014.
Billing & Collection
Where ensuring that customers in extremely poor areas pay for the electricity that they consume is
a challenge, mini-utilities are innovating in how they bill and collect revenues, with good results.
Given the value of electricity to customers, most companies do not face major issues in collecting
revenues. Indeed, companies report that developing a close relationship with the community is
an important element of their business. Nonetheless, billing and collection approaches are being
designed with the BOP in mind.
For example, HPS started with a fi xed price model that enabled each household to run two 15-watt
compact florescent lights plus charge their mobile phones for 50 rupees, or about $1 per month. In
time, HPS adjusted its pricing model to reflect increasing fuel costs and to help optimize technical
systems by requiring that each household sign up for two 45-watt connections. The approach
allows each HPS mini-grid to be sized at 30 kW and, operating at 50 percent capacity, to serve
about 1,000 to 1,050 connections, which is the average size of its target communities. Customers
must also pay a connection cost of 100 rupees (about $2) to take the distribution network to their
homes, and purchase the light bulbs that they use. The unit cost to the end user is about $0.25
per kWh. A 1,000-watt package is also available for customers with greater needs, and is priced at
a significantly lower rate of $0.17 per kWh.
HPS has also introduced several methods to ensure bills are paid, including up-front collection of
payments by incentivized door-to-door collectors, who double as electricians. In addition, the company
has installed simple circuit breakers that switch off if a client’s load rises above their payment level
(these are a cheaper solution than installing meters). It is experimenting with low-cost meters in an
attempt to diversify its customer base to include industrial customers. HPS secures commitments for
household connections before starting operations in a new area, asking for a deposit of one to three
months’ consumption to ensure that customers are able to make payments. This is done either directly
by HPS or by local entrepreneurs who are recruited as quasi-franchise holders to invest in and run
individual networks.
Shared Solar is in the early stages of developing a pay-as-you-go micro-grid in Mali that allows customers
to buy even small amounts of electricity “on demand” using an automated up-front payment collection
system. Shared Solar installs a grid-quality 220-volt distribution network within a given community,
which can serve as a distribution network later when grid power arrives. In the interim, a companyowned solar source with battery backup is the basis for power generation (see figure 3.16). Customers
pay by purchasing scratch cards from local vendors and sending a text message with a single-use code
to the network operator. Tentative assessments indicated that users are willing to pay as high as $3 for
the first kWh each month, enough for cost recovery of the solar system.
Consumer Financing
Perhaps more than anything, connection costs often prevent poor households from benefiting from
decentralized power producers. The cost of connecting a customer to a mini-grid varies greatly,
depending on the distance that a wire must be extended, but can be significant. In Mali, for example,
RESCOs charge a deposit and connection fee of $45 to $378.
Solar System
Shared Solar
FIGURE 3.16: Shared Solar PV metering concept
Source: Shared Solar.
This also reflects the cost of public or community energy services, such as street lighting, provided
by the companies. Where available, government subsidies to broaden service can make a significant
difference in removing the major barrier of up-front costs.
There are a number of examples of subsidies being offered for mini-utility connections, with good
results. In Tanzania, $500 per connection, provided by a World-Bank-funded program and channeled
through the Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority, helps to cover network costs. As part
of the Cambodian government’s policy to expand access to electricity, all mini-grids in the country
now receive a $45 output-based subsidy (which is released once the mini-utility provides proof that the
connection has been made) for each additional residential customer connected. Many companies use
these funds to build out their distribution network further. VEE, however, has decided to pass this
subsidy on to the customer in the form of a reduced connection charge. The company yields a return
on equity of around 28 percent, or 25 percent if adjusted for the government grant.
This seems to make good commercial sense, especially given that total returns to equity are expected
to increase over the medium term because incomes in the area and power sales per customer are
rising faster than new investment required, and access to loan financing can be increased accordingly.
Arguably, VEE would be commercially viable even without grant funding, but the per-connection
subsidy makes it profitable to extend service to lower-income and more remote areas than otherwise
Mini-utilities: Key Success Factors in the Business Model
The key factors that determine the success of a mini-utility are tied to the operational efficiency of a
capital-intensive business and what it takes to replicate it. The three conditions are:
• Ensuring adequate demand for electricity
• Securing a low-cost primary energy source
• Developing the right operating model—and ensuring sufficient management expertise—to scale
the business beyond a handful of systems (see figure 3.17).
Reliable low-cost
primary energy
(fuel or
density and load
Design /
Sales &
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Corporate Finance
with technical
expertise and
business acumen
to scale
FIGURE 3.17: Key success factors in the mini-utility business model
Source: IFC analysis.
Carbon Finance
Ensuring adequate demand for electricity
Where there is high electricity demand in a tight geographic
area, a standard grid-based system can likely supply power at a
lower cost than any other energy service model. Similarly, miniutilities work best when communities are too remote to connect
to the grid, but have high population density. If customers are
located far from each other, or when usage per customer is low,
the cost per kilowatt per hour from a mini-utility increases.
Sufficient population density is therefore a key determinant
when deciding among energy options. Where communities
that are far from the grid have a high population density,
they may be most economically served by mini-utilities.40 As
the distance between houses increases, however, solar home
systems become more economical, because they do not require
a distribution system.
Beyond population density, income levels in an area also help
determine mini-utility profitability—but they do not need
to be very high to allow viable mini-utilities. No matter how
densely populated an area, if customers’ incomes are so low
that they spend very little on power or require limited power
for appliances, then mini-grids may not be the best option to
provide the energy services they need; devices are potentially
most realistic.
Encouragingly, as mentioned, incomes need not be very high to
allow mini-utilities to be viable, since a basic level of electricity
service can be supplied for less than $5 per month. VEE’s
customers, for example, which are typically households with
five or six people and which pay a little more than $8 per month
for power, have an average per capita income of $2.60 per person
per day. While the delivered cost of diesel varies significantly
depending on how remote a community is, VEE’s cost levels
are somewhat indicative of what could be achieved in many
places with equivalent population density. HPS’s lower variable
(fuel) cost allows it to sell power at around $2 per household per
month, so the company can serve households with much lower
income levels, increasing market size. The HPS cost structure is
harder to replicate, given the need for a specific feedstock, such
as rice husks, for production of biogas. But as shown in figure
3.13, other technology choices that might have higher capital
costs but little or no operating costs (such as hydropower, PV,
and wind) can generate power for under $0.33 per kWh or less
than $5 per month, assuming electricity consumption of 13
kWh per month for very basic service, as is the case for VEE.
There are essentially two types of mini-utilities—“lightingfocused” and “total electrification” types. Lighting-focused
mini-utilities, such as HPS and VEE, can estimate their load
curves relatively easily based on demand, making plants more
efficient. This might facilitate scalability but limits profitability,
since households are lower-profit, lower-consumption
customers. The total electrification operators, such as BUC,
DESI, and Power Source, aim to provide all the electrification
needs of an area. This allows for large baseload customers and
higher fees, but requires a greater amount of capital investment.
Commercial and productive demand can make a major
difference to the required load in an area, and hence to the
viability of a mini-utility. These include power consumption
from agriprocessing, trade, refrigeration, and communication
technologies. As mentioned, Power Source’s “community load
centers” create demand from small businesses. DESI Power also
focuses on the establishment of micro- and small enterprises
through two partner organizations.41 DESI is likely to focus
increasingly on establishing plants where there is already
sufficient demand for power.
Adequate electricity demand can also be secured through
offtake agreements with industrial anchor customers. Power
demand in many areas may not initially be enough to justify
investment in a mini-utility, even though demand may grow to
a level that allows it to be profitable after the grid is installed.
This paradox is a traditional justification for government
subsidy of rural electrification. A far better alternative is for
mini-utilities to set up new operations with offtake agreements
with industrial customers that will provide long-term demand
for baseload power.
BUC relies on a solid SME customer base for its operations.
DESI Power did not start operations this way but is collaborating
with the Rockefeller Foundation on a pilot project (SPEED)
designed to link their plants with mobile phone base stations,
so that tower demand would serve as the baseload. Though
still in the early stages, Andoya Hydroelectric Power Company
Limited, located in Mbinga Township some 1,000 kilometers
from the capital city of Dar Es Salaam, is one of the local
companies taking advantage of Tanzania’s attractive miniutility framework (see box 3.9) to capture all of these market
constituents. It takes advantage of a Standardized Power
Purchase Agreement, which was introduced by the energy
regulator to replace some or all of the rural diesel-based power
generated by national utility Tanesco with power procured
from private operators.
Box 3.9: Government policy drives mini-utility outcomes:
Encouraging private developers in Tanzania
To help meet Tanzania’s need for power, improve electricity access, and foster domestic private
sector investment in small clean power sources, the Ministry of Energy and Minerals developed
the small power producer (SPP) program in 2009. The detailed implementation rules and
guidelines were developed by EWURA (the Energy and Water Utility Regulation Authority)
with assistance from the World Bank.
These rules and guidelines encourage the development of renewable and cogenerated electricity
through a combination of standardized power purchase contracts, feed-in tariff (FIT) payments,
and streamlined interconnection and licensing requirements. The regulations provide the legal
basis for private businesses and individuals to interconnect renewable energy generators into
isolated mini-grids and to export excess power (up to 10 MW) to the national utility, Tanesco.
This provides additional revenues to those from local communities but also, importantly, creates
the demand needed for systems to be sized optimally.
Eligible projects must be at least 100 kW but no more than 10 MW. This means that, for example,
a 17-MW biomass SPP powered by sugarcane bagasse could participate in the program as long as
it uses at least 7 MW to power the host sugar factory and supplies a maximum of 10 MW to the
grid. Future revisions to the regulations, currently in early stages of discussion with EWURA,
may also create a category of very small power producers (VSPPs) with further streamlined
regulations for projects less than 100 kW.
Tanzania currently has two FIT levels for wholesale sales of electricity by SPPs. The tariffs are
calculated and paid in Tanzanian shillings (TSch). The first FIT is for SPPs selling electricity to
the national utility Tanesco’s main grid. It is differentiated by dry and wet season, and its current
average value for 2011 is 112.43 TSch/kWh (6.7 U.S. cents). A second, higher level is for SPPs
that sell electricity to one of Tanesco’s isolated mini-grids that currently receive electricity from
diesel generators. Its value for 2011 is 380.22 TSch/kWh ($0.23). Both FIT values are based on
annual estimates of different measures of Tanesco’s average avoided cost on the main grid and
on isolated mini-grids. At the time of writing, Tanzania appears to be the only country in SubSaharan Africa that uses the buying entity’s avoided cost to set FIT values. Elsewhere in Africa,
FIT values are based on estimates of the renewable generator’s technology-specific cost of service.
A third approach, based on structured competitive bidding, was announced in South Africa in
The result of these efforts has been a marked increase in interest on the part of private players
in developing mini-utilities in various parts of the country, some as cogeneration and others on
a stand-alone basis. One such developer, Andoya Hydroelectric Power Company Limited, is
profiled in Chapter 3.
Andoya will sell about 85 percent of its generation to the national utility, its anchor client. The
remaining 15 percent is distributed directly to about 1,000 households in three villages and to
other local businesses, like mobile phone base stations in the vicinity directly via its own minigrid. Operated by a local businessman whose ventures include milling and transportation, the
500-kW small hydro plant substitutes diesel use in the local utility mini-grid and businesses,
creating a win-win for all constituents. The developer gets preferential feed-in tariffs42 to recover
the investments while the customers reduce their current diesel-based power bill by more than half.
Securing a low-cost primary energy source
Securing reliable, low-cost primary energy is a major challenge for mini-utilities. If mini-utilities
can be commercially viable where population density and customer willingness to pay is sufficient,
what explains their relatively low penetration into this huge market? Part of the answer lies in
their ability to access reliable, low-cost energy sources for their power generation systems. Where
the terrain is suitable, run-of-river micro-hydro systems can offer a good—and essentially free—
resource. Solar and wind can also be reliable and result in low running costs. But mini-utilities
must ultimately make the trade-off between capital and operating costs, and these renewable
technologies are generally very capital intensive. The extent to which the primary energy can be
transported to, or stored for use at, specific sites is another consideration. While solar energy is
generally abundant in developing countries, wind resources are variable, and hydro energy much
more so.
While most companies opt for diesel fuel, biomass fuels are increasingly being explored as a
cost-effective option for mini-utilities. Biomass can be a reliable, low-cost fuel, especially when
it comes from crop waste. HPS’s rice husk fuel, a by-product of rice milling, has a low value in
alternative uses—currently it sells for about $22 per ton. At that price, its fuel costs amount to
$0.04 per customer per month. There is an increasing interest in rice husks as a fuel source in
Cambodia, too. Batdeong Electricity uses husks to make biogas, using a digester from Ankur
Scientific Energy Technologies in India. As a result, its fuel costs are estimated to be about 72
percent lower than diesel-fired VEE’s costs, also in Cambodia.
But biomass-based mini-utilities must manage their fuel supply chains and transportation
costs carefully to maintain profitability. Where its use is widespread, and demand for feedstock
increases, biomass price volatility can become an issue. For example, supply uncertainty and
price pressure could come from competition with animal feed producers and industrial energy
cogeneration, both of which can use crop waste. Or there may simply be an issue with suppliers
seeing more value in what was previously considered a by-product.
HPS saw rice husk feedstock prices rise about 35 percent in 2011 because it has not been able to
secure long-term contracts for reliable supply. HPS buys rice husks from cooperatives or from
centralized rice mills, which purchase them from local farmers in the mini-utility’s service area.
Indeed, the basis for establishing its plants in certain communities has been the availability of fuel
and a good informal relationship with producers. But, over time, the cooperatives and mills do not
necessarily continue to share the incentives of individual farmers that HPS supplies.
In addition, changes in the price of diesel can result in spikes in the transport costs for getting
the fuel to the plant. To manage both fuel supply chains and cost structures, biomass miniutilities may need to enter into long-term guaranteed contracts with cooperatives or other third
parties and build storage facilities to manage price volatility. Alternatively, they could consider
introducing flexibility in terms of the fuel options with which systems can operate. Finally,
developing proprietary plantations near their mini-utilities may also help to manage costs. DESI’s
gasifiers can run on a range of biomass including rice husk briquettes, sugarcane toppings, corn
cob, mango kernels, coconut shells, and woody biomass. To further control fuel reliability and
manage variable operating costs, DESI is also considering cultivating fast-growing wood crops on
its own plantations.43 HPS is beginning to use a mix of rice and wheat husk, and is also adjusting
its plants to use bagasse, sawdust, jute, and other biomass fuels.
“Interestingly, formal skills are not a key success
factor for most small power providers, but they do
become critical for mini-utility scale-up.”
Developing the right operating model—and ensuring sufficient
management expertise—to scale the business beyond a handful
of systems
Formal business skills are not a key success factor for most small power providers operating a single,
often diesel-fired, plant. Most mini-utilities are started by local business entrepreneurs with some
background in running a small company and in the operation of engines or electrical systems.
They often thrive when the entrepreneur has some basic business skills, technical knowledge, a
good understanding of the locality, and some capital of his or her own to invest. But, interestingly,
formal “utility business training” is not a key success factor for most small power providers.
A survey across Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya, and the Philippines found that only 20 percent
of small power system operators have a technical secondary school or university degree. Skills
development and capacity building are not major concerns for most small power providers.44 And
as with the VEE example, where small diesel systems are used, the technology is quite simple, and
the skills are not difficult to acquire.
Renewable energy, hybrid, or larger fossil fuel systems, however, require higher levels of technical
sophistication to operate smoothly, and entrepreneurs often benefit from focused training.
Training has contributed to the success of the Bonny Utility Company in Nigeria, which serves
over 8,000 customers. There, parent company Nigeria Liquid Natural Gas has implemented
a capacity-building program to train local entrepreneurs to take over operations from NLNG
employees within a given time frame. They have also built the distribution grid to conform to
international standards, and instituted a safety culture, leveraging the mother company’s expertise.
This is also true for mini-utilities with operations at several sites. HPS has realized that, in
order to scale-up beyond its 72 systems currently in place in Bihar to some 2,000 installations
across India and in parts of Africa, it must have a growth-oriented business model and a highcaliber management team to design and oversee a complex rollout. On the business model side,
it is exploring franchising. Under a franchise system, entrepreneurs would front a portion of the
capital for a mini-grid system and HPS would facilitate financing to cover the balance—through
its own books or by guaranteed bank loans—and would provide operational support. HPS is
receiving advisory support from IFC to help design information systems to manage a growing
span of control, and to develop a tailored training program for operators and mechanics to run
new plants. In tandem, it has invested almost $500,000 in a capacity-building venture called
“Husk University,” which aims to develop a cadre of entrepreneurs to efficiently run its systems
using a combination of classroom and on-site programs.
What is clear is that investment in strategy and formal management skills becomes critical for
companies that want to develop scalable business models—not an easy feat for most small power
producers. HPS, for example, is struggling to secure the capital needed to develop its franchise
approach because banks are simply not willing to take the risk on such an early-stage venture.
And while HPS is profitable at the plant level (see figure 3.18), corporate overhead costs are high
as a result of a fairly large, top-tier management team. Some companies—such as Electricité de
France in Botswana—are exploring approaches to addressing this challenge, but it is clear that
more needs to be done to help systems get to true scale.
Biomass mini-utility, India
Plant investment of $35,000
Revenue assumes sales of 20 kW
of total 32 kW capacity
revenue **
At $6,700 annually, operating
profit margin and unleveled
return on equity is 20%
(without subsidy)
Revenues allow equipment to
break even in 5 years assuming
18% discount rate
$, per 32 kW plant, annually
*Assuming 8 hours of operation per night and carbon trading price of $9/CER, 125 CERs per plant.
**From sale of biomass-related by-products.
32 kW plant adds $1,125. Adjusting for monitoring costs, revenue is about $1,000 annually.
FIGURE 3.18: Indicative cost structure of mini-utility, example from India
Source: Interview with company staff.
Key Success Factors in the Ecosystem Environment
Mini-utilities show promise for electrifying remote areas, but face fairly high capital investment
and are complex to operate; therefore, they require a broader supportive framework to do well.
The ecosystem conditions that are proving key for the success of mini-grid businesses are45:
• Being allowed to operate, and to do so in areas that are viable to serve
• Not facing onerous mini-utility licensing and permitting barriers
• Being allowed to charge tariffs that are commercially viable
• Accessing long-term debt and equity to support start-up and growth
• Accessing concessional financing to help cover connection costs, and sometimes other
capital costs (figure 3.19).
Design /
Sales &
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Setting mini-grid
tariffs at
com mercially
viable rates
Corporate Finance
mini-grids to
operate and do
so in areas that
are viable
onerous licensing
and permitting
Accessing longterm debt and
equity to support
start-up and
financing and
capital to cover
connection costs
FIGURE 3.19: Key success factors in the mini-utility ecosystem conditions
Source: IFC analysis.
Being allowed to operate, and to do so in areas that are viable to serve
More so than in the device space, the legal and regulatory contexts within which mini-utilities
exist are critical for financial viability. Simply put, mini-utilities should be allowed to operate and
to do so in areas that are viable to serve. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not always the case—in some
countries mini-utilities are not permitted. And, as discussed later, in others they are subject to
arduous regulations or non-cost-reflective tariffs. Where the right environment exists, profitable
businesses operating one or a handful of plants can typically be found, and are common in places
like Cambodia and the Philippines.
For most of the 20th century, the common approach to the regulation of all electricity distribution
systems was to grant exclusive rights to serve an area. The arguments for this approach appear
reasonable in principle: electricity distribution is a natural monopoly with economies of scale, so it
would not make sense to have multiple utilities supplying one area. Moreover, utilities rolling out
into areas that are costly to serve likely need assurance they will not suffer excessive competition.
Finally, the utility may need competition to be restricted in the urban areas in which they have a
presence in order to effectively cross-subsidize rural locations, with most profits made serving the
towns. This can work well. In Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Lucia, for example, utilities operating
under exclusive licenses have achieved universal electrification.
However, when a central utility does not have the incentives, cost structure, or capacity to
reach grid extension goals, exclusive or monopoly rights can be counterproductive. One or
more of these constraints may prompt a centralized utility to leave some communities without
electricity, while the law prevents any other enterprise—for example, a mini-utility from a
neighboring area—from serving those communities. In Indonesia, for example, the stateowned power company PLN has a constitutionally provided monopoly on power distribution.
Carbon Finance
Although PLN serves only 65 percent of the population, other companies cannot supply electricity to
the remaining third of the population without express permission from the company, which it has so
far withheld. Meanwhile, research commissioned by the World Bank shows that rolling out mini-grids
in a number of areas in Indonesia would be technically and commercially viable.46 Indeed, in countries
like Chile, which developed a national electrification program in the early 1990s, the lack of exclusive
distribution rights was an incentive for companies to participate in the market as a strategic move to
protect their existing distribution areas and reduce the threat of competitors entering certain areas.47
In the last decade, countries with significant areas unserved by the grid have relaxed previous legal
monopoly arrangements, allowing independent companies to offer varying degrees of services in the
concession areas. Appendix C provides examples, the most notable of which are India and Nigeria.
Exclusivity that lasts beyond a limited period will generally reduce, rather than increase, energy
access.48 Exclusivity is only necessary where there is a threat of competition, but this threat almost
never exists in reality. Electricity distribution networks are natural monopolies; once they are in place,
it is never economic to duplicate them. Conversely, allowing off-grid providers to operate in areas
notionally under a concession but not served by the grid can increase energy access and apply pressure
to operators to expand their grids where viable. Possible reasons for limiting competition might include
protection for cross-subsidies, or the promotion of economies of scale to lower costs in the medium
term. However, these goals can be achieved by offering exclusivity for a limited period—up to the
target date for the rollout, say.
Not facing onerous mini-utility licensing and permitting barriers
Mini-utilities thrive when they are free from onerous licensing and permitting barriers. Even where
mini-utilities are not blocked by exclusive franchises, they are still often stymied by onerous licensing
procedures and conditions. The Philippines is a case in point. The Electric Power Industry Reform Act
passed in 2001 contained provisions specifically intended to allow mini-grids to operate in unserved
parts of the country. However, it took until 2006 for the regulator to issue the necessary rules to
implement this provision. These rules included requirements for designation of unserved areas by the
authorities, followed by public hearings and a commission decision to allow a mini-utility to operate.
In the five years since the rules were promulgated, only one company (Power Source) has managed to
negotiate the regulatory red tape and become legally qualified to serve the market. The other microgrids remain illegal. As a result, they cannot access finance, nor can they grow or formalize their
operations, for fear of attracting attention from the authorities. In Kenya, the Energy Act 2006 provides
that energy undertakings with a capacity of less than 3 MW do not need licenses, only permits. This
is presumably intended to facilitate mini-grids. But the rest of the act makes little distinction between
licenses and permits in terms of requirements or procedure. (See box 3.10 for the example of Nepal.)
“Exclusivity is only necessary where there is a threat of
competition, but this threat almost never exists in reality.”
Box 3.10: Government policy drives mini-utility outcomes:
Community power in Nepal
Though different from Tanzania, Nepal is also an interesting case because over 2,000 micro-hydro
mini-utility installations deliver 85 percent of off-grid electricity supply to 14 million households
in a country that has one of the lowest rates of electricity use in the world (see figures B3.10a
and B2.10b). (About 17 million Nepalese have no access to grid supply, and these households
are predominantly rural.) This is a remarkable delivery of renewable off-grid electricity, and it
has been driven by government policy, starting in 1975, which has together with donor-funded
programs progressively promoted micro-hydro systems.
6 6
3 3
Ownership entities (%)
Households electrified in ‘000
19 19
Community involvement is
mandatory for subsidies
Houses electrified through micro & pico hydro
Installations of micro-hydro
Community Owned
No Response
FIGURE B3.10a Number of households electrified through
pico- and micro-hydro schemes
Privately Owned
FIGURE B3.10b Ownership of micro-hydro installations in Nepal
Source: IFC 2012; Intellecap analysis.
Source: IFC 2012; Intellecap analysis.
This success in delivering energy to rural areas has, however, provided limited commercial
opportunities for the private sector. The reason for this is that the design of policy drives remote
installations that supply homes (which mostly only require lighting) and does not emphasize the
relevance of baseload anchor customers for the success of operators. This, combined with a low
ability of end users to pay, high installation costs, and operational challenges (also common to
mini-utilities in other countries) has limited the opportunities for entrepreneurs. In addition,
policy design requires community involvement and specifies which technologies may be used for
companies to qualify for subsidies. The lesson to governments is that policy guides the outcome;
in this case, policy decisions have largely made private sector involvement in mini-grids inviable.
The success of mini-utilities in Cambodia and, increasingly,
India is attributable primarily to regulatory regimes that allow
them to exist. These examples provide models of regulatory
approaches that may be valuable for other governments that
would like local mini-grids to operate in unserved areas.
The first lesson from Cambodia is simply the value of removing
restrictions such as exclusive franchises, licensing, and tariff
regulation. Mini-grids started to operate in Cambodia soon
after the country’s civil war ended. Government capacity was
very low and unable to reach most of the countryside. In this
completely unserved and unregulated environment, people
started to buy generators and sell power to their neighbors.
Mini-utilities sprang up in many villages. Since those early
days, the regime in Cambodia has evolved to regulate these
enterprises, but with a light touch that allows the enterprises to
prosper and grow. Companies such as VEE and Batdeong are
now licensed by the Electricity Authority of Cambodia. The
granting of such licenses has allowed mini-utilities to borrow
from commercial banks. The Cambodian regulatory regime
also provides a framework that allows off-grid systems to
connect to larger utilities, purchase cheaper power from those
utilities, and then on-sell that power to their customers at a
regulated distribution margin.
India’s reforms offer a good model for those countries that
have working regulatory regimes they wish to preserve, while
simultaneously allowing mini-grids to serve communities
that lack power. In all fairness, Cambodia is an extreme case,
and there is no need to abandon all regulation to get minigrids working. What is essentially required is to legalize their
operations to put them on a sound regulatory footing so that
they can do the essentials, such as raising debt. India’s Union
Government Electricity Act of 2003 allowed mini-utilities to
operate without licenses in rural areas49 providing they comply
with safety standards. These reforms have encouraged firms to
start up, and should be replicated elsewhere.
Being allowed to charge tariffs that are
commercially viable
Mini-utilities are generally subject to tariff regulation intended
to protect the consumer. But, if set at inappropriately low
levels, this stifles the sector. In Nigeria, mini-grids are legally
allowed to operate, but need a license if they are over 100 kW
in capacity, and may charge no more than the regulated tariff
set for large distribution companies. While well intentioned,
this often makes it unprofitable to run smaller systems, which
invariably face higher costs and lower economies of scale than
the grid.
Clearly, mini-utilities should be allowed to charge commercial
prices to willing customers. There is a difference between a
newly established mini-grid company bringing power to an
area for the first time, and a utility that has been serving an
area for many years. When a service is provided for the first
time, customers have a genuine choice and will switch to the
new provider only if it offers better value for money than
their traditional solutions. In addition, in off-grid and minigrid situations, where power is typically used for very basic
applications such as lighting, operators compete not only with
kerosene lanterns but also with solar lanterns and solar home
systems. In Mali, the RESCOs are allowed to set their own
tariffs, walking the line between affordability for the customer
and allowing an acceptable rate of return for the supplier.
The risk that tariffs are set so low that mini-utilities become
inviable, preventing customer choice altogether, probably
outweighs any risks of monopoly profit. Why not allow the
market to determine what mini-utilities can reasonably charge?
Indeed, it seems odd to worry about the risk of monopoly
profits in an unelectrified rural area when the generally
accepted view is that these areas cannot be served profitably
at all. If the objective is expanded energy access, then allowing
mini-utilities to make profits so as to access capital, grow their
systems, and serve even larger populations would be a more
logical direction for policy.
“It seems odd to worry about
the risk of monopoly profits in
an unelectrified rural area when
the generally accepted view is
that these areas cannot be served
profitably at all.”
While the notion of unregulated mini-grid tariffs may seem unusual or even risky, it is reasonable
from an economic perspective. Regulation of prices is used for monopolies. But a mini-utility
entering a market is competing with many other energy sources besides the grid. And unregulated
tariffs not only help energy access, but also create a competitive price environment, which will
ultimately protect consumers.
Accessing long-term debt and equity to support start-up and growth
Mini-utilities are capital-intensive businesses requiring both equity and debt. Most struggle to
raise either. According to a World Bank survey,50 37 percent of small power providers across four
countries reported that access to finance was a severe or very severe business constraint, and 67
percent of small power providers rely on their own funds for investment. The entrepreneurs who
set up Cambodia’s VEE invested $50,000 of their own equity to start their business, an amount
that few entrepreneurs in developing countries would be able to match for a long-term investment
in a rural area. The Korayé Kurumbu and Yeelen Kura RESCOs relied on support from Electricité
de France, Total, and Malians living abroad to cover start-up costs.51
HPS is one of the few mini-grid companies to secure formal equity investment, but still it has
mostly financed its capital and operating costs from grants and some equity from the owners.
In 2008, HPS added three new power plants with $100,000 in winnings from business plan
competitions and grant funding from the Shell Foundation. In 2009, operations were expanded
to 19 power plants with $1.65 million raised from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, the Acumen Fund,
LGT Philanthropy, and IFC. Other examples remain elusive.
The ongoing success of mini-utilities will in large part be driven by the willingness of commercial
banks to provide debt. Most large utilities are financed by at least 50 percent debt, and similar
levels would probably make sense for more mature mini-grids, although few have managed to
access commercial finance. Those that have borrowed have benefited. For example, DESI Power
has a commercial loan from ICICI Bank, and VEE has debt from ANZ Bank. Their growth
would have been constrained without this capital. Meanwhile, Husk Power continues to struggle
to secure loans from local banks.
Accessing concessional financing to help cover connection and other
capital costs
Subsidies can help mini-utilities cover connection and other capital costs and accelerate penetration
into BOP areas by closing the “viability gap” (the shortfall between revenues that customers are
able to contribute and those needed for enterprises to be financially workable). Mini-utilities serve
marginally viable customers, are often located in hard-to-serve areas with logistical challenges,
and tend not to operate at scale. Subsidies can help offset the cost of connection, significantly
improving financial performance and allowing them to reach households in poorer areas than
otherwise would be the case.
Businesses in other sectors have realized that removing high up-front costs will increase growth
and profitability. In some countries, mobile phone companies routinely subsidize the handset
purchased by consumers by spreading the cost over time through user charges. The handset is
locked to a provider’s network, so the deal buys a customer relationship, too, and the provider
profits for years to come. Cable TV firms, similarly, often connect customers for little or no charge
in exchange for a multiyear contract. In the energy access space, there have been a number of
approaches to reducing up-front costs of solar home systems.
For mini-utilities, waiving the connection fee can increase the amount of capital required by as
much as 30 percent, and this is an area where targeted subsidies are being effectively channeled.
Even if the cost is spread over time, most mini-utilities cannot offer to connect customers for little
or no up-front payment; they are simply unable to finance such large capital outlays on their own.
Financial support for these connections from governments or development agencies can help.
These are offered in countries such as Cambodia and Tanzania and are successfully attracting
businesses to the mini-utilities space.
While it is perhaps harder to ensure that they are appropriately applied—and not, for instance,
used to keep an otherwise unviable business afloat—another approach involves subsidizing plants
with very high capital costs. Rwanda’s REPRO closed its viability gap with grant funding. Of
the (approximately) $350,000 needed to buy and rehabilitate the hydropower plant it acquired
from a failed donor-sponsored project, 32 percent was financed from owners’ equity, 18 percent
was borrowed commercially, and a grant from GIZ covered the remaining 50 percent. The grant
increased return on equity from about 8 percent to above 16 percent, making it commercially
Recognizing the role that they play in energy access, up to 80 percent of the capital costs of
hydropower, solar PV, and hybrid mini-utilities in Mali are paid by the national rural electrification
agency, AMADER, itself funded in large part by the World Bank. Also in Mali, but taking a novel
approach to sources of funds, Electricité de France’s model has built on financial assistance from
migrants living in France. As a “stakeholder” of unelectrified rural communities to which they
still had family ties, the Malian Diaspora community has helped to cover the unviable portion of
the Korayé Kurumbu and Yeelen Kura RESCO capital costs.
Nigeria’s BUC effectively uses subsidies in the form of CSR funds and in-kind contributions
from the oil and gas industry to cover its viability gap. The BUC project was created as a means
of securing a local “license to operate” on Bonny Island. The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas
operations of Shell and other joint-venture oil companies export natural gas from a strategic
terminal on the island, bringing value to both the initiator and the recipients. However, the high
capital costs associated with extending connections to households and businesses across the island,
coupled with the policy of not recovering these costs in full from end users, means that grants are
required to cover this particular part of the investment. BUC has almost achieved breakeven on
operations and maintenance, and has plans to increase tariffs to allow it to turn cash flow positive
by 2014. Given that it is providing a service that the community would otherwise likely not
receive, public sector concessional funding of connection costs could be justified.
Grid-based Electrification: Centralized Utility Approaches
Given its importance for long-term economic progress, ensuring sufficient low-cost, reliable
electricity is a government priority in both developing and industrialized countries. However,
unlike household-level devices and mini-utilities, the opportunity for private companies operating
on a purely commercial basis to make money from grid extension in low-income areas is fairly
limited. Almost without exception, governments are involved in the sector, through regulation,
finance, ownership, and subsidies. This is in part because, as a natural monopoly, electricity grids
are generally highly regulated. In addition, since the business of adding generation capacity and
extending connections for many miles into often remote areas (where the demand of poorer end
users is low and thus revenues limited) is highly capital intensive, returns on investment are low.
With capacity addition and connection costs being relatively expensive, grid supply is the leastcost option only when population density and per capita demand are reasonably high.
Because financial incentives are often required to encourage private participation in grid
extension, this section showcases a range of successful strategies adopted by both governments
and companies, often working together in public-private partnerships (PPPs), in various parts of
the world. While acknowledging the importance of policies and management of broader power
sector reform issues (such as cost-reflective tariffs, availability of sufficient capital to maintain
existing systems and add new infrastructure, and prudent management), we focus specifically on
tactics that have helped extend grid access to the poor.
Grid Extension: Business Models – How Companies are
Serving the Market
To achieve high levels of electrification in a short time, China, Morocco, South Africa, and
Vietnam have relied largely on public-sector-led programs, but their operational approaches have
varied. China’s electrification process, beginning in the 1950s, used a combination of centralized
and local grids to achieve about 95 percent electrification. South Africa went from less that 35
percent electrification to over 80 percent between 1990 and 2007, largely leveraging a single stateowned utility to deliver connections, but complementing this with off-grid solar home systems
delivered by private players. Morocco achieved 96 percent electrification through a combination
of grid extension and off-grid solar home systems. It financed the former with a combination of
end-user payments and local government subsidies, and direct investment by the utility that were
recovered commercially. Vietnam jumped from 2.5 percent electrification in 1975 to about 97
percent in less than three decades. Its program involved generation by the national utility and
local distribution cooperatives that retailed to communities as small as 1,000 people.
In many other countries, service contracts supported by smart subsidies have been the basis
for involving the private sector in grid-based electrification. Utilities operating in Chile and
Guatemala, for instance, have made strides in electrification on the back of PPPs and outputbased subsidies. Here, governments have auctioned off concession areas to private distribution
companies, giving them specific targets to increase coverage and providing a direct payment for
each connection made to cover the investment’s viability gap.
On their own initiative, distribution companies in Brazil, India, and Uganda have focused on
solving efficiency, distribution, and revenue issues linked to serving poorer customers. In these
cases, utilities have made progress in reducing technical losses and theft in urban slums and are
installing prepaid meters and other technologies. This improves service quality and reliability
and, at the same time, enhances revenue recovery, which means that they can often extend access
into unserved markets.
Figure 3.20 presents an overview of examples covered in this section. Many of these countries are
vertically integrated, working across the grid-based electrification value chain, from generation,
through transmission, to distribution and retail (figure 3.21).
Jamaica Public
Service Company
North Delhi
Power Ltd,
South Africa
FIGURE 3.20: Location of electrification entities profiled in this section
Source: IFC analysis.
Supply quality,
cost control, and
Design /
Adding capacity
requires bold
leadership, either
in the company
or in government
utilities build on
customers and
limit losses
Sales &
Prepaid meters
provide a
win-win for
utility and
Billing /
Utilities are
uniquely placed
to provide
finance for
connection costs
and more
Legal & Regulatory
Corporate Finance
PPPs are a good
way to finance
and operate
FIGURE 3.21: Grid extension – how companies are serving the market
Source: IFC analysis.
subsidies can
help utilities fill
the viability gap
Carbon Finance
R&D and Design
Extending grid power to the poor requires technical innovation to reduce connection and
infrastructure costs. Electricity utilities are not generally thought of as technical innovators. But
the reality is that extending grid power to the poor requires many practical breakthroughs to
reduce the planned cost per connection, and to minimize cost overruns over time. Morocco’s
Global Rural Electrification Program (PERG) was started in 1996 by the incumbent utility, ONE,
and targeted universal electrification by 2008. Following fairly slow progress on electrification
undertaken in a previous public-sector-led national electrification effort, ONE looked at ways of
innovating to keep the program on track financially and operationally. ONE began by undertaking
a detailed mapping—using geographical information systems—of all unelectrified areas in the
country. It developed an electrification master plan that specified which households in 40,000
villages could reasonably be connected to the grid, and which would need to be served using offgrid systems (for example, solar home systems and mini-hydro). Thereafter, it focused on lowering
installation costs. For example, it cut about 30 percent of infrastructure costs by reducing the
maximum height of poles, using post-mounted substations, and streamlining eligibility criteria
for contracted construction companies.
Several utilities around the world have leveraged technical innovation to improve efficiencies and
to reduce commercial and technical distribution losses. The use of smart meters, in particular,
has shown potential, as demonstrated by Ampla, the distribution company in Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. And while most of South African utility Eskom’s success can be attributed to the policy,
institutional, planning, and financing issues discussed below, innovation also played an important
role in its activities. Charged with delivering on a government decree to achieve universal
electrification, but facing financial constraints, Eskom had to think creatively about how to
viably extend its grid. Initially it focused on supply-side, quality-driven technology optimization
through, for example, research into the impact of lightning strikes on overhead distribution lines.
Later it saved money by adopting technology more suited to typical customers, including prepaid
electricity meters and single phase lines, which significantly reduced capital costs. Improved
processes played a role, too, including greater use of decision-making tools, adoption of new
financial evaluation methods, computer-based asset management, and software for feeder design.
Sufficient generation capacity is a critical prerequisite for extending the grid to unserved areas
in such a way as to truly increase access to reliable electricity; however, this can be a challenge
for many developing countries. In Vietnam, for example, the government coupled its resource
blessings (large hydro potential and coal) with a determination to build generation capacity
that could—and did—reach the whole nation. In Sri Lanka, renewable energy feed-in-tariffs
encouraged small grid-connected hydropower development. But many countries do not have
sufficient power plant capacity to serve currently connected populations, let alone new ones that
might be connected. Any capacity added to the network would likely be consumed by existing
customers that require more electricity than is currently available, leading to a situation where
newly connected customers receive “rationed,” unreliable power.
More often than not, there is little incentive to add new capacity to the system. In countries where
the utility lacks capital to install new capacity, there are usually other systemic issues.
These generally stem from the inability of the utility to recover
costs. This might be due to weak transmission and distribution
infrastructure that leads to high technical losses and a
corresponding decline in revenues. Equally, it could be due to
commercial losses, where the utility cannot recover the cost of
power consumed from customers for various reasons—both
political and practical. Whatever the reason, this undermines
the ability of the utility to finance new generation capacity. The
problem is particularly pronounced in countries with a vertically
integrated monopoly, where a (mostly) state-owned company is
responsible for generation, transmission, and distribution, with
limited transparency into the overall system. But liberalized
systems, where generation is split from distribution, are not
immune to capacity challenges. In these instances, firms on
the generation side often have reduced incentive to invest in
capacity due to high credit risks associated with electricity
offtakers (typically distribution companies that cannot collect
the revenues they are due).
Both South Africa and Vietnam built their grid extension
plans on the back of solid industrial use, and in both cases it
was central to their success. South Africa has a very energyintensive economy, primarily driven by the manufacturing
and mining sectors. This provided sufficient long-term sales
revenue to finance investments to improve energy systems
and to cross-subsidize rural access. Vietnam’s government was
determined to provide rural access. But it first built capacity for
its rice production sector, where the provision of grid electricity
increased revenues for rice producers. This fueled growth of
the rice sector, creating more customers and in turn helping
to finance grid extension. The result was a double win since
Vietnam is today the world’s second-largest rice producer and
has nearly universal electricity access. Industrial customers
offer relatively reliable cash flows from power sales, especially
in sectors where the returns to investments in electrification
are particularly high. Using these customers to cross-subsidize
lower-income consumers appears to be one of the most practical
and effective tactics used to extend electricity access.
So, while we see limited activity in the generation designed
expressly to improve energy access for the poor, it is clear
that improving electrification requires both state utilities and
independent power producers to add capacity to meet current
and future system needs, including load growth from new
connections. Policymakers can play an important role here
by helping these companies improve their revenues. Setting
distribution companies on a sound footing by helping to
improve their collection rates ensures that electricity retailers
are in a position to recover the cost of power purchased from
generators, and that these generators get paid for the power they
sell, so are incentivized to build. In many countries, this is a
highly political issue, since few governments want to be seen
to encourage a “pay-or-disconnect” policy. But there are some
Eskom’s ability to add generation capacity, for instance (while
certainly made easier by access to local low-cost coal, skills, and
capital) was considerably helped by an independent leadership
in the 1980s and 1990s that managed to free itself enough
from government influence to chart its own course.52 Another
approach is to use power purchase agreements, often backed
by government guarantees, to encourage capacity additions.
While not without its issues, notably a significant potential
burden on public finances, especially if other fundamental
market and sector reform issues are not resolved, this approach
has been successful in attracting significant new generation
infrastructure in India, Kenya, Mexico, and Thailand.
Transmission, Distribution, and Sales
On the transmission and distribution side, system losses, through
power theft or nonpayment, and technical inefficiencies, can
be as high as 40 percent in some countries and have become
a significant barrier to the extension of service into unserved
areas. Ironically, dealing with the problem blocks access in the
short term (when nonpaying consumers are cut off) but is vital
to long-term extension of access because high losses prevent
investments in power generation and grid infrastructure.
To tackle the problem of commercial losses in the distribution
system, a mix of technical, business model, and corporate social
responsibility ideas have been employed. The Jamaica Public
Service Company (JPSCo), for instance, has been adapting
ideas from Brazil to stop power theft in low-income areas in
inner-city Kingston by using insulated connections to homes
to prevent the traditional method of throwing another line over
the noninsulated connection and drawing power illegally.
The company has also introduced remotely readable meters, which are connected wirelessly to a
screen inside the house for the household to keep track of its consumption. In addition, meters
and connections for a group of households are in a single pole-mounted enclosure that shuts
down entirely if interfered with. This prevents tampering—often through social pressure. The
utility also runs a community campaign that includes information sessions, public education,
and the establishment of neighborhood offices to make it easier for residents to sign up for legal
connections and access qualified assistance for legally rewiring their homes (see box 3.11). Similar
approaches have also helped Ampla in Brazil to reduce losses, by double-digit percentages in some
India’s North Delhi Power Limited faced similar problems when it was formed, and invested
in regularizing customers through a consumer group dedicated to serving families in very lowincome areas. To manage losses, North Delhi Power Limited’s (NDPL’s) “Special Consumer
Group” works with communities to raise awareness about the need to connect to the power
system legally, build legitimacy, and make bill payment easier. To increase ability to pay among
these communities, NDPL, which is 51 percent owned by the Tata Group, has also developed a
limited number of vocational training courses to help increase customers’ income, and offers basic
life insurance as an incentive to families that keep up with bill payment.54 Realizing the value of
such payment incentives, Eletropaulo in Brazil offers analogous services, such as free Internet
access in sponsored community centers to customers who pay their bills on time.
Type of illegal and unsafe connections that plagued a Brazilian utility before their successful
intervention to prevent theft (Credit: Hans de Keulenaer)
Box 3.11: Case studies on reduction of nontechnical losses –
Jamaica’s sole vertically integrated utility, Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo), serves
approximately 582,000 customers across the island nation. Since privatization in 2001, JPSCo has
struggled with persistent and growing electricity losses. Beginning in 2002, metered residential
consumption began to decline as nontechnical (commercial) losses rose steadily, indicating a
widening problem of illegal connections. By the end of 2009, total system losses were almost 24
percent. More than half were attributable to electricity theft.
To tackle theft of power, JPSCo has been creative in using both internal expertise and international
best practice to develop an electricity loss reduction program that both deters power stealing
and addresses the culture of nonpayment that has flourished in low-income areas like inner-city
Kingston. With a newly organized loss control department staffed by almost 300 employees,
the company began to focus on residential customers in the identified “Red Zone” areas where
losses were above 30 percent of electricity supplied. These communities and informal settlements
accounted for an estimated 85 percent of total nontechnical losses. The program that developed
was named the Residential Advanced Meter Infrastructure (RAMI).
RAMI projects are composed of an integrated package of outreach and technical offerings for
local communities, including consensus building among various local stakeholders, maintaining
a local presence at work sites, and sponsoring outreach campaigns to raise customer awareness
and provide education about electricity bills and consumption. The utility also runs a community
campaign together with the government. This includes information sessions, education through
churches and schools, and the establishment of neighborhood satellite offices to encourage
residents to sign up for legal connections. Residents who volunteer to have their houses safely and
legally rewired are eligible for financial assistance, including a four-year interest-free loan from
Once consumers are regularized, billing at full cost is gradually introduced. During the first month,
residential bills are 100 percent subsidized to allow the customers to evaluate their electricity use.
Subsidies are gradually removed over several months. As consumers become customers, outreach
workers go door to door to answer billing questions and educate communities about efficiency
In addition, JPSCo targets illegal connections through a variety of technical strategies, including
automated metering, theft-resistant distribution networks, ongoing customer audits, and effective
maintenance and controls. In some pilot neighborhoods, meters and connections for a group of
households are put in a single pole-mounted enclosure that is programmed to shut off entirely
if the enclosure is breached. This has been successful at preventing tampering, a problem often
exacerbated by social pressure.
While still in the early stages, JPSCo reports that the program is succeeding both in returning lost
revenue and increasing its legal consumer base. Despite challenges and barriers to implementing
the RAMI programs, the company estimates that the investment return from Red Zone
interventions can be over 200 percent.
Companies in other grid-connected sectors including water and communications have also
offered incentives to reduce theft and nonpayment. Manila Water, a successful private water
utility, implemented a “Full Circle Approach,” which sought to expand micro-businesses by
including them in its own supply chain, supplementing residents’ income, and helping them
pay their monthly bills. Some mobile operators are looking into ways to provide some degree of
community service and free cell phone charging (which also increases revenues to the operator
from increased cell phone uptake and, thus, talk time) in remote areas. These include MTN
and Airtel operating charging kiosks in Kenya and Uganda, respectively; rooftop solar-based
power provided by Orange for a clinic in Niger; China Mobile with a mini-grid operation in
Sichuan province; and several Safaricom sites across Kenya, providing street lighting, power for
community centers, and mobile charging. Such approaches are often designed to help engender a
sense of ownership, so that the community takes responsibility for protecting infrastructure, such
as meters, water connections, and telecom base stations.55
Focusing on the more complex issue of land tenure in the Indian state of Gujarat, the Ahmedabad
Electricity Company Limited has experimented with formalizing household titles as a means of
increasing slum electrification. Working together with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation,
the Gujarat Mahila Housing Trust, and other public sector partners, the Ahmedabad Electricity
Company Limited (AEC) introduced subsidized connections, funded in part by USAID and AEC
but with a significant payment from the end user. This, together with the issuing of a noneviction
certificate to each household for a period of 10 years by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation,
provided them with both the basis on which to secure a connection and a financial incentive to
do so. Local NGO partners mobilized the community, building trust and raising capital for the
grid extension effort. During its pilot phase from 2001 to 2004, the project connected about
700 households. It has since scaled-up significantly, without public support, and has successfully
electrified about 700 slums, reaching over 200,000 households.56
Billing and Payments
Nonpayment of electricity bills is an important concern for many companies in the energy access
space, mainly due to the low and volatile incomes of poor families. It is not that people do not
want to pay; rather, poor families have difficulty saving up enough cash to mirror the monthly or
quarterly billing cycles typical of utilities. The challenge of lump-sum payments is demonstrated
by the continuing popularity of kerosene for lighting (a more expensive, less efficient, and highly
polluting fuel) in grid-connected low-income households, since kerosene can be bought in small
volumes, allowing people to manage their energy expenditure more easily.57 The outcome is a
no-win situation, because when families sign up for grid power but then fall quickly into arrears,
utilities are discouraged from serving poor areas. Meanwhile, those same households may face
disconnection, and are further penalized by additional charges (disconnection, reconnection fees)
and a long wait for service to be restored, so they in turn begin to resent the utilities and may turn
to expensive informal suppliers.
Utilities such as Dominica Electricity Services Limited (DOMLEC) and Umeme, a privately
owned Ugandan electricity distributor (and IFC investee), are solving these problems with
prepayment meters. Like prepayment for mobile phones, the customer buys widely available
tokens, each with a unique code. The code is entered into the meter to credit the account and
supply power. When credits run out, the account is not disconnected, but the electricity ceases, to
be started again when the customer again has cash available. When prepaid meters are introduced
in areas previously served by traditional meters, this can be politically difficult for utilities.
Thus, such programs are mostly complemented with public education campaigns that explain
the relationship between nonpayment and weak electricity service, and demonstrate a clear link
between the introduction of prepaid meters and improved service, and grid extension.
DOMLEC, a private company,58 has used prepayment meters to cut billing costs and reduce
average collection days, and is planning a full rollout. The company introduced the system after
rising fuel prices pushed up the cost of electricity, with a subsequent increase in nonpayment
of bills and a hit to the company’s cash flow. The new meters display not only the amount of
electricity used, but also how many kilowatt hours a consumer has remaining in the account.
This information is easy to read and helps households plan and budget their electricity use. The
utility reports that the system has been popular with customers because it prevents disconnection
and reconnection fees. In addition, DOMLEC spends less trying to collect on defaulted accounts
and saves on billing and administrative costs. Midway through the full rollout of the new meters,
average collection days had dropped 40 percent. The company now plans to expand the program
with full rollout during 2012.
Umeme has also been piloting prepaid meters for its operations, and plans to spend $100 million
installing them across the country. The utility cites the same advantages as DOMLEC, in
particular lower administrative and bad debt costs.
Ahmedabad Electricity Company has used strategically placed bill collection units and collection
vans to improve its billing system. Slum households receive monthly bills—as opposed to
bimonthly invoices issued to other customers—while collection relies on a combination of
strategically placed bill collection units, located in community organization offices, civic centers,
post offices, gas agency offices, and mobile collection vans.
Consumer Financing
New approaches to consumer financing are also emerging, particularly around connection fees.
Traditionally, utilities charge customers for new connections, and these up-front charges can
often be prohibitive for poor consumers. Many families could in theory afford a monthly power
bill commensurate with their current spending on fuel, but not a large up-front connection fee,
which can easily run in the hundreds of dollars, even in urban areas. A number of utilities around
the world have broken with the traditional practice of connection charges in order to increase their
customer base and, consequently, boost access.
Philippines-based Cagayan Electric Power and Light Company
(CEPALCO) illustrates that waiving the connection fee can
work. CEPALCO is an electricity distribution utility serving
the City of Cagayan de Oro—a small town in the Mindanao
region of the Philippines—and the surrounding municipalities.
It makes it easy for new customers to connect by waiving the upfront connection fee and asking for a deposit on the first month’s
bill before recovering the cost of connection through the sales
of power to all connected customers. CEPALCO has grown
strongly, from serving 750 customers when it was founded in
1952, to a base of 100,000 customers in 2012. It now serves
96 percent of the households in its franchise area.59 Of course,
not charging for the connection increases the amount of capital
invested in the company. However, provided the investment
is earning a return, in this case through enabling faster
connection growth, this need not be a problem. CEPALCO
has always been able to attract private equity and debt finance
sufficient to meet the company’s growing needs because of its
overall performance, including consistent profitability.
Codensa Hogar in Colombia has shown not only that power
distribution companies can successfully provide finance to
low-income customers, but that this ability may actually
represent a valuable hidden asset. Colombia’s Codensa, the
private utility supplying the capital Bogotá,60 leveraged its
consumer information and utility bill payment track records to
create a separate financing arm—Codensa Hogar—to provide
customers with consumer financing. Codensa Hogar offers
credit cards to Codensa customers, 60 percent of whom have
no bank account and 35 percent of whom live on $2 or less
per person per day. Codensa Hogar’s clients mostly use their
new credit lines for purchasing electrical appliances, which of
course spurs demand for power. Indeed, the consumer credit
business line quickly became more profitable than Codensa’s
core business, generating 7 percent of company revenue and 9
percent of its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and
amortization in 2008. In 2009, Codensa sold the business for
$290 million to Multibanca Colpatria, which now provides the
balance sheet to finance the further expansion of the business,
while the company retains the role of marketing to its customers
and collecting payments from them.
Codensa Hogar was successful because a utility is in a unique
position to overcome the challenges of delivering finance to
low-income markets. The utility already has infrastructure
for sending bills, and the incremental cost of adding other
financial transactions is low. This is not dissimilar from the
approach taken in the device segment of the market, where
the distribution channel itself has become an asset for many
companies. Cookstove players with strong distribution
networks are starting to cross-sell lanterns, and vice versa, and
microfinance institutions are used as a means for selling energy
products to borrowers. In this case, Codensa has a database of
information relevant for credit-scoring, including repayment
records. The question is how this asset can be used; knowing
where the customer lives, and being able to cut off power in the
event of nonpayment, makes enforcement easier.61
Corporate Finance
PPPs involving public financing that subsidizes private
investment have a good track record in extending the grid,
connecting customers at a higher rate than national utilities.
For example, North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL) was born
from the privatization of Delhi’s power distribution company.
The local government wanted to lessen subsidy spending and
improve service quality by reducing system losses.62 Crucially
for access extension, privatization was accompanied by
subsidies and regulation reform. Distribution operations were
divided into three companies, each covering part of the service
territory, and bids were sought from private firms that would
acquire 51 percent of the shares in each company, and operate
and control the company. The government subsidized the price
of bulk power for five years to give the private companies time
to turn around the loss-making operations, without leading to
massive rate increases that would have led to a public outcry.
NDPL was the joint venture formed between Tata and the
government to manage one of the areas. Since its formation in
2002, NDPL has almost doubled connections to 1.2 million,
much of this through grid extension, and has regularized
connections in slum areas. Importantly, since privatization, it
has also been able to attract financing. Total capital investment
in the company since 2003 is over $610 million.63
Guatemala’s rural electrification concessions have succeeded in
extending access by combining a well thought out package of
sector reforms, private management and finance of the utility,
a concession contract, and output-based subsidies for new
connections. In 1999, Guatemala privatized its rural power
distribution companies through a concession, which was won
by Spanish utility Union Fenosa Internacional. The contract
required Union Fenosa to connect at zero cost all customers
in the area who wanted service, provided they were within
200 meters of the existing distribution grid. The government
then established the Rural Electrification Program to extend
the distribution network to 2,633 communities beyond the
200-meter limit, by providing an Output-Based Aid subsidy
of $650 per connection. This payment funded the rollout
of the network to unserved communities and encouraged
the company to deliver on policy goals. The combination of
privatization with the incentive-based connection subsidies
in the rural power sector has led to a more than doubling of
connections to 810,000 within 10 years. The company is also
profitable: in 2009 it reported earnings before income, tax,
depreciation, and amortization of $45.5 million.64
In Chile, a concession-based PPP was used to attract private
sector investment to electrify about 240,000 unserved
households, primarily through grid extension. In the mid1990s, about 50 percent of Chile’s rural population was
electrified compared with 97 percent in urban centers. The
government established an electrification fund designed to
provide a one-time payment or viability gap subsidy on the
capital costs of private companies connecting rural customers
to the network. No subsidies were offered to cover operational
costs. Competition was encouraged by requiring companies to
propose electrification projects to regional governments, which
allocated financing to the operator largely based on the lowest
cost to serve. Regional governments, in turn, would receive a
fiscal allocation from the central government based on their
connection rate, so were incentivized to select high-performing
companies to deliver services.65 The Government of Chile’s
program was in part funded through concessional loans from
the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Over the decade that it was operational, the program achieved
almost universal rural electrification, and is considered a good
example of subsidy allocation.
The Government of Senegal has also opted for a concession
contract approach rather than privatization to extend grid
supply through its Senegal Rural Electrification Concessions
program. In 2004, it divided the unserved parts of the country
into 10 rural electrification zones then bid out contracts over
time. Contractors have to meet connection quotas, which
require that they build, finance, operate, and maintain a
new rural distribution utility. The government subsidizes
capital costs per new connection, given that much of the area
cannot be served commercially. By covering the viability gap
inherent in grid-based electrification for poor communities, the
subsidy has attracted private capital to the table, including an
investment of $400,000 by IFC. This use of Output-Based Aid,
combined with competitive tenders, should yield the maximum
extension of access for any given level of public funding.66
The concession contract design is technology-neutral, which
allows the concessionaire to decide which mix of technologies
makes best commercial sense in which areas, and also provides
for certain off-grid targets to be met, for example, with solar
home systems. The first concession was awarded to ONE,
the Moroccan utility, in 2007/08, and covers 15 percent of
Senegal.67 It will be contractually bound to provide over 19,000
connections—13,000 grid connections, and 6,000 solar home
systems. Thirty-five percent of the capital costs will be provided
by a government grant.
Grid Extension: Key Success Factors in the Business Model
To extend access to electricity in a commercially viable manner, companies must be creative with
their business models. In addition to the basics of long-term capital, skilled and motivated staff,
reliable sources of low-cost primary energy, and modern management systems, the business model
must have the following three additional factors, which are key to the successful operation of
companies extending the grid into low-income areas:
• Public-private partnerships, which have proven to be highly effective
• Management of payment risk and prevention of theft
• Provision of flexible payment terms to customers (see figure 3.22).
Design /
Sales &
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Corporate Finance
Public private
model for
financing and
Carbon Finance
payment risk and customers with
flexible payment
FIGURE 3.22: Key success factors in the grid extension business model
Source: IFC analysis.
Public-private partnerships, which have proven to be highly effective
Almost all examples of grid-based electrification business models have involved a PPP with some
degree of capital subsidy to attract private investment. Governments have most often awarded
contracts with legally binding coverage targets and quality-of-service requirements. This
sometimes comes with public financing to help cover the cost of such obligations. This subsidy
is most often allocated on the basis of the lowest-cost but highest-quality service offering, and is
applied to cover the viability gap on capital but not operating costs. Fundamentally, the design
of the PPP, combined, of course, with other ecosystem success factors, should be viewed as a key
operating success factor for most grid extension businesses.
At their best, PPPs combine the finance and management capacity of private capital with carefully
designed subsidies, regulations, and contracts to ensure that public objectives are achieved. A
rigorous 2009 study looked at data on 250 electricity companies across 50 countries.68 The study
found that utilities that had been privatized, or which operate under PPPs, extended access more
rapidly than publicly owned utilities. The biggest increase in access occurred among public
companies privatized through concession contracts. These companies increased residential
connections at a rate 21 percent higher than their publicly owned counterparts. The NDPL
example above is a good illustration of this.
Management of payment risk and prevention of theft
Because weak revenues are the biggest deterrent to investments along the grid extension value
chain, companies need to reduce power theft and improve collection rates to maximize viability.
This may be done by using smart technologies such as prepaid meters.
However, companies should also build a social contract with communities to encourage legal
connections. Leveraging CSR programs to encourage willingness to pay within a community
can help—especially when they offer services that customers value, such as Internet facilities or
life insurance, as has been the case with NDPL. Some firms have succeeded in developing more
symbiotic relationships in their BOP service areas by explaining the link between theft and higher
rates or frequent power outages (for technical and financial reasons), and the impact of losses on
grid expansion.
“Utilities that have been privatized, or which
operate under public-private partnerships, extend
access more rapidly than publicly owned utilities.”
Provision of flexible payment terms to customers
It is crucial that firms find ways to help poor customers keep up with electricity consumption
bills when income is low and volatile. Prepayment meters can help to expand access by cutting
administrative costs and bad debts, thus enhancing profitability. And by making payment easier
for customers, reducing the risk and cost of disconnection, they have an additional benefit of
encouraging demand.
As utilities adopt prepayment meters, opportunities to innovate further are likely to grow. For
example, electricity companies could partner with phone companies to accept their scratch cards.
This has the potential to further reduce costs and increase the convenience of the prepayment
system. The meters could be enabled for mobile phone communications, allowing families and
friends to pay an electricity bill by sending an SMS message transferring credit, as is commonly
done between mobile phone accounts in developing countries. This could increase sales for the
utility and also increase energy access, because better-off relatives would be able to cheaply and
remotely pay the electricity bill of relatives in rural areas. Perhaps electricity will start to be sold as
part of a “quintuple play” along with mobile, fi xed wireless, broadband Internet, and pay TV by
companies that are already bundling the other four services, like Dialog in Sri Lanka. Or maybe
electricity companies will start selling “microcredits,” for as little as U$0.25 worth of power at
a time, like Idea Cellular has done with mobile talk time to drive its penetration of the rural
telephony market in India.69
Smart metering could even be used to offer special “low-price power deals” to poor users when
there is excess capacity, or to give low-income customers additional credit for reducing their
demand during peak times when power cuts might otherwise be a risk.
Grid Extension:
Key Success Factors in the Ecosystem Environment
The right ecosystem environment is even more crucial for successful grid extension than for devices
or mini-utilities, given the key role of policymakers in ownership, subsidies, and regulation. In
many countries, regulatory barriers can prevent private utilities from reaching unserved areas,
while enabling regulatory conditions are needed for public-private partnerships to flourish. The
key success factors for ecosystem conditions are, therefore:
• Removing regulatory limits on service areas
• Allowing flexibility in tariff regulation
• Removing restrictions on supplying informal settlements
• Financing the connection of the end user, including through smart subsidies (see figure 3.23).
Design /
Sales &
Billing /
Legal & Regulatory
Removing limits
on service areas
Corporate Finance
restrictions on
Flexibility in
tariff regulation
and universal
service funds
Smart design of
Finance the
connection of
the end customer
FIGURE 3.23: Key success factors in the grid extension ecosystem environment
Source: IFC analysis.
Removing regulatory limits on service areas
Removing expansion limits for utilities can be an important factor in extending the grid. In the
Pacific Island country of Vanuatu, for example, UNELCO, a subsidiary of France’s GDF-Suez,
provides power in just four locations throughout the archipelago.70 Within its concession areas,
the electrification rate is nearly 100 percent, while outside it is just 7 percent. The areas outside the
concession are uneconomic to serve—the terrain is mountainous, the population dispersed, and
incomes low. But even if it wanted to, it is actually illegal for UNELCO to provide service outside
very small, defined districts. As the economy grows, more people and businesses are seeking power
and are able to pay for it—a number of them located outside the area the company is permitted
to serve. It is difficult to fathom why the only professional power provider in the country should
be legally prohibited from meeting this demand—especially when the government has no other
comprehensive or operational plan to provide service outside the concession areas.
Carbon Finance
Another option is to allow concessions to provide a monopoly for grid power, but then to open up
competition in the off-grid and mini-grid power supply. From the outset, Vietnam followed this
path, allowing mini-hydro systems to operate in hard-to-reach areas, even if these were technically
part of a concession but not being served by the grid. Later, when the grid reached them, these
previously isolated systems connected to it or, alternatively, stopped operating. Today, over 50,000
households are still electrified by such installations. This scenario can also be observed in the
Philippines and in a handful of other countries.71 Governments have been removing regulatory
restrictions on mini-utilities. Logically, then, they could advance access by also allowing utilities
that want to extend their grids outside their defined service areas to do so, where appropriate, with
a minimum of regulatory hassle.
Removing restrictions on supplying informal settlements
Restrictions on supplying informal settlements in developing countries also hinder the extension
of energy access. To discourage squatting, utilities are often banned from serving people living in
slum areas and urban peripheries because dwellers do not have legal titles to the land.
In areas as diverse as Jamaica and the Indian National Capital Territory of Delhi, governments
have managed to decouple utility supply from land title through simple legal changes. This has
not been without debate, of course, but in both cases new rules make clear that the utility is
allowed to supply any willing customer in the service area, and that legal supply of power does
nothing to confer land title or government authorization of the dwelling. As a result, privately
owned utilities such as JPSCo and NDPL have been able to profitably supply slums and urban
peripheries legally, as have others such as the Ahmedabad Electricity Company.
These initiatives have been highly successful and could be replicated by policymakers in other
countries that limit informal settlement supply. Such models provide residents with access to a
formal power connection while also allowing the utilities to cut down on the theft of power by
regularizing illegal connections.
Allowing flexibility in tariff regulation
Regulators should be allowed to set different tariffs for different areas, based on the cost of
delivery, so that utilities can charge rates that make it commercially viable for them to extend the
grid. Governments and regulatory bodies frequently set caps on tariffs that make it unprofitable
for utilities to serve poor customers, especially those in rural areas where cost of service is typically
higher. Although clearly intending to make power affordable for poor customers, this can in fact
have the opposite effect, stopping utilities from extending access and thus forcing the poor to rely
on even more expensive and problematic household fuels or illegal suppliers. One alternative is for
regulators to set different tariffs for different areas, based on the cost of delivery. This approach
is not dissimilar to the feed-in tariffs designed to attract renewable energy, which is often more
expensive than conventional generation, into the supply mix.
There are other instances where tariff regimes fail to incentivize reductions in transmission and
distribution losses—say, when any loss reduction is directly passed through to consumers through
rate reductions. Instead of a full pass-through, regulators could incentivize loss reductions by
progressively assuming linear loss reductions over time, thus forcing the utility to reduce losses
by the assumed amount. This would permit the utility to maintain profitability, while allowing
companies to reap the benefits of any additional loss reductions above the “assumed rate” until
the next tariff cycle.
Finally, policymakers could adapt the concept of a universal service fund from the
telecommunications sector. Under this approach, a government plan levies a charge on customers
in urban areas, to create a fund to subsidize service in rural areas that are more expensive to
serve. The subsidies cover the difference between the rural tariff and the true cost of supply to
a level where poorer areas are profitable to serve. The Philippines has done exactly this with its
Missionary Electrification Fund. Colombia does something similar to keep down tariffs charged
by mini-utilities in the noninterconnected zone of the country. The same concept could easily be
extended to the supply of power involving grid extension to a rural area, and should be considered
as an alternative to straightforward tariff regulation.
Financing the connection of the end user, including through smart
Grid utilities, like mini-utilities, should find a way to finance the up-front costs of connections. As
noted throughout this report, credit supply is often a key factor for success in inclusive businesses
across sectors. A majority of the 14 companies reviewed in a 2010 IFC publication on the base of
the pyramid either provided consumer finance themselves, or partnered with another organization
that did.72
Subsidies can sometimes help utilities cover connection costs, enabling grid extension into very
poor areas. This need not always be the case—for instance, AEC in India and CEPALCO in the
Philippines were able to extend access to slum areas without public funds. But in other instances,
particularly when governments are determined to extend access to zones where customers are not
willing and able to pay the full commercial cost of service, then much more public policy and
financial support is needed to incentivize companies to enter the market.
Well-designed public financing policies ideally combine the best of private finance and management
with a subsidy that fills the viability gap and allows grid extensions into areas that would otherwise
be uneconomic to serve. This can either be achieved through a PPP, as in Guatemala, Morocco,
and Senegal, where concession contracts place legally binding coverage and service targets on the
company involved, and provide output-based subsidies, or subsidies can be provided to private
utilities, as in Brazil. There, the governments sought to maximize the access achieved per dollar
of public funding through a program called Luz para Todos, which provides capital subsidies to
help fill the viability gap. CEMAR, the private utility serving the Brazilian State of Maranhão—
one of the poorest in the country with 6.2 million inhabitants earning a per capita income 29
percent below the national average—was able to take advantage of this program and succeeded in
extending access by 50 percent to the poor.73
Chapter 4: What Can Be
Done to Help Scale Up
Energy Access Success Stories?
and OECD
W orld
FIGURE 4.1: Regional electrification rates and regional electricity access show the scale of the
commercial opportunity in providing new energy access solutions
Sources: IFC analysis; IEA.
Note: OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
This report proposes focused intervention on the part of both public and private sector stakeholders,
and discusses three specific angles:
• Business models: Challenges for operating companies
• Policy: Roles for governments and their development partners
• Financing: Opportunities for impact and commercial investors.
Figure 4.2 summarizes the report’s recommendations, which are discussed in detail in the
following sections.
Electrification rate
Unelectrified population (millions)
There are vast underexploited opportunities for the private sector to provide commercial basic
energy services to the poor (see figure 4.1), but the market remains complex and requires a
pioneering spirit. The cases described in this report show what is working for some of these early
movers and why they are succeeding. There are a variety of key success factors that emerge from
this analysis. In the aggregate, they show that where strong business fundamentals and supportive
ecosystem conditions converge, enterprise-based interventions have generally done well. And, yet,
the challenge of how to provide energy and also satisfy a profit motive has not been solved. It will
take more effort to see the scaling and replication of today’s success stories across the world, and
to encourage further innovation.
Middle Transition
East economies
and OECD
Extending energy access to unserved communities has a huge impact on human development, but it is often seen as a
development imperative. This report shows that it is also a $37 billion market that many companies are already serving
Below are the key success factors that the most successful companies are demonstrating. This graphic shows which
stakeholders have a role to play in each set of success factors.
Household-Level Devices
Grid Extension
Clean cooking & lighting
Lighting and more
Basic needs
Productive uses
Modern societal development
$31 billion
$4 billion
$2 billion
Key Success Factors
in the Operating
1. Make products affordable by
innovative design of product and
business model
terms to spread connection costs
terms for connection costs
product distribution networks
primary energy (fuel or feedstock)
2. Secure business model with
some degree of public support
3. Strengthen consumer
3. Design adequate population
density and load factor
3. Manage payment risk and
for operating
a. Make the energy
device or service
4. Focus on replicability and
entrepreneurs with technical
expertise and business acumen
to scale operations
b. Get the basics of
operation right
c. Play to the strengths
of the company
Key Success Factors
in the Ecosystem
Roles for
governments and
their development
a. Create the right
ecosystem conditions
b. Establish an
entity to advance
the access objectives
c. Resist giveaway
programs and
unrealistic promises
d. Decide which
solutions are the best
1. Create quality standards and
provide information on products
commercially viable rates
1. Remove limits on service
2. Build technology awareness in
the market
2. Develop policies to encourage
2. Remove restrictions on
supplying informal settlements
3. Remove discriminatory taxes
and duties across energy
3. Remove onerous licensing and
permit barriers
regulation and universal service
particularly for solar home
4. Provide concessional
connection costs
5. Finance the carbon credit
6. Finance company growth and
operations from an early stage
7. Train and support local
entrepreneurs and industry
a. Provide appropriate funding for
each part of the business life cycle
b. Establish deal marketplaces
and local presence to discover
hidden gems
c. Keep investment mandates broad
and beyond a single technology
FIGURE 4.2: Summary of key success factors and recommendations
Source: IFC analysis.
Opportunities for impact
and commercial investors
d. Support enterprise
development and business
e. Fund delivery entities, and support
the provision of resource and market
data, consumer awareness, and standards
Refining Business Models:
Challenges for Operating Companies
High sales volumes are essential in low-income consumer
markets, and companies must strive to achieve scale. This is
true because, even though many of these products and services
sell at high margins, the revenue per item is low. The examples
in this report show that scale is possible in these markets and
that entrepreneurs can achieve this by:
• Making the energy device or service affordable
• Playing to the strengths of the company
• Getting the basics of operation right.
Making the energy device or service
Affordability is a consistent theme in this report and is largely
achieved through business model and device innovation
together with the provision of consumer finance either directly
or indirectly. Other strategies include rental models for devices,
fi xed-fee/fi xed service mini-grids, and prepaid meters for grid
electrification. Companies should concentrate on as many
of these as are relevant to their circumstances, especially in
conjunction with the two recommendations below, to create
an operating model that allows products to match customers’
available funds.
Playing to the strengths of the company
Capitalizing on inherent strengths is essential for companies
to optimize operations and to develop a case for potential
partnering. We have seen how smaller companies, especially
those that are locally run, have several advantages; they are
often nimble and have lower costs, good local knowledge, a deep
understanding of the consumer, and reach through innovative
networks. Larger firms have deep pockets, management
expertise, some value chain advantages, convening power, and
the ability to scale across geographies. In some cases, astute
partnerships can tap the respective advantages of different
players. Some companies are already doing this by developing,
marketing, and cross-selling devices.
It is also important that energy access firms focus on
making the business case clear and on building professional
management teams. Given that many start-ups begin life
as social enterprises, the social benefits of their endeavors
are usually well communicated. But potential investors are
looking for both a strong business case and perhaps also a great
story about potential development impact; rarely is the latter
sufficient for consistently attracting capital, even from impact
investors. Hence, fundamental to securing financing is that the
commercial business plan be well thought through, and, fairly
soon after they get going, firms think about professionalizing
their management teams to take the business forward and help
it grow sustainably.
Meanwhile, larger companies must ensure that ventures into
the energy access market, which often start as relatively small
initiatives below the top management radar screen, have good
visibility within the company—as a CEO-sponsored effort, for
example—and use this platform to leverage core competencies
from around the business. The initiative may be incubated
in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) department or
another “soft start” area of the firm, but it cannot be allowed
to remain there. After due time is allowed for the creation of
an innovative model to serve target markets, it must be treated
fully commercially. Lessons can be drawn from the Bonny
Utility Company’s experience in moving from CSR to business
(see box 3.8).
Getting the basics right: Devices companies
must focus on mastering distribution
Distribution has emerged as the major determiner of commercial
success in selling modern energy solutions to underserved
households, and this report has discussed in detail the need
for companies to master this challenge either by building their
own channels or by leveraging those of partners. Historically,
powerful distributors like Procter & Gamble and Unilever have
managed to build strong bargaining positions and extract a
substantial share of the value created by the consumer goods
industry. We believe that a similar position of strength will
accrue to those who win the distribution race in modern energy
devices for the poor.
Companies can strengthen distribution by partnering
strategically with businesses that have already established
strong channels. In this report, we have discussed companies
distributing through microfinance institutions, government
institutions, and international development agencies. We have
also seen examples of and distribution through large local
conglomerates or multinationals.
Successful companies, once they have built effective distribution
networks, expand their product portfolios to include other
devices, and also bundle these products with a financing
package. Another emerging approach with significant potential
could be to piggyback on broader country and potentially even
international distribution networks offered by, for example,
mobile phone network operators. This approach could be
used to solve several critical issues faced by many small device
innovators, notably: strong brand recognition in rural areas,
scaling product delivery logistics, securing working capital
finance for retailers, and providing comprehensive after-sales
service in remote communities.
Once companies have built effective distribution networks,
they should consider expanding product portfolios to include
other devices, and possibly to bundle these products with a
financing package. Equally, if an energy access company has
been able to develop strong networks of its own, it can leverage
this asset to cross-sell other products, be they complementary
energy access devices (such as cookstove manufacturers also
selling PV lanterns) or other products that would be desirable
in their target markets (for example, cell phones, radios,
irrigation pumps, water purifiers). This has been demonstrated
by a number of local cookstove players, which are now adding
products to their portfolios and serving as distribution agents
for business partners approaching them.
Getting the basics right: Mini-utilities must
focus on developing innovative approaches
to scaling up
The first step is to secure adequate fuel or feedstock supply and
then secure sufficient energy demand. These may seem obvious,
but both of these are described in our examples as serious
challenges, alongside the strategies that successful mini-utilities
are using to overcome them. They deserve proper consideration
at the planning stages. A number of interesting options exist
to build baseload. One centers around an “anchor client” in
industries in or near communities needing power. Companies
in remote areas could develop service agreements with larger
government institutions. These might include agricultural
training or extension facilities, clinics, and schools. They
could also be remote power systems operated by the incumbent
utility, as Andoya has done.
There is clearly no silver bullet when it comes to successfully
scaling up a business model, and companies need to develop
tailored, innovative solutions, which might include serving
multiple anchor clients that are themselves owned or operated
by a single company. As with devices, it is important for minigrid businesses to find ways to grow—both in order to attract
capital and, importantly, talent, but also to capture operating
and cost efficiencies that come with scale.
There could be significant potential for mini-utilities to engage
mobile base stations owned by one or multiple mobile network
operators as anchor clients. As mentioned in the preceding
section, mobile telephony is a sector that successfully managed
the last-mile distribution challenge to remote off-grid areas.
There are over half a billion off-grid subscribers today, and an
estimated 639,000 off-grid base stations are expected to be in
service by 2012, predominantly in the developing world. This
could present an interesting opportunity for mini-utilities to
tap the anchor load potential created by base stations.
Off-grid base stations are often located in remote, yet
sufficiently densely populated areas to justify the capital
expenditure (excepting where required by regulation) and
are normally powered by diesel generators with an average
excess capacity of 5 kW. GSMA, in collaboration with IFC,
is currently piloting models to leverage this infrastructure for
the extension of electricity to unserved rural communities.74 A
battery-charging service is being tested in Africa through the
Lighting Africa program, which is exploring the commercial
and operational viability of running third-party charging shops
fed by the excess capacity of existing network-owned base
station generators. Here, 5 kW of excess capacity could supply
around 40 households using a basic mini-grid. The concept
could then be taken to the next level by using base stations as
baseload clients for independent local mini-utilities.
A precondition for this would be a well-functioning miniutility that can guarantee power for the mobile tower,
however, because system “up-time” is both critical to network
profitability and often a regulatory requirement. Outsourcing
base station power to mini-utilities would allow mobile
operators to concentrate on the operation of the base stations,
freeing them from the noncore tasks of securing continuous
power generation and protecting the equipment against theft.
Also, a local independent operator could help mitigate the
increasingly common community expectation that excess
power from mobile towers should be available at all times and
without cost. If designed properly, there is potential for local
energy services companies and the mobile phone industry to
partner and meet both base station power and local community
needs commercially. Of course, effectively capturing this latent
potential would require innovative business models, but also
training of operators, and the extension of financing options.
(Figure 4.3 shows the growth of base stations in developing
An “umbrella company” franchise model could possibly deliver
the required management expertise, economies of scale, and
capital to develop “multiple site” mini-utilities. What would it
take for mini-utilities to replicate in the tens or hundreds of
systems across a country or region? Local entrepreneurs bring
critical community knowledge and perhaps low overheads to
East Asia
& Pacific
South 2012
Eastern Europe
& Central Asia
Latin America
& Caribbean
Middle East
& North Africa
Total 2012
Number of base stations (in ‘000)
On-grid base stations
Off-grid base stations
FIGURE 4.3: Growth in base stations in developing regions (2007–12)
Source: GSMA 2010a.
mini-utility start-ups. But often the management-specific business expertise, the economies of scale
to develop management systems, technology and procurement, and the finance needed to scale are
harder to find. Companies struggle to develop the right span of control over dispersed systems and
to manage the overheads that come with running several mini-utilities, especially those based on
renewable resources with generally higher capital costs or inconsistent resource availability. Cracking
the “multiple-site” business model will be critical to scale-up.
Based on the commercial franchise model, an “umbrella company” might be able to bring capital,
knowledge, and economies of scale in areas such as procurement to local entrepreneurs. Like a venture
capital or private equity fund, it would help to identify high-potential mini-utility sites and undertake
resource assessments, assist in raising debt and equity, and provide this financing to local operators,
play a governance role, provide strategic advice to management, and train investees. It would also offer
a standard “local electricity company operating system,” in the same way that a franchisor offers its
franchisees a standard set of operating procedures. By dealing with multiple small utilities in the same
region, this “operating platform” could create buying power in negotiations with suppliers, and could
lobby on policy and similar issues.
Several mini-utility companies are working on developing umbrella or franchise models, but more
work is needed and donors can play a role in helping them innovate. Husk Power Systems comes close
to this model.
For now, all systems are wholly owned by HPS, but the company is exploring ways to allow more
extensive and rapid growth across markets using franchises that are serviced by a central procurement
and financing function. Power Source is working to develop a similar model. The approach is not
new. The Commonwealth Development Corporation example, presented in box 4.1, demonstrates
the success such a model can bring. But more work is needed to develop a structure that allows these
businesses to successfully multiply. Here, there is a role for donors (see Recommendations for Investors
#2) to support innovation on business models that help companies, particularly mini-utilities, achieve
critical mass.
Box 4.1: Commonwealth Development Corporation as a
mini-utility developer and platform company
Historically, the British Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) was a successful
practitioner of the umbrella company concept in the Eastern Caribbean.
In the early 1960s, CDC acted as a developer and equity provider for what were effectively
mini-utilities in the small territories of the Eastern Caribbean region, and played a vital role in
the electrification of several islands. CDC was the strategic founding shareholder in Dominica
Electricity Services Limited (DOMLEC), St. Lucia Electricity Services (LUCELEC), Grenada
Electricity Services (GRENLEC), St. Vincent Electricity Services Limited (VINLEC), and
Montserrat Electricity Services (MONLEC), where it owned the majority of shares, generally in
partnership with each island government. In each case, electrification was at very low levels when
the utilities were created.
Over the years, the electrification of each island has steadily increased. In Grenada following
incorporation of GRENLEC in 1960, installed generating capacity has increased steadily over
the years from 1.85 MW in 1960 to 40 MW in 2003 to about 49 MW in 2012. During the same
period, the number of consumers increased from 550 to about 40,000 in 2003 to about 41,300 in
2012. Almost the entire country (99.5 percent) is now electrified.
In St. Lucia, LUCELEC was incorporated as a private limited liability company in 1964. The
company, led by CDC, acquired the electricity business and assets of the Castries Town Council
and the Government of St. Lucia, and LUCELEC’s license became effective in 1965. The number
of consumers has increased from about 4,000 in 1965 to 18,000 in 1985 to about 59,600 in
2012. The other three utilities have shown similar growth patterns and have achieved universal
The five utilities were established on strictly commercial lines, with guaranteed rates of return.
CDC ran each utility as a separate business, but kept a full-time Regional Engineering Advisor
stationed in nearby Barbados. He was assisted by an electrical engineer stationed in St. Lucia who,
among other things, conducted annual technical audits in each of the utilities but would also
travel to each company to ensure compliance with established operating procedures and provide
advice on problems as they arose. CDC also provided a central purchasing, accounting support,
and financial management facility.
DOMLEC, GRENLEC, and LUCELEC are all now profitable, privately owned companies. All
have a mix of international strategic shareholders and local ownership, and all are listed on the
local stock exchange. In contrast, VINLEC and the utility in Montserrat are now government
owned, since CDC sold its shares.
Getting the Basics Right: Grid-based Utilities Fundamentally should
Focus on Becoming Fit for Purpose
It is critical that grid utilities operate efficiently, which begins with reducing theft and improving
payment management. For grid extension, public-private partnerships such as concessions hold
promise to extend reach when they are carefully structured with incentives to connect end
users. Here, it is important to prioritize delivery areas, structure subsidies to cover viability
gaps (through, for example, negative concessions), and put mechanisms in place to ensure that
regulatory counterparts and concessionaires are both delivering on their respective parts of the
agreement. But, fundamentally, making utilities fit for purpose—that is, ensuring that they are
operating efficiently—is the key point. This begins with investing in reducing both technical and
nontechnical losses. While the skills and access to capital that led South Africa and Vietnam,
for example, to achieve large-scale grid extension will take time to replicate in less industrialized
nations, more straightforward tactics can be employed in the short term. These tactics center
on preventing theft, managing payment risk, and introducing flexible payment for customers.
Utilities in Brazil, Colombia, India, and Uganda provide evidence that such measures, coupled
with subsidies, can lead to increased connections for the poor, and can be replicated in many other
Rethinking Policy:
Roles for Governments and their Development Partners
The private sector represents a very good potential partner for closing the access gap, but it needs
to be supported by an appropriate policy, legal, and regulatory environment. Despite the best
of intentions, not enough progress has been made toward achieving universal access to modern
energy by 2030. Indeed, the International Energy Agency estimates that, if the current trajectory
is followed, 1.2 billion people will still lack access to clean fuels and electricity two decades hence.
One fundamental reason is that policy thinking has been dominated by a public sector delivery
model. It should be recognized that the private sector has the best chance of contributing to closing
the access gap in specific markets, and that to do so it needs to be supported by an appropriate
enabling environment. Other sectors, such as financial services, telecommunications, and health
care, have pioneered new and innovative ways to extend access through private enterprise, with
impressive results. It is time the energy sector did the same.
A first step for policymakers—governments and their development partners—is to develop an
energy access strategy. Ideally this would not be done in isolation but, rather, within the context
of a longer-term economic development framework. If universal energy access is to be achieved,
policymakers need a plan to get there. Country-level plans should reflect the demand side (longterm growth aspirations, short-term goals), and of course the supply side (what resources exist
within the local context).
Within that strategy, policymakers can then define the portions of the local market that can
realistically be served through private enterprise, versus those that require some public support to
overcome a commercial viability gap, and a third category that cannot be served commercially.
For the market segment that is commercially viable, policymakers could outline an “investment
prospectus” and a clear set of rules and regulations designed to attract investors, as well as other
ecosystem conditions that are needed for overall market development. These regulations may vary
from country to country and, of course, by subsegment—perhaps focusing more on standards and
awareness raising for devices (discussed in Recommendations for Investors #3, below), streamlined
or light-handed regulation for mini-utilities (Recommendations for Investors #3, below), or smart
subsidies for grid-based electrification (Recommendations for Investors #4, below).
An independent “delivery” entity could help advance achievement of the energy access objectives
outlined by the government. The delivery entity could play a vital role in developing data on
resources and on the market, and potentially in introducing specific incentives to kick-start
action or encourage first movers based on best practice (discussed in Recommendations for
Investors # 3).
Drawing from the analysis of our three categories of energy
access solutions, the recommendations to policymakers are to:
Resist giveaway programs and unrealistic promises
Remove discriminatory taxes and duties across energy
access products
Develop specific policies to encourage mini-utilities
Leverage public-private partnerships and smart subsidies
for grid extension
Establish delivery units and build institutions to drive
quality standards, provide information on products, and
increase consumer awareness of new device technologies
(see Recommendations for Investors #3, below).
Resist giveaway programs and unrealistic
While smart subsidies can sometimes be helpful, governments
and development partners should avoid distorting the market
through well-intentioned but unrealistic promises and
damaging “giveaway” programs. Policymakers can certainly
support and encourage private sector efforts to extend energy
access through smart subsidies and broad sector strategies—
as long as these are limited cases with sound subsidy targeting
and design that show clearly that their benefits outweigh
their harm. It is also true that there could be a role for publicsector-sponsored bulk procurement in helping to grow the
market for innovative products where practical; for instance,
public institutions can help test, build confidence in, market,
and drive down costs through increased volumes of improved
cookstoves and solar lanterns in specific markets. Subsidies can
also be well designed to help those who cannot afford to pay
the full price of a product to buy it from a commercial provider.
But policymakers (and donors or philanthropists) should avoid
distorting the market through well-intentioned but unrealistic
promises and damaging “giveaway” programs where they may
not be needed, including massively subsidizing and distributing
energy access products or initiating poorly planned or funded
(and thus unsustainable) subsidies in areas where they may not
be needed. Some development organizations have promoted
energy access with programs that give away or very heavily
subsidize particular energy access products such as cookstoves
or solar home systems—even though these could largely be
provided on a commercial basis in their target markets.
While this clearly benefits those receiving the products, they
work against sustainably provided energy access in the longer
term by spoiling the potentially much larger commercial
opportunity for businesses to develop and sell goods that
customers want, are willing to pay for and, thus, value. This is
because customers who are willing and able to pay the full price
hesitate to do so if they know that others received a giveaway. If
customers favor certain types of products, giveaway programs
also risk stunting innovation and encouraging companies to
manufacture according to specifications that are not always
optimal for the market. Free products also deter businesses
from investing by creating risk that they will have to compete
with giveaways.
Promises of giveaways that never materialize may be even
worse than actual giveaway programs. The promise will stop
customers from paying a commercial price, and businesses from
trying to serve them, blocking the commercial route to energy
access. If there is no subsidized or free product forthcoming or
if the subsidy stops halfway through the program, the results
can be perverse. For example, in El Salvador, Ghana, and
Nepal, donor subsidies in support of private-sector-led solar
home system plans have been unpredictable, often stopping for
months before starting again. The result was that companies
that had viewed households as their primary target market
and that had begun to serve them profitably, subsequently
prioritized institutional clients, because grant support to help
households cover part of the systems costs was inconsistent.
Following the suspension of subsidies for many months, Accrabased Wilkin Solar, for example, moved away from selling solar
home systems and solar-powered lanterns to urban and rural
Ghanaian households in favor of larger institutional contracts
to service schools and clinics.
Remove discriminatory taxes and duties
across energy access products
Policymakers can help level the playing field for energy
providers by removing taxes and duties that discriminate
against new solutions in favor of conventional grid supply. This
report illustrates the ways in which many governments impose
penalties on modern energy access products that are higher
than the duties and taxes on conventional energy products.
Often the effects are discriminatory and perverse, creating
a bias in energy provision toward better-off grid-connected
people away from poorer households, and toward conventional
rather than renewable generation sources. This need not be
the case. Barbados has one of the world’s most successful solar
water heater programs, and an essential factor in its success was
the removal of all tariffs and duties on solar water heaters and
their components. This allowed the development of a local solar
water heating manufacturing industry, which is now starting
to export to the rest of the region. In a number of African
countries, including Ethiopia and Kenya, a reduction in import
penalties has been an important factor in increasing sales of
solar lanterns over the past two years.
Develop specific policies to encourage miniutilities
Governments and development partners can use specific policy
to encourage mini-utilities, including service area definition,
regulation, and the creation of a solid revenue framework.
First, what a potential service area is and where it should be
must be defined. Here, it is important for policymakers to be
clear on where grid extension projects are likely to head, and
to relax exclusivity on who can operate in other areas. Second,
policymakers should create appropriate regulation for miniutilities, rather than applying rules originally designed for large
players. Third, a solid revenue framework for companies is
critical. This involves enacting market-based pricing for tariffs;
facilitating service agreements with large offtakers or anchor
clients, including the incumbent utility that may be operating
remote systems; and subsidizing connection costs where
needed. Each is detailed in the sections that follow.
A) Rethink How Service Areas are Defined
Policymakers first need to provide mini-utilities with clarity on
its grid extension plans; in this regard, regulation is required
to protect investors. In order for a mini-utility to take a
decision on whether or not to invest in a given area, it needs to
understand both the likelihood that it will make an acceptable
return on investment, and its rights and obligations after the
investment is made. A major barrier to mini-utility developers
coming into a given area is uncertainty about how long it will
take before the main grid is extended to that same location.
Hence, perhaps the first step for energy planners and other
policymakers is to be clear on where grid extension projects
are likely to head. In India, for example, there are a number
of cases of mini-grid developers being hesitant to set up plants
in certain communities because the government’s policy on
where the central grid would be extended was unclear or kept
Governments should also ensure that the size and terms of
service area concessions are appropriate to local conditions, and
should avoid granting indefinite exclusive rights. It is important
to revisit the manner in which a service area is defined, both
for a central grid-based company and for any mini-utility that
may be providing power to a region. For instance, the size of
a concession, and terms under which a service area is granted
and monitored, should be appropriate to the local conditions.
Prior to 2000, all mini-utilities above 300 kW in Bolivia
were required to acquire a concession, but the rule was not
systematically enforced. This meant that some companies were
subject to onerous reporting requirements, but others were not.
The playing field was not level, nor were the returns.
In addition, policymakers should not award indefinite
exclusivity in a concession, because this can reduce access by
allowing underperforming mini-utilities to retain control of a
service area. Instead, if and when concessions are allocated, the
length of the term should be clear, and rights should be clearly
linked to corresponding obligations within a specified time
frame. This would compel service providers to deliver on their
commitments. If agreed targets are not met, the regulator could
reopen the market to other players.
B) Institute Light-handed Regulation of Mini-utilities
Mini-utilities do not require the same level of regulation as large
incumbent utilities, and would benefit from reduced red tape.
The purpose of regulation is to ensure that products or services
supplied to the public are not hazardous. But overregulation
can be a significant issue for often modest-sized businesses
such as mini-utilities, which can typically operate efficiently
and safely with fewer rules and less onerous paperwork.75 In
many countries it is illegal to supply power without a license
or permit. Yet the processes required to get a license can be
an insurmountable barrier to small businesses seeking to
supply power in rural areas. As a result, these ventures are, at
least technically, criminal enterprises, preventing them from
growing, formalizing their business, raising finance, or selling
out to a larger operator.
Policymakers can reduce red tape by simply relaxing licensing
requirements, and instead requiring companies to register with
a regulator or other government authority. The number of
regulatory requirements or decisions, the number of government
entities making separate decisions, and the amount of information
required for the entities performing electrification should be
adjusted to attract and not stifle mini-utilities.76 There are several ways of easing the burden on
mini-utilities while, in general, improving efficiency. For example, rural electrification agencies
can be delegated to decide on tariff and concession terms, with no further formal review required
by the electricity regulator. Alternatively, a national or provincial regulator can designate the rural
electrification agency as its agent, with decisions taken on a no-objection basis. In Nicaragua,
mini-grids are regulated by contract and law, with streamlined reporting rules and formal steps.
Safety concerns can be addressed by enforcing clear laws on safety and consumer protection, with
regular inspections. Offenders should be shut down, similar to the way in which health and safety
concerns are addressed in the hospitality industry. Where mini-utilities operate illegally because
of difficulties in getting a license, they are not subject to any kind of effective safety regulation
at all, whereas our suggested approach would bring all electricity providers under enforceable
registration and safety obligations, without imposing other unnecessary burdens. This approach
has worked well in India, where the 2003 Electricity Act requires only that power providers in
rural areas comply with safety rules. In Sri Lanka, the government sets technical specifications
and safety standards and allows companies to “self-regulate.”
Policymakers also have an opportunity to extend energy access by removing rules that make it
illegal to serve people who do not have formal title to their land—as Jamaica and the government
in Delhi did. Going further, governments should consider removing rules that make it illegal to
supply households that lack properly certified wiring, or providing support to such households to
install such wiring.
C) Create a Solid Revenue Framework for Mini-utilities
Governments can help develop a solid revenue framework for mini-utilities through a combination
of appropriate tariff regimes, connection subsidies, and support for handling nonpayment. For
mini-utilities to thrive, they should be allowed to make a return on investment. This requires that
revenues be of a level appropriate to the nature of their business, and that supportive structures be
put in place to help them manage excessive risks or income deficits. A solid revenue framework for
this subsector would have three components: an appropriate tariff regime, connection subsidies
where there is a viability gap, and a facility to handle nonpayment by large clients where relevant.
Ideally, mini-utilities should be allowed to charge market prices—rather than be subject to
tariff regimes designed for centralized plants—at least until they are established and can exploit
economies of scale. Some countries have capped mini-utilities tariffs at the same level as grid
utilities, which are often loss making and subsidized by the government, while others have set
tariffs for mini-utilities separately, but still below the level needed to earn a commercial return on
investment. Tariff caps are intended to counter the natural monopoly of typical grid utilities, and
to make electricity affordable for the poor. But often they have the opposite effect by making it
unviable for mini-utilities to enter the market. Mini-utilities typically have a higher cost of service
than large integrated grids, but where they are used solely for lighting purposes they compete with
solar home systems and lanterns. For example, in Cambodia, mini-utilities began and flourished
with no tariff regulation. In Mali, the rural electrification agency differentiates tariffs by the type
of supplier, reflecting their different cost structures.
Subsidies can help where significant capital expenditure is needed to connect a consumer to an
energy service, but cannot realistically be paid by the user. Grants (ideally administered based
on outputs) would be a good way to cover connection costs where needed, helping to close the
viability gap between realistic and commercial returns.
If tariffs, connection subsidies, and revenue frameworks are attractive, there is a high likelihood
that developers will enter the market. Andoya Hydroelectric Power Company in Tanzania is
an example. First, Andoya benefits from a comprehensive revenue framework comprising three
elements: attractive tariffs, a long-term debt facility, and a connection subsidy. Based on current
regulations, tariffs are set at about $0.23/kWh (385 Tanzanian shillings), which is significant for
this hydropower-based mini-utility, given low operating (and no fuel) costs. Second, with the help
of a long-term credit refinancing facility from the World Bank, it can get long-term local loans
from banks for 70 percent of project costs. Third, a World Bank and Government of Tanzania
facility provides Andoya with a $500-per-connection grant—which counts as owner’s equity—to
connect household customers, thus providing substantive capital up front without which this
project would not be possible.
As an added bonus, the project is expecting to secure carbon revenue advances, given that it
will offset diesel-based generation by Tanesco. A World Bank and local Rural Energy Facility
guarantees market-based carbon income until 2020, much beyond the existing Kyoto regime, and
provides a three-to-four-year equity advance based on future carbon revenues. This substantive,
interlinked set of incentives and support structure makes possible a project that benefits the local
community, entrepreneurs, the utility, and small businesses.
Other forms of revenue guarantee could also be used to facilitate mini-utility development. Under
the Tanzanian standardized power purchase agreement, Tanesco is legally obliged to pay for the
power supplied by small producers. There is no guarantee, however, on the utility’s payment, so
if Tanesco’s financial situation were to worsen and it could no longer honor its obligations, the
mini-utilities would take the hit. Policymakers and the donors that support them should consider
payment guarantee plans for offtake from public sector anchor clients.
Leverage public-private partnerships and smart subsidies for
grid extension
Where the cost of service delivery is prohibitively high and public finance is scarce, governments
can leverage public-private partnerships to extend access. In the case of grid extension, public
utilities should serve public purposes including extending access to electricity. But in many
countries, a lack of finance or other problems prevent this even in areas that could be costeffectively served by grids. Rwanda, for example, has one of the lowest electrification rates in the
world—just 10 percent of the total population has access to electricity. In other words, only about
110,000 households are connected. Yet more than half the population of Rwanda lives within 5
kilometers of the existing (state-owned) transmission and distribution grid.
Recent in-depth studies77 showed that despite low income levels, more than 370,000 households
would be willing and able to pay the full commercial cost of grid extension, thus quadrupling the
number of people connected to the grid without any significant public sector financing. One way
to potentially improve the efficiency of grid-based electricity access is to privatize distribution
systems. Another is for governments to award concession contracts for new or privately owned
distribution companies to serve currently unserved areas. This can also be combined with smart
subsidies to extend access even further than would be viable on a purely commercial basis.
Private companies often bring access to capital and new management approaches that allow
them to increase connections more quickly than public utilities, while improving the bottom
line. The most comprehensive and meticulous analysis to date of the performance of privatized
utilities compared to public utilities78 finds that the increase in the number of connections
for utilities privatized as concessions is 21 percent higher than the increase in connections for
utilities remaining in public hands. Private companies are often able to access capital to expand
the network, something that many publicly owned utilities may struggle with. Moreover, private
companies often bring new management approaches that allow the costs to be reduced and
revenues increased, thus providing a return on the investment.
Access can be further extended through smart, technology-neutral subsidies and targeted
concessional finance, although support should focus on impact and avoid unintended market
distortions. For instance, to build the market in Bangladesh, IDCOL (Infrastructure Development
Company Limited) has been giving a declining subsidy on solar home systems sold in Bangladesh,
starting from $90 for the first 20,000 units, and falling to $25 currently. This has helped a range
of commercial market providers to enter the market with solar home systems that meet specified
standards adjusted over time, collectively installing about 1 million units as of June 2011.
While this declining payment is the ideal way to structure public funding interventions, one
downside of this particular program has been a focus on specifications for modular home systems.
As a result, firms offering solar lanterns and solar kits, which cost perhaps one-third of a traditional
solar home system, have a hard time entering the market. Similarly, there should be a mechanism
to ensure that projects deliver promised connections and do so in a reasonable period of time.
The Comasel concession in Senegal, for example, meets all necessary requirements in terms of
filling the viability gap with Output-Based Aid, but has yet to deliver a single connection several
years after being signed. A number of issues are at play on the part of both the operator and the
regulator, but an important shortcoming has been the inability to renegotiate contracts because
delivery timelines have not been honored.
Refocusing Financing:
Opportunities for Impact and Commercial Investors
Both impact and commercial investors can play a critical role in scaling up energy access success
stories. Impact investors are financiers seeking either a social return or a combination of social and
financial returns (such as social venture capitalists, local development banks, philanthropists, and
international development agencies). Commercial investors seek largely or purely financial returns.
There is scope for commercial investors to make good returns by serving the energy poor, but the
sector may be more suited to impact investors seeking both social and financial returns. Despite
the promise of the energy access market, this is still an early-stage opportunity for capital seeking
only high financial returns. Most investment capital to date has come from impact investment
funds, which have been a good match for the sector: they are patient, have appropriate risk/
return profiles, and are also more willing to sit down and listen to the story of smaller companies.
Some commercial funds have supported larger grid extension projects with attractive revenue
streams but, generally, this sector is ideal for impact investing because it involves the attractive
combination of renewable energy, social benefits, and the base-of-the-pyramid market.
New venture funds have recently emerged, however, targeting proven energy access companies,
raising the risk that a relatively large pool of finance may soon be chasing a handful of high-profile
enterprises. In just the last two years, a number of new venture funds have emerged, generally
seeking energy access investments with a proven business model, two to three years of financial
statements, highly experienced management teams, and the ability to absorb $500,000 to
$5 million. While interest in the sector and the emergence of investable companies are good
things, the reality is that few companies matching this profile exist. And when they do, they
tend to be piled on by investors, often causing much distraction to management’s ability to focus
on operations. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars in financing may soon be crowding a
limited number of high-profile investment-ready enterprises.
To better support the market and meet their own return expectations, all investors would benefit
from keeping investment mandates broad and beyond a single technology (for example, avoid
solar-only or cookstove-only funds), and include firms offering other products in low-income
markets in their portfolios. Rather than technology, one might look for critical success factors
relevant to the subsector—such as strong distribution channels in the devices space—as the
common denominators for an investment approach. This could mean taking lighting and cooking
devices, water purification systems, and cell phones as offerings with common characteristics; they
have similar price points and need comparable distribution networks and financing. Investing in
microfinance institutions that can also serve as energy device distributors may also make sense.
To broaden the deal pipeline, investors would benefit from “deal marketplaces” and a welldeveloped local presence that helps surface hidden gems. Without a good infrastructure, be it in
the form of cooperative agreements with local NGOs and international agencies that work with or
come across energy access businesses, or by setting up a local office to stay on top of the market, it
will be difficult to find lower-profile companies—many of which may be at the community level
but hold potential for significant scale.
Beyond this, there are three primary areas for both impact and commercial investors to act to
further catalyze successful energy access businesses. They are:
• Providing appropriate funding for each part of the business life cycle
• Supporting enterprise development and business model refinement
• Funding delivery units, and the provision of public goods: Resource mapping, market data,
consumer awareness, and standards.
Providing appropriate funding for each part of the business life cycle
As indicated in figure 4.4, there are a number of places along the business life cycle where investors
can play a role. The early part of the cycle lends itself to impact investors while, as companies
mature, they are a more natural fit for commercial investors. What is key is that financing is
needed throughout.
The early stages of the company life cycle often require concessional finance79 to cover business
model conceptualization, piloting, and other activities that get the business to proof of concept.
Commercial funds
Concessional funds
Investors must address the “missing middle”
funding needs of the sector between
$50,000–$100,000 and $3–$5 million.
Business Model Development
Proof of Concept
The provision of mezzanine
financing can enable banks to
lend to projects that would
not get debt financing
otherwise due
to high risk.
Technology/business model advancement
Grant funding
can support
start-ups and
build an
Grant funds can
help scale and
replicate promising
business models,
possibly through
incubators or by
business models.
commercial debt and equity
are required to finance the
start-up and growth capital
needs of early-stage energy
access businesses.
R&D that shows sectorwide
Carbon prefinancing
has potential to
generate additional
revenue for both
cookstoves and some
mini-grids, and more
structured approaches
could help make it
more accessible.
Working capital at
commerical rates is
required throughout
the business cycle.
Double bottom line and
commercial investors
could offer trade finance
to groups of companies
in the same or related
energy access spaces.
FIGURE 4.4: Financing is needed in three areas: To support companies in their early stages (start-up and
growth capital), to support operations (working capital or trade finance), and to strengthen revenue streams
Source: IFC analysis.
Both debt and equity are required to finance the start-up and growth capital needs of early-stage
energy access businesses. Investment funds find the sector appropriate for equity financing, due
to the high-risk/high-growth nature of the companies, the need for multiple rounds of financing,
and the potential for a trade sale. And, generally, for scaling up and business expansion, equity
is more appropriate than debt financing. For working capital financing, including for import,
inventory, and stocking, manufacturers would prefer to use debt but have faced difficulty
finding it at an attractive price. Once companies are housing inventory in multiple localities, the
accounts receivable gap is expensive to finance by debt capital. Where debt is required, various
instruments, supported with concessional financing, can be structured to encourage reluctant
financial intermediaries to provide most needed debt financing to the projects. The example of
risk-sharing facilities is discussed in box 4.2.
Box 4.2: Understanding financing constraints
For many of the companies operating in the energy access space, capital in the form of equity and debt
is critical to help finance their operations and growth. There appears to be no shortage of capital per se;
rather, it is difficult for companies to access the capital that exists.
As discussed in Chapter 3, venture capital is difficult for small companies to secure, particularly those
operating in risky and poorly understood markets, and where exit options for investors are limited.
Where venture capital is an option at all, the amount required may occupy an awkward space between
large deals sought by major private equity players and local angel financing. It is now relatively easy
to raise financing for, say, a $100 million investment in a power project in a developing country.
Development financiers such as IFC and the Dutch development bank, FMO, will invest in projects of
this size, as will a range of purely commercial investors and developers such as Actis or Macquarie—
provided that the project is financially sound and backed by strong and experienced sponsors.
There are also a number of socially minded investors who might provide a few tens of thousands
of dollars in early-stage financing; while initially helpful, these amounts of capital usually help
the management team for a couple of months, but then the fundraising starts again. Due to high
transaction costs, few players are interested in making an equity investment measured in the hundreds
of thousands of dollars. For bigger funds, the costs of due diligence, transaction, and monitoring
become disproportionate to the small value of the investment. For smaller funds, these sums are more
than they can afford in a single deal.
Beyond this, there is the question of debt. As with many relatively early-stage ventures in other sectors,
commercial banks are skeptical of extending debt to many high-potential mini-utilities, even those with
sizable operations such as Husk Power Systems, because they have yet to demonstrate full commercial
viability or because they do not have the generally accepted two to three years’ worth of financial
statements. In that case, HPS managed to secure a $750,000 loan from the U.S.-based Overseas Private
Investment Corporation (OPIC), but this is an amount that many small firms cannot absorb. In
general, however, banks are commercial entities and their actions are driven primarily by factors such
as transaction costs, the risk/return profile of loans, and the availability/cost of funding. The result is a
negative bias against companies requiring small-scale finance and with a short operational track record.
Small-scale project finance is an oxymoron: Project finance in its pure form is the provision of tailormade financing for a new investment based exclusively on the cash flow and assets of the financed new
investment. Nearly all larger energy investments are financed with project finance. The key benefit
is that it can provide financing that is designed to fit the risks and cash flows of a specific project.
While nearly every bank offers project finance, lenders are also conscious of the high transaction costs
associated with this option. Therefore, project finance is offered essentially only where transactions
exceed a certain minimum investment amount.
Smaller projects, in both developing and developed markets, are typically financed with corporate
loans. However, in most developed markets, the differences between larger SME loans and smaller
project finance loans are less dramatic than in developing markets. In developing markets, a project
that is financed by corporate loans instead of project finance loans typically has to deal with:
• Significantly higher equity requirements
• Onerous requirements to provide collateral in addition to the project assets
• Higher interest rates
• Shorter terms
• Unavailability of postcompletion refinancing.
The combination of these constraints results in many sponsors abandoning smaller projects because
they lack the equity required by the banks. If the sponsors can afford the required high equity, the risks
often result in returns that are too low.
What makes a project bankable, or not?
In many market situations, the viability of projects or companies is decided primarily by financing
conditions. In particular, capital-intensive renewable energy technologies like PV, wind, or small hydro
are only feasible if the financing conditions are acceptable. To illustrate this constraint, let us look at the
following hypothetical small hydro example:
• Investment cost: $10,000,000
• Projected annual revenue: $1,200,000
• With a loan tenor of 10 years and an interest rate of 9 percent per year, the project can comfortably
be financed with 30 percent project equity.
However, if the available financing tenor is only five years, the project promoter would have to finance 54
percent of the project with equity to be able to make the project viable, which is typically a prohibitively
high equity requirement.
Lack of track record: In most markets, providing access to energy is still, from a commercial point of
view, a risky and untested enterprise. This is typically compounded by the fact that the entrepreneurs
have only a limited track record. For banks, these are indications that such companies are particularly
risky and should therefore be avoided as loan clients. For example, a common complaint of smallscale operators in India is that, while funds are available through the Ministry for New and Renewable
Energy (IREDA), they still face issues in raising financing because the scale of their plants often falls
below the minimum level set by that facility. Moreover, where IREDA does provide financing, the
entrepreneur still has to raise additional loan guarantees from banks, and these institutions are not
willing to lend without any personal guarantees. As a result, bank financing is available only if the firm
shows three years of profitability. Even where local banks are willing to lend, they typically offer shortterm financing at a high interest rate.
The provision of mezzanine financing80 can enable banks to lend to projects that would not otherwise
get debt financing due to the high risk aversion of banks. With the support of concessional financing,
IFC is piloting such a mezzanine facility to support individual transactions in the following way:
• The bank identifies a transaction that complies with agreed eligibility criteria—in this case that it
provides energy access.
• While the bank is not comfortable with the risk of the identified transaction, the project complies
with simple agreed financial criteria.
• An independent party selected by IFC confirms the technical viability of the proposed project.
• IFC would then assume a subordinated position in the financing of this project.81
For the bank, IFC’s subordinated participation would indirectly increase the project equity and therefore
greatly enhance its creditworthiness. For the project developer, the loan would simply be slightly more
expensive debt that helps to overcome the main hurdle, that is, obtaining financing.
Box 4.3:
Risk-sharing facilities can encourage the provision of debt
Risk-sharing facilities (RSFs) are sometimes used to encourage funding of early-stage companies
where banks are hesitant to lend to a new sector. RSFs are in essence a loss-sharing agreement
between an originator of financial assets (a bank or other lending institution) and a commercial
guarantor—such as IFC or Kf W—or a donor (see figure B4.3, and box 4.4). The guarantor,
or donor in cases where a commercial guarantor cannot assume the first loss, reimburses the
originator for a portion of the losses it incurs on loans in a sector or line of credit that is of interest
to them. RSFs are typically provided as guarantees, but they could also be implemented as funded
transactions. RSFs are portfolio mechanisms and they typically have an impact when:
• A bank faces an industry exposure constraint; this typically does not apply to energy access,
however, since there are currently almost no loans to such players.
• A bank considers the loan sizes of certain projects too large but is in principle comfortable
with the credit risk; given the small transaction sizes to be supported, this is not a constraint
for energy access.
• A bank wants to enter a certain market segment but is wary of the risk of these borrowers and an
RSF would reduce this risk somewhat; this case could apply for the energy access markets.
RSFs are not always appropriate for energy access markets, but could potentially benefit miniutilities in countries experiencing growth in that sector. RSFs, however, do not change the
economics of individual transactions. If a bank is uncomfortable with an individual transaction,
which is typically illustrated by requiring more equity/collateral, a traditional RSF will not improve
the situation. RSFs require deal flowa to create a sufficiently large loan portfolio, and hence could
be hard to establish where there are insufficient capital needs or a critical mass of companies
on a national or subregional level, for example, where only a handful of device companies in a
given region have appropriate financing needs. The mini-utility sector could potentially greatly
benefit from a risk-sharing facility in countries such as Cambodia and India, where many of these
companies are starting up and are in need of growth or expansion capital.
Risk-Sharing Facility
Shared loss
1st tranche loss
of Loans
FIGURE B4.3: Structure of a risk-sharing facility
Source: IFC analysis.
Note: a. Deal flow refers to the number of potential investments or transactions that an investor sees and is
able to evaluate for possible. Having a large and viable pipeline is a key success factor for most investors.
Box 4.4: Examples of risk-sharing facilities
RSFs have been set up around the world for a wide variety of loans. This includes mortgage loans;
consumer, student, school, and energy efficiency loans; and SME loans. Examples include:
Student Loans in Indonesia: IFC helped overcome the low enrolment in tertiary education caused
by financial difficulties of poor students in a risk-sharing agreement with a private educational
foundation and a private sector bank. The RSF was set up to leverage the foundation’s contribution
by reducing its risk and, thus, offering more attractive interest rates to students. IFC provided a
guarantee for 50 percent of the losses incurred beyond the first loss threshold.
China’s Utility-based Energy Efficiency Finance (CHUEE) Program: In 2006, IFC launched
the CHUEE Program to support energy-efficiency-related lending to increase energy savings and
reduce carbon dioxide emissions in China. IFC has provided RSFs to three banks—the Industrial
Bank, Bank of Beijing, and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank—for a maximum total portfolio
size of $497 million. Concessional funds from the Global Environment Facility have been used to
provide first-loss coverage. As of December 2010, a $402 million portfolio of 163 loans was covered
by the RSFs. Projects included industrial boiler retrofitting, wasted heat recovery, power savings,
and optimization of energy use. The partner banks and other market players have also received
advisory support.
Kenya’s School Risk-Sharing Facility: IFC helped bridge the gap of supply and demand in the
education sector in Kenya by extending the tenor of the available financing for investors in private
schools. To do so, IFC engaged in a risk-sharing facility with K-Rep—a bank with a local currency
portfolio of loans to private schools—to finance construction, purchase of educational materials,
and other capital expenditures. IFC agreed to cover 63 percent of all losses beyond a 5 percent
first-loss threshold. This risk reduction allowed K-Rep to increase the tenor of the loans it offers.
The demonstrative effects of this endeavor are expected to lead other banks to target the education
Double bottom line and commercial investors could offer trade finance to groups of companies
in the energy access sector. Investors can usefully offer trade finance to individual companies,
but it might be more efficient to establish facilities for larger groups of companies. A sizable
facility open to local and international fi rms making devices, solar home systems, or components
for mini-grid systems, would help unlock supply chains and facilitate market penetration. The
recently established and EU-backed Solar for All initiative, whose Solar Fund targets investments
of around €3 million in the PV sector, will leverage a range of instruments designed to work along
the supply chain, including providing working capital to companies. As the fund progresses, it
may do well to consider widening its focus beyond PV alone.
Across the investment capital and trade finance spaces, it is important to address the “missing
middle” funding needs of the sector. There currently appears to be a mismatch between the
type of funds that energy access businesses need and what is available from a range of financiers.
A better fit with the needs of the sector would be local currency investments between the “too
small” ($50,000 to $100,000) investments typically available from philanthropists, on the one
hand, and the “too big” ($3 million to $5 million) investments offered by larger institutions,
including many development finance institutions, on the other. This is not a hard-and-fast rule,
but it is worth considering. For example, table 4.1 outlines typical financing means for offgrid lighting manufacturers. The table illustrates how emerging players with growing but still
relatively low sales and a limited track record could fall into the “missing middle,” struggling to
raise investments of $0.5 million to $5 million.
Type of
Emerging off-grid
Established off-grid
Typical Financing Means
No revenues
No track record
Founders, angels, and foundations provide equity and short-term
debt to finance the start-up of the company.
<$0.5 million sales
0–3-year track record
Founders typically leverage initial equity investment by raising
some additional debt.
$0.5 million–$5 million
Limited track record
Challenging phase to raise capital as manufacturers grow beyond
the capacity of angels but find it difficult to raise money from
investment funds; this is the “missing middle.”
>$5 million in sales
Longer track record
Manufacturers are turning primarily to equity from investment
funds, because it is cheaper than debt to finance expansion.
However, as they approach the $7.5 million mark, their willingness
to take on equity typically declines and is replaced by debt
financing. At that point, their business models have gained traction
in the market, major risks have been mitigated, and working
capital that is needed to finance growth takes center stage.
Table 4.1: Where energy access companies look for financing, off-grid lighting example
Source: IFC analysis.
Finally, carbon prefinancing has the potential to generate additional revenue for both cookstoves
and some mini-grids,82 and more structured approaches could help make it more accessible.
Of course, given the constraints of the process and uncertainty about its future, business models
must be viable without this revenue stream. Still, more structured approaches could help make this
instrument more universally accessible than the valuable but isolated efforts of impact investors to
date. Currently, a rigorous registration and monitoring process83 results in a three-to-four-year gap
between registration and verification of carbon reductions before carbon money starts flowing.
In addition, the transaction costs involved in setting up and monitoring make carbon finance
attractive only for companies that are able to aggregate a sufficient number of sales.
Current mechanisms to pay firms for carbon emissions reductions suffer from major problems.
Payments under the Clean Development Mechanism are linked to the continuation of the Kyoto
Protocol or a similar successor, which is in jeopardy, and to the rules of the EU Emissions Trading
System (EU-ETS), whose future development is also unclear. Payments under the Voluntary
Emissions Reduction approach do not have the same regulatory uncertainties as the EU-ETS,
but are much lower than the price of carbon emissions reductions in the EU-ETS. Moreover,
certification programs are designed to be applicable to all types of emissions reductions projects
so they are more complex than strictly needed for any one type of project, such as improved
In this context, financiers and donors have an opportunity to make it easier for firms to monetize
the carbon dioxide equivalent emission reductions they provide. Financiers may purchase or lend
against Certified or Voluntary Emissions reductions. Donors could also create simpler finance
plans with lower certification costs. For example, a donor could set up a program that would
test stoves, and then purchase the rights to the resulting emissions reductions for a fi xed price.
Doing this on a programmatic basis by country or region could reduce costs compared to current
approaches, increasing energy access and reducing carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
Supporting enterprise development and business model refinement
Financing for energy access companies should be linked to advisory services that build
management skills and help refine business models. Capital is often only half the battle. Energy
access companies also need skilled entrepreneurs and new business models. It is therefore critical to
link capital with advisory services that build business acumen and management skills. Additional
support is also needed to refine business models more broadly.
Grant funds can be used to help identify, scale, and replicate promising access ventures.
Initiatives such as the Ashden Awards, the World Bank’s Development Marketplace, and the
Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund have already made a real contribution to surfacing innovative
companies. But additional funding channeled through new or existing incubators that source
and nurture promising ventures, run regional business plan competitions, organize training for
entrepreneurs, and forge links with local business and engineering schools and partnerships with
financial institutions, could help accelerate the process.84
Combining investment and technical assistance funds is not new. One company based in the
United States but which operated globally, took such an approach in the energy access space for
well over a decade, and provided seed and growth capital to renewable energy businesses in Africa,
Asia, and Latin America, investing $25,000 to $1 million. In parallel, the company provided
capacity-building services designed to prepare clean energy businesses for investment, including
business plan development, risk identification and mitigation, basic bookkeeping and financial
modeling, organizational and ownership structuring, and legal and regulatory assistance. The
World Bank Group’s infoDev is designing and launching a network of Climate Innovation
Centers to help small emerging market clean tech businesses grow, access knowledge, and link to
international markets.85 The recently commenced Shell Foundation Business Accelerator (box 4.5)
is taking a similar approach, but specifically for access. Mumbai-based Dasra fulfilled a similar
role for community organizations for 12 years until three years ago when it extended its offering to
include social businesses.86 Efforts like these should be expanded across all energy access sectors.
Box 4.5:
The Shell Foundation is taking a venture capital approach
Shell Foundation is an example of an organization that deploys grant funding to for-profit enterprises
that provide energy access to the poor. It has also created two financial intermediaries to address the
wider gaps that exist in the Indian market. The first is a Business Accelerator created in partnership
with First Light Ventures, which will provide risk capital (up to $400,000 in convertible debt)
to seed stage companies in the energy and affordable basic services sectors. The Accelerator will
also provide meaningful levels of business development assistance via a dedicated team based incountry. Companies will be chosen for their projected ability to raise significant scale-up funding
from next-stage investors within 18 months. This approach—where Shell Foundation’s grant is
pooled with First Light Ventures equity and deployed as convertible debt by First Light Ventures—
allows both organizations to leverage their capital and make a greater number of investments at
larger ticket sizes than either would do individually.
The second intermediary was created to help address the lack of commercial debt financing to
SMEs in India. In late 2010, Shell Foundation launched a credit facility in partnership with
IntelleCash, an Indian nonbanking finance company, which provides commercial debt (less than
$250,000 per loan) tied to specific anticipated cash inflows. The facility specifically targets small
businesses that do not have three-years-plus profitability or full collateral (that is, are not able to be
served by banks), comprising the “missing middle” asset class. The Shell Foundation has plans to
scale the facility in ways similar to their strategic partner GroFin, in Africa.
If promising companies are well screened at the due diligence
stage, a fairly small amount of technical assistance funding
can help determine whether they become bankable. For
instance, one company estimated that if the cost of its business
development support services were passed on to investees rather
than absorbed by donors, this would increase the cost of debt
it provided from about 12 percent to 15 to 18 percent. At the
early stages of a business’ life, that 3 to 5 percent “subsidy” is
a good investment. Unfortunately, there is currently a lack of
funding for the kinds of blended capital business incubators
and accelerators described above.
One reason could be the focus of donors (philanthropists,
development execution agencies) on technical assistance,
and of development finance institutions on investment. A
second reason could be that donors sometimes shy away from
supporting companies that make a profit, preferring to focus on
ventures with a primarily social bottom line. Meanwhile, given
the risk of early-stage companies, most commercial investors
do not have the luxury of reducing their returns by subsidizing
capacity-building activities.
Grants can also meaningfully advance sector development
if used to support business models more broadly. Over the
last decade, a number of development agencies have invested
in selected public good areas, notably R&D on appropriate
technology, and public awareness raising on alternative energy
options.87 These efforts have often helped small firms overcome
significant hurdles to the introduction of new technology and
therefore made a valuable contribution to access. But more
targeted funding of business model development activities
is needed, particularly in the area of mini-utilities. One area
needing more work, for example, is on ways to scale-up minigrid businesses. In this space, we see limited progress, but we
have also only begun to scratch the surface on early ideas for
models mentioned in this report, such as linking to an anchorclient, microfranchising, or developing umbrella companies.
This can be achieved by supporting entities that focus on
developing and testing commercial approaches to energy access
product or service delivery.
Funding delivery units, and the provision
of public goods: Resource mapping, market
data, consumer awareness, and standards
Governments and donors will need to take a coordinated
approach to energy access if transformative results at the
national level are to be achieved; a “delivery” entity can help in
this regard. The entity could be an existing regulatory body with
additional mandates related specifically to energy access, or a
new energy access unit tasked with and accountable for making
progress on this front. In either case, such a body will need
to be empowered to deliver results, and ought to be resourced
appropriately. Although still early stage, such an entity could
be modeled along the lines of delivery units used to implement
agricultural sector priorities in Ethiopia (Agricultural
Transformation Agency) and overall economic development
activities in Malaysia (Performance Management and Delivery
Unit). It would begin by defining specific energy access targets
by technology and over a given period of time (for instance,
access to clean cooking options, decentralized electrification,
or grid connections), and would then articulate a road map for
achieving them. It would need to be resourced appropriately
to bring best practice in regulation, business models, financing
options, and implementation capacity to bear, and to ensure
active tracking of and reporting on progress. And, importantly,
it would need to be empowered to recommend policy changes
where needed and have a reporting line to or direct support
from key decision makers to ensure the desired impact. While
the actual management of such a delivery entity would be a
natural role for government, grant funds could help to kickstart activities, by financing its set-up (strategy, organizational
design, staffing) and potentially part of its operations.
Grant funds can also be leveraged to finance the provision
of market and resource data, and to develop standards.
Companies have great difficulty financing high-cost items
that would benefit their businesses. This includes developing
market intelligence; profiling the availability of primary
energy resources; and creating industry standards to guide
manufacturers, distributors, and service providers. In the
devices market, this helps companies better understand and
segment customers, develop tailored products and models
to serve them, and establish the necessary (hard and soft)
In the mini-grid and grid-based access markets, these enablers
help companies effectively complement utilities and rural
energy agencies by providing valuable information on where
to site systems and how to size them.88 Finally, standards
benefit the entire sector because they help ensure the quality of
products and services and, importantly, level the playing field.
Consumer awareness is another public good that is critical
to a business seeking to enter new markets, and can usefully
be supported by donors. Chapter 3 illustrates how the cost of
building public awareness can make a difference between a
company making a profit or posting a loss, and how donorsupported funds have made this difference. This leads to greater
sustainability for companies in the long term, transforming the
market for cleaner solutions.
Appendix A: Market-sizing Methodology
This appendix explains the methodology, data used, and assumptions made in this report
regarding market size, and provides additional sensitivity analyses.
The “addressable market” is the number of households that could afford to pay the full commercial
price of a service (based on current spending levels for traditional energy), if it was offered by an
efficient company, earning a commercial return on capital but not constrained by lack of finance
or excessive regulatory restrictions. The addressable market estimate.89 further assumes business,
governments, financiers, and donors all play their part. It is, therefore, a theoretically addressable
market since these assumptions hold to different degrees across different geographic locations.
To assess how many additional households could afford modern energy services, the amount they
are spending now on traditional energy is compared to the monthly cost of a range of modern
energy services and products that would provide superior alternatives to traditional energies. These
costs are commercial costs. They are based on actual observed costs of money-making enterprises
supplying such services now. Our analysis shows that more than 90 percent of households could be
commercially served with modern energy solutions, since they already spend more on traditional
energy than the commercial cost of superior, modern energy solutions.
Data and Assumptions for the Market-sizing Methodology
Main data source for energy expenditures
Data for the household expenditures on lighting and cooking are derived from estimates on
household and per capita expenditures in “The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy
at the Base of the Pyramid,” a report published by IFC and the World Resources Institute (2007).
The data presented are ultimately derived from expenditure data from household consumption
surveys and were standardized as part of the 2003–06 round of the International Comparison
Program (ICP) at the World Bank, which aims to produce internationally comparable price
levels, expenditure values, and purchasing power parity estimates (PPP). For comparison across
countries, the ICP has classified products and services into 110 categories that broadly cover
different household expenditures.
“The Next 4 Billion” focuses on the base of the pyramid (BOP) market and presents household
expenditure data for 36 countries for the population with annual per capita expenditures ranging
from $500 PPP to $3,000 PPP. These 36 countries are broadly representative of all the countries
in the world. Per capita expenditures are categorized into 10 broad markets, one of which is
energy. Estimates for household expenditures on lighting and cooking are based on the estimates
for energy expenditures from “The Next 4 Billion.”
Proportion of expenditures on lighting and cooking
Household expenditures on energy include both electricity and cooking. To determine the
proportion of each, we drew upon expenditures on different fuels from national-level household
surveys. Data for this breakdown are not readily available for most countries, especially data with
a focus on the population without energy access, so our methodology applies a global average
based on indications from a number of selected countries.
In general, we estimate that the share of energy expenditures is roughly equal between electricity
and cooking. However, this allocation is correlated with income. Based on data from the Indian
national household surveys,90 the average urban household in India spends roughly 51 percent of
its energy expenditures on fuels related to lighting and electricity (mainly kerosene and electricity)
and the rest on cooking. For a rural household, 35 percent of expenditures is spent for electricity
and 65 percent is spent on cooking. Estimates from the Bangladesh Institute of Development
Studies (BIDS) Survey of rural households in Bangladesh indicate that expenditures on lighting
are higher than in India and range from 57 percent to 64 percent, depending on income levels. For
Peru, estimates from the National Survey of Rural Household Energy Use show that households
also spend a greater percentage of their total energy expenditures on lighting and electricity,
estimated at about 65 percent.
For the market-sizing methodology, the assumption for the proportion of lighting and electricity
to cooking is 40 percent and 60 percent, respectively, for the poorest households, and increases
to 60 percent and 40 percent for wealthier households. The impact of these assumptions on the
addressable market can be drawn from the sensitivity analysis on willingness to pay, addressed
Cash-only expenditures
The size of the addressable market depends on the ability of potential customers to pay for
improved energy products and, therefore, estimated expenditures for households should only
reflect cash expenditures on energy. Estimates reported from household surveys will sometimes
include the imputed cost of freely collected fuel as part of total expenditures. While fuel for
electricity and lighting is rarely collected or home grown, collection of fuel for cooking for urban
and rural households ranges between 20 and 60 percent of total consumption. As a conservative
assumption, estimates of collection rates for fuel wood and charcoal from urban and rural
households in India were applied to reduce the household expenditures on cooking fuels for all
households. Our assumptions are that rural households purchase 40 percent of fuel wood and
urban households purchase 70 percent of fuel wood.
Scaling up to 2010 population estimates
This report focuses on the population that currently lacks access to modern energy. For the
lighting and electricity market, the target population is unelectrified households in the developing
world. For cooking, the target population is households without access to modern cooking fuels
or improved cookstoves. Our estimates for both populations start with 2010 population estimates
from the UN Population Division of the 36 countries presented in “The Next 4 Billion” report.
Target population for lighting and electricity
To size the market for the lighting and electricity, we apply national-level estimates for urban and
rural electrification rates from a number of different sources, including the IEA, UNDP, and
national statistics. We also made adjustments to the urban and rural electrification rates with
respect to income levels, knowing that these two characteristics are highly correlated. However,
data based on both criteria are not widely available for all countries. To estimate electrification
rates across income segments for both urban and rural populations, we determined the relationship
between these characteristics based on available data and applied an appropriate factor to national
urban and rural electrification rates by region and the country’s GDP.
Target population for cooking
Estimates for improved cooking relied on country-level data compiled by Legros et al. (2009) for
the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) report, “The Energy Access
Situation in Developing Countries; A Review Focusing on the Least Developed Countries and
Sub-Saharan Africa.” For cooking, we also accounted for disparities among different income
levels regarding the use of improved cooking fuels. As with electrification, higher-income
households are more likely to have access to improved cooking practices. Given the higher cost of
improved cooking fuels, we assume that access to these fuels is concentrated at the higher-income
populations. Therefore, the estimated proportion of the population using improved cooking fuels
is first applied to the highest-income households. This provides a more conservative estimate of
the addressable market by filtering out the higher-income households, which might already have
access to improved cooking fuels.
Scaling up to estimate the world target population
The estimates for the target population above relied on the information about the 36 countries
presented in “The Next 4 Billion.” To estimate the global market, we used two international
sources to provide global estimates. For the lighting and electricity market, the IEA’s estimate in
the World Energy Outlook 2009 (IEA 2009) of 1.4 billion unelectrified people is used to define
the global market. For the global market for improved cooking, the analysis used an estimate
of 2.2 billion people relying on traditional biomass for cooking and without access to improved
cookstoves, cited in Legros et al. (2009).
The Addressable Market for Modern Energy Products
Household spending on lighting and electricity
In total, annual global expenditures of unelectrified households on lighting and electricity
amount to about $19 billion. If we use the distribution in terms of monthly expenditure of about
274 million unelectrified households per month, it is possible to deduce from this distribution
the number of households spending more than a certain amount on lighting and electricity, as in
figure A.1.
Expenditures on
Lighting and
Charging Services
($, 2010)
SHS; 48 million people (10 million households)
Mini-Utilities; 145 million people (29 million households)
Grid Extension; 95 million people (19 million households)
Modular SHS
86 million households
430 million people
Solar and Rechargeable Lanterns
112 million households
561 million people
18 million households
89 million people
Cumulative Off-Grid Households (million)
Figure A.1: Addressable market for modern energy products and services
Source: IEA 2009; IFC-WRI 2007; Legros et al. 2009; Demographic and Health Surveys, ICF Macro, various years;
UN 2011; Castalia analysis.
The costs of electricity alternatives
Given the expenditure levels shown in figure A.1, which of the unserved households would be better
off with commercially provided, modern electric services or products? And what kind of services or
products would be relevant to them? To answer these questions, we compare current expenditures
Costs ($)
Up Front
Solar lanterns
Solar kits
Solar home systems
8.38 (levelized cost threshold based on $50 up-front cost)
8.54 (levelized cost threshold based on $500 up-front cost)
Grid extension
Table A.1: Alternative modern lighting and electricity technologies
Source: IFC analysis
Note: SHS = solar home systems.
on traditional lighting and electricity to a range of monthly commercial costs of modern energy
alternatives. More precisely, we estimate the levelized monthly commercial cost of modern alternatives,
which assumes an even amortization of up-front cost over the life of the product and commercial
returns on capital invested (table A.1).
Modern energy alternatives can be broadly categorized into three groups with regard to the degree of
electrification provided and corresponding monthly cost.
The first category, at the lower end of the spectrum of modern energy alternatives, consists of simple
solar and rechargeable lanterns. These devices start at an up-front cost of $6 to $20 and can be
commercially provided at a levelized monthly cost of around $1.25. The second category starts at
a monthly cost of around $5.50. At this level, integrated (“plug-and-play”) solar systems become
affordable, which provides a step change in the level of electrification since they power several lights
or a small appliance and offer better energy storage. Finally, starting at monthly commercial costs of
around $8 to $9, households have access to a range of high-quality modern energy solutions. These
comprise a connection to mini-grids or the national grid, where available, and more elaborate, rooftop
solar home systems.
Table A.1 illustrates this range of solutions and corresponding costs. The indicative cutoff levels used
for the market sizing are based on current and commercially viable products in the market.
Segmentation of the addressable market along technology categories
Combining spending levels with cost ranges, we estimate the commercial access to electricity
opportunity. Figure A.2 summarizes the market, which is addressable by each group of technologies.
Electricity options at $8.50 a month and above – the addressable market for rooftop solar
home systems, utilities, and mini-utilities
Fifty-eight million households without access to modern energy spend around $8.50 or more per
month on traditional lighting and electricity, for a total of $7 billion a year. These households could
potentially afford a range of modern energy solutions. Solar home systems fall into this price range,
if financed over the life of the system. So does conventional utility power when people live close
to each other and close to an existing grid. Mini-utilities—small isolated electrical generators
and distribution grids—can also supply power at about this cost, at least in sufficiently densely
populated areas. All these products and services can, at this price, provide good-quality, modern
energy that fully substitutes for traditional kerosene lamps, and also provides enough power to
run simple appliances like a fan or a radio, and to charge mobile phones.
From just the cost and expenditure levels it is not possible to estimate how this segment of the
addressable market is subdivided into the three technology categories. However, from a technical
and economic perspective, utility grid extension will generally be most competitive in areas close
to a grid.
Mini-grids will be best in villages that are densely populated but far from a grid, while solar home
systems are the fallback option when neither mini-grids nor grid extension is feasible. Applying
estimates by the International Energy Agency91 suggests that of the 58 million unelectrified
households in the upper segment, 29 million could be served by mini-utilities, 19 million by grid
extension, and 10 million by solar home systems. On an aggregate level, this seems to be a fair
estimate, while clearly the local competitiveness of different solutions is influenced by regulation
and business models. In a competitive market, each technology has the chance to capture a larger
share of this “up-market” segment than is noted in figure A.1, or to cede market share to other
Electricity options between $5.50 and $8.50 a month – the addressable market for
small and rooftop solar home systems
For those households that struggle to afford a utility connection or a conventional solar home
system, new kinds of small and integrated “plug-and-play” solar home systems are the most
pertinent option. The monthly cost of such systems, assuming a hire-purchase arrangement over
the life of the unit at a 30 percent interest rate, is around $5.50. There are around 86 million
households spending more than $5.50 and less than $8.50 per month on traditional lighting and
electricity. Together, they spend as much as $7 billion per year. These people would enjoy better
and more economic service from such systems.
Electricity options between $1.25 and $5.50 a month – solar lanterns
The price decline in modern lighting devices over recent years means that at least some level
of modern energy service can be extended to families spending as little as $1.25 per month
on lighting. As many as 112 million households are already spending enough on lighting to
potentially benefit from these technologies. The combined spending of this group on lighting and
electricity amounts to $4.2 billion per year.
The size of the theoretically addressable market and the subset of the likely addressable market
depend on many factors. Among the factors examined here are willingness to pay, availability
of financing to transform up-front costs into annuity payments over the life of the products
considered, commercial prices, interest rates, duties and tariffs, and income levels.
Up-front cost matters a lot to the addressable market
The addressable market estimates are based on levelized monthly cost. If, instead, customers had
to pay all or most of the cost up front, the addressable market would be smaller.
Since poor households are typically capital constrained, with little savings and few opportunities to
borrow, households struggle to buy lanterns at the up-front cost of $18, whereas monthly payments
of $2 for 36 months would make them widely accessible.92 If finance is not embedded in the business
model, the household will have to find a way to cover the up-front cost, and this can create a significant
barrier to sales. When departing from levelized cost and introducing up-front elements, we need to
account for the customers’ willingness and ability to deal with such cost. Interviews with industry
experts suggest that customers decide on purchases of consumer durables, such as solar lanterns or
improved cookstoves, based on their expected payback periods. For solar lanterns, three-to-six-month
payback periods are generally accepted, while for larger-ticket items, such as integrated and rooftop
solar home systems, customers accept payback periods of six months to one year.
Solar Lanterns
Integrated Solar
Home Systems
Solar Kits
Grid Extension
The results for solar and rechargeable lanterns demonstrate
that financing and the reduction of the up-front cost are
important to increase the size of the likely addressable
market. If all lantern consumers had to pay the full cost
up front, while solar home systems remained available
at levelized cost, the estimated addressable lantern
market would be less than 1 million. More realistically,
however, up-front payments would also apply to other
technologies. This case with up-front cost “across the
board” is illustrated in table A.3. Compared to the basecase scenario, this results in a downward migration on the
technology ladder, and the effect on the lantern market
would be less dramatic. Still, the results show that a large
number of potential consumers are squeezed out of the
market or into lower technology segments to the degree
that up-front costs prevail.
Up-front Cost as
% of Product
In the sensitivity analysis in table A.2, it is assumed that solar lanterns have an accepted payback of
three months, rooftop solar home systems of nine months, and solar home systems of one year. For
example, a family currently spending $2 per month would purchase a solar lantern with total costs of
up to $6 in the first three months, including both up-front and ongoing costs. If the solar lantern cost
more than $6, the family would not buy it. The results below indicate the impact of up-front costs on
the addressable market size. In the case of solar lanterns, a required up-front payment of 10 percent
would reduce the addressable market by 13 million households, to 99 million.
Table A.2: Sensitivity analysis of upfront payments on the addressable
market (millions of households)
Source: IFC analysis.
Analogous to the sensitivity analysis to up-front cost,
table A.5 illustrates price sensitivities to simultaneous
and uniform changes in levelized monthly cost for all
technologies (“across the board”).
Integrated Solar
Home Systems
Solar Kits
Grid Extension
Table A.3: Sensitivity analysis of upfront payments “across the board” on
the addressable market (millions of
Grid Extensionb
Source: IFC analysis.
Solar Home
Prices of lighting and electricity technologies are expected
to fall with component and manufacturing costs, especially
for solar lanterns, solar kits, and solar home systems.94 The
sensitivity analysis in table A.4 illustrates that the sensitivity
of the addressable market to reductions of the levelized
commercial cost varies along technology segments. While
the price sensitivity of solar and rechargeable lanterns to
changes in the levelized monthly price is small in relative
terms, the other segments are much more responsive.
Solar Kits
Sensitivity to price
Solar Lanterns
Also, the addressable market for solar kits is highly
sensitive to financing and reduced up-front payments. In
Bangladesh, Grameen Shakti and similar organizations
have seen a dramatic increase in their sales in the past
five years by offering their customers three-year financing
with a 20 percent up-front payment. Where financing is
unavailable, the markets for solar home systems are much
smaller. Solar Energy Uganda is struggling to increase sales
and has only a very limited form of financing, offering
customers in a savings group six months of financing with a
50 percent up-front payment. The chief executive officer of
Solar Energy believes that his sales would likely more than
double if he could provide low-interest financing of two to
three years to his customers. Lighting Africa estimates that
there are only 2.5 million solar home systems installed in
the world today. Lack of financing in the business models
is one reason for the low penetration thus far.
Solar Lanterns
The majority of sales today are made on an up-front cash
basis. The numbers above show the large impact that a
higher availability of finance (built into business models
or provided to different parts of the value chain) could
have on the actually addressable market and the quality
of affordable modern energy solutions. If the up-front cost
of lanterns is reduced from 100 percent to 50 percent,93
the addressable market for solar and rechargeable lanterns
could increase steeply.
Up-front Cost as
% of Product
% Change in
Table A.4: Sensitivity analysis of
price on the addressable market
(millions of households)
Source: IFC analysis.
a. The reduction in price for the mini-grid is a
reduction in the monthly ongoing cost of the
service, not including the connection fee.
b. Reduction in price refers to a reduction in
the $500 connection fee, which makes up the
majority of the levelized cost of service for grid
Willingness to pay and income are important drivers
of the size of the addressable market. The largest
impacts are for more expensive products and services,
such as solar home systems and mini-utilities. An
increase in the willingness to pay for solar home
systems can increase the addressable market by
roughly 60 percent.
Solar Kits
Solar Home
Grid Extension
The assumptions for the market sizing are based
on a household’s current expenditure on traditional
lighting and electricity. However, there is substantial
evidence that unelectrified households are willing
to pay more for superior, modern energy services.95
Assuming an increase in the willingness to pay by
20 percent effectively turns the spending curve up
by 20 percent. The same logic applies to variations
of household income. The sensitivity analysis in table
A.6 illustrates the impact of changes in willingness to
pay or household income of +/-20 percent on the size
of the addressable market.
Solar Lanterns
Sensitivity to consumers’ willingness to pay
and income levels
% Change in
Table A.5: Sensitivity analysis of
price “across the board” on the
addressable market (millions of
Source: IFC analysis.
Solar Lanterns
Solar Kits
Solar Home
Grid Extension
The IEA96 predicts the unelectrified population
will decline by only 2 percent in their New Policies
Scenario (which describes the business-as-usual
case), falling to 1.2 billion people by 2030. Asia
and Latin America will both experience an increase
in their electrification rates, while in Sub-Saharan
Africa, the population without access to electricity
will continue to grow. To estimate the addressable
market for lighting and electricity in 2030, the IEA
projections are applied to the market size model. If
real incomes of the unelectrified households were to
remain constant to 2030, the net effect of the higher
electrification rate would shrink the addressable
market for lighting and electricity by 48 million
households, or about 20 percent.
Willingness to
pay as % of base
Growth in the lighting plus market
Table A.6: Sensitivity analysis of
willingness to pay for electricity on
the addressable market (millions of
Source: IFC analysis.
Grid Extension
Solar Kits
Solar Home
Addressable market for improved
cookstoves and fuels
Solar Lanterns
However, the assumption that household incomes will remain constant over the next 20 years is
unrealistic and, in reality, they will likely grow significantly. In the sensitivity analysis in table
A.7, different scenarios are presented for changes in household incomes. If household incomes of
the unelectrified population grow by 20 percent in 2030, the market shifts toward solar home
systems, mini-grids, and grid extension, which
would comprise 24 percent of the total addressable
market. Our population growth analysis measures
only the number of households that still rely
entirely on traditional energy. It is simplistic in that
it does not account for replacement business from
the newly electrified households until 2030.
Change in Household Income as %
of Base
Around 2.5 billion people,97 or about 425 million
households worldwide, cook with traditional solid
biomass burned in simple stoves and fires. These
households spend around $19 billion per year
Table A.7: Sensitivity analysis of
globally—mainly on wood and charcoal. How
household incomes on the addressable
many of them could afford improved cookstoves
market in 2030 (millions of
that would burn more efficiently and produce less
harmful smoke? How many could afford improved Source: IFC analysis.
fuels, such as biomass pellets or liquefied petroleum
gas? As for the addressable market for electricity, the approach taken is based on current spending
levels on traditional cooking energy and derives from this data how many households could afford
improved cookstoves or fuels.
Household expenditure on wood and charcoal
The market for traditional cooking fuel is broadly broken into two segments, charcoal and wood.
Charcoal is mainly used by urban households and traded on a cash basis. Wood, however, is much
more common among rural households. Rural households collect much of the wood burned
themselves. This takes time but does not have a cash cost. Some wood is bought from others,
however. For the purpose of this market sizing analysis, only cash purchases are considered as
expenditure. While it often takes a significant amount of time to collect fuel wood, this time
cannot be easily converted into cash; therefore, it is difficult to assume it could be diverted to
purchasing improved cooking devices.
The cost of improved stoves and fuels
Prices of improved cookstoves in the market today can vary substantially according to where
they are manufactured and their level of technological sophistication. Improved cookstoves
using enhanced biomass will cost a family around $9 per month or more (including fuel costs).
Improved cookstoves based on existing fuels, such as wood and charcoal, have a minimum cost of
around $7 and can save a family 30 to 40 percent per month in cooking fuels (table A.8).
Up Front
Fuel Saving
Advanced fuels
Improved charcoal stove
Improved wood stove
Table A.8: Improved cooking devices
Source: IFC analysis.
Note: n.a. = not applicable.
Figures A.2 and A.3 show the estimates for the total addressable market for improved fuels and
improved cookstoves in both the charcoal and wood cooking markets. In summary:
20 million households are already spending $9 or more per month on wood and charcoal for
cooking. These households could afford to switch to improved fuels.
374 million households would be better served with improved cookstoves based on their
expected fuels savings (above $0.90 for wood, above $1.30 for charcoal, and below $9).98
Monthly Expenditures
on Charcoal
($, 2010)
Alternative Fuels
19 million households
93 million people
Improved Charcoal Cookstoves
63 million households
313 million people
2 million households
10 million people
Cumulative Charcoal-Using Households (million)
Figure A.2: Addressable market for improved cooking – charcoal
Sources: Based on the distribution of household expenditure on charcoal and wood in IFC-WRI 2007;
Demographic and Health Surveys, ICF Macro, various years; National Sample Survey Office, India
2005; UNDP/WHO 2009; and Castalia analysis.
Monthly Expenditures
on Wood
($, 2010)
Alternative Fuels
1 million households
6 million people
Improved Wood Cookstoves
311 million households
1,553 million people
30 million households
151 million people
Cumulative Wood-Using Households (million)
Figure A.3: Addressable market for improved cooking – wood
Source: IFC analysis.
Cooking for over $9 per month – the addressable market for modern improved
cooking fuels
Households spending over $9 on traditional biomass for cooking have the potential to switch to
a modern, more advanced fuel. These fuels include new technologies that turn agricultural waste
into biomass pellets, charcoal-dust, and liquid fuels, and also more established modern fuels, such as
liquefied petroleum gas. Additional benefits from switching to an improved fuel for cooking not only
include improved health impacts, but these technologies often have reduced cooking times and less
impact on the environment.
Cooking for ~$1 to $9 per month – the addressable market for improved wood and
charcoal cookstoves
Households that are spending $.90 for wood or $1.30 for charcoal, and up to $8.95 per month, could
afford to purchase an improved cookstove based on the expected fuel savings over the product’s life.
The lowest-cost improved cookstoves on the market today are about $7 and can save a family at least
30 percent in charcoal over traditional cookstoves, or 40 percent in wood over a three-stone fire.
The estimate of the addressable market for improved cookstoves is based on the expected monthly
fuel savings per family. If these savings are greater than or equal to the monthly cost of the cookstove,99
the household would benefit from purchasing an improved cookstove. The monthly capital cost for a
$7 cookstove is $0.38. This capital cost would be more than compensated by fuel savings at monthly
expenditures on charcoal of at least $1.30, or $0.90 on wood.
As for the electricity market, this is a theoretically addressable market, since certain segments of this
market will be foreclosed by local cooking practices that are incompatible with standard improved
cookstoves or modern fuel devices. Also, the decision to purchase a cookstove is not entirely based on
fuel savings. While savings remain the first priority of many poor households, design elements such as
portability, ease of use, and cooking time are also important factors that influence willingness to pay.
The effect of financing constraints, resulting in higher up-front costs, or variations in willingness to
pay, can be seen in the following sensitivity analysis.
Sensitivities of the addressable market for improved cookstoves and fuels
Analogous to the electricity section, this section analyzes the sensitivity of the addressable market
estimates to up-front cost, to the price of the product, to incomes or willingness to pay, and to future
Up-front payments matters a lot for the addressable market
The estimated size of the addressable market is based on the levelized monthly costs of a cookstove
compared to expected monthly fuels savings. Purchasing a cookstove in one up-front payment would
present a financial hurdle for many poor households and reduce the size of the addressable market.
Cookstove companies are aware of this sensitivity and have devised different ways to reduce the
up-front costs of a stove. When compared to modern energy technologies, households generally
expect a shorter payback for improved cookstoves due to shorter expected life, and because most
benefits of improved cooking are not immediately tangible. Experts in the field and companies
report a generally accepted payback period of one to three months on an improved cookstove.
The sensitivity analysis below estimates the impact of higher up-front payments on the addressable
market for improved cooking based on a three-month simple payback through fuel savings. For
example, the 10 percent up-front cost case indicates that 60 million households would purchase
an improved charcoal cookstove with a 10 percent up-front payment and financed over the life of
the product with an annual interest rate of 30 percent.
If financing is available, over 90 percent of households using traditional biomass for cooking could
access improved cookstoves and improved fuels. The remaining households have so little cash
expenditures on traditional cooking fuels that improved cookstoves and fuels would not amortize
in terms of cash savings.
Up-front costs have a large impact on the market size. The addressable market for improved
cookstoves quadruples when the up-front payment is reduced from 100 percent to 50 percent of
the total cost of the stove (table A.9).
Up-front Cost
as % of
Product Cost
Improved Cook
Improved Fuels
Up-front Cost
as % of
Product Cost
Improved Cook
Improved Fuels
As illustrated in the market of lighting and electricity, the result of the up-front payment sensitivity
changes when applied “across the board.” The result would be a smaller overall addressable market
that will be dominated by improved cookstoves (table A.10).
Table A.9: Sensitivity analysis of
up-front payment on addressable
market for improved cooking
(millions of households)
Source: IFC analysis.
Table A.10 Sensitivity analysis of
up-front payment on addressable
market for improved cooking
– across the board (millions of
Source: IFC analysis.
The impact of price (in terms of levelized commercial cost) on the addressable market for
improved cookstoves is small. Further declines in the price will have only small impacts on this
segment of the addressable market because there are relatively few households spending less than
$0.38 per month. For improved fuels, at a levelized monthly cost of $8.95, the price elasticity of
the spending curve is higher. Hence, price reductions have a greater impact on the market for
improved fuels.
Going forward, prices of improved cookstoves and fuels could potentially decline, especially if
companies succeed in leveraging carbon credits. Locally produced cookstoves in Ghana and Mali
have already passed the rigorous application and verification process to obtain carbon credits
and are now beginning to receive carbon payments. This will have an impact on the addressable
market to the extent that it lowers the up-front price component (see table A.10), and to a lesser
extent through the reduction of levelized cost (table A.11).
As for modern electricity products and services, the results change when we apply the sensitivities
across the board and the market shifts toward improved fuels.
Willingness to pay or income levels
The assumptions for the market sizing are based on a household’s current expenditure on cooking.
The sensitivity analysis below illustrates the impact of changes in willingness to pay and income
levels (which are assumed to have a proportional effect on willingness to spend) on the addressable
Similar to the results of the sensitivity analysis for the impact of price on the addressable market,
willingness to pay also has a strong effect on the market for improved fuels (table A.13). Customers
have demonstrated a higher willingness to pay for modern improved fuels, such as liquefied
petroleum gas, because it often an aspiration for many middle-income families.
Growth in the cooking market
The IEA100 estimates that by 2030, the population relying on traditional biomass without
improved cooking practices will grow by 3 percent. The growth in the unserved population will
be concentrated in lower-income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, the base
case scenario of constant income levels estimates that the overall market for improved cookstoves
is almost unchanged, while the market for improved fuels is expected to decline.
Changes in household incomes will have an impact on the size and composition of the addressable
market. If household incomes grow, the market in 2030 for improved cooking will shift toward
improved fuels. If household incomes fall, improved cookstoves will remain the most economically
viable choice for the majority of the addressable market (table A.14).
% Change in
Improved Cook
Improved Fuels
Price Reduction
from Current
Improved Cook
Improved Fuels
Table A.13 Sensitivity of
willingness to pay and income
levels on the addressable market
Source: IFC analysis.
Improved Fuels
Improved Cook
Change in Household Income as %
of Base
Source: IFC analysis.
Improved Fuels
Source: IFC analysis.
Improved Cook
Table A.12: Sensitivity analysis of
price on addressable market for
improved cooking – across the
board (millions of households)
Willingness to
Pay as % of
Table A.11: Sensitivity analysis of
price on addressable market for
improved cooking (millions of
Table A.14 Sensitivity analysis
of household incomes on the
addressable market in 2030
(millions of households)
Source: IFC analysis.
Appendix B:
Socioeconomic Impact of Serving the Energy-Poor
Estimates of socioeconomic impact are calculated based on serving the entire addressable market
for lighting and electricity and cooking (tables B.1 and B.2).
For lighting and electricity, the benefits are calculated for replacing kerosene lamps. We assume
that solar lanterns replace one kerosene lamp per household and all other technologies replace
three kerosene lamps.
For estimates of the health benefits, kerosene lamps are assumed to release one-fifth of the harmful
particulate matter of traditional cookstoves and therefore contribute to one-fifth of the negative
health impacts. We assume kerosene lamps will emit 100 kilograms of carbon each year, and the
net carbon emission reductions account for this reduction plus the carbon emitted from each
improved lighting and electricity technology.
Sick Time
Annual GHG
Grid extension
Integrated SHS
Solar lanterns
Table B.1: Health and environmental benefits of modern lighting solutions
Sources: ECN 2006; IFPRI 2006; Mills 2005; Poppendieck et al. 2010; WHO 2006; World Bank 2006;
interviews with industry experts and companies.
Note: — = not available. CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent; GHG = greenhouse gas; kg = kilogram.
Sick Time
Annual GHG
Improved charcoal
Improved wood
Improved fuels
Table B.2: Health and environmental benefits of improved cooking solutions
Sources: ECN 2006; IFPRI 2006; Mills 2005; Poppendieck et al. 2010; WHO 2006;
World Bank 2006; interviews with industry experts and companies.
Note: CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent; GHG = greenhouse gas; kg = kilogram.
Appendix C: How Mini-Utilities Grow into Big Utilities
Value ($
Growth History
Con Edison
Edison), United
States States
Established in 1882, Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station was the first
centralized power plant in the United States. It initially served 85
customers who had less than five lamps each. Overcoming competition
that provided traditional fuels, the system expanded rapidly. Two years
later, the system had expanded to serve 508 customers with a total of
over 10,000 light bulbs. Due to organic growth and an aggressive rollout
strategy, the company grew rapidly beyond its initial local market in
Manhattan. Its successor company has an equity value of over $14 billion.
JPSCo (Jamaica
(Jamaica Service
Service Company),
By 1892, Kingston, Jamaica had a public power supply. JPSCo—privately
owned and established in 1923 with 4,000 customers—gradually bought
small systems, completing consolidation in 1945. JPSCo (once again
private after a period of public ownership) now serves 98 percent of the
Jamaican population. It is owned 40 percent by Marubeni, 40 percent by
East West Power, and 20 percent by the Government of Jamaica.
“La Electricista” started supplying power in the Manila area in 1895. By
1903, it had 3,000 customers. This operation was later absorbed into
other electricity providers in the Manila area, helping create Meralco, the
private utility that now supplies around 20 million people, with an
electrification rate of 97 percent.
(Cagayan Electric
Power andPower
CEPALCO is an electric distribution utility serving the City of Cagyan de
Oro and the surrounding municipalities in the Philippines. It began
operations in 1952 with 750 customers and now has over 100,000.
NDPL (North
Delhi Power
India India
In 1905, a private company set up a 2-megawatt diesel station set at
Lahori Gate in Old Delhi, supplying the city with power for the first
time. Development of the power supply continued in the Delhi area
under a number of private and public companies. However, starting in
1932, the tendency was toward consolidation under public ownership,
and this seems to have been completed in 1947. Service and financial
performance deteriorated over the years, and the entire system was
reprivatized in three companies (of which NDPL is one) in 2002.
Before 1965, the only power supply on St. Lucia was from very small,
mostly government-owned systems. Electricity connections on the island
totaled only around 4,000, for a population of about 96,000. To expand
access, the government reached an agreement with the Commonwealth
Development Corporation. CDC created LUCELEC, which took over
the dispersed government system and started building a grid that would
eventually serve the entire island. By 1985, the company had 18,000
customer connections. Today, St. Lucia has nearly 100 percent
electrification with nearly 60,000 customer accounts islandwide.
(St. Lucia Electricity
Services Limited),
St. Lucia
fi nancial
a. value
as reported
in 2010 financial statements.
Appendix D: Grid Extension – Recent Relaxation of Exclusive Arrangements
Previous Regulatory Position
New Regulatory Position
Since 1948, the dominant model was monopoly
supply by Electricity Boards owned by state
governments and granted exclusive statewide
franchises. Some preexisting large private utilities
were allowed to operate. The governing legislation
was the Electricity Supply Act of 1948 and various
state-level laws.
The Electricity Act of 2003 addressed power sector
liberalization and rural electrification, removing
licensing and exclusivity arrangements for rural
electrification. Proviso 8 in Section 14 states that a
license is not needed to generate and distribute
electricity in rural areas. However, the distributor is still
required to comply with the safety provisions of the act.
In 1972, the National Electric Power Authority
(NEPA) was created by statute as the result of a
merger between the Electricity Company of
Nigeria and the Niger Dams Authority. A
vertically integrated utility, NEPA was granted
monopoly powers by statute.
In 1998, amendments to the Electricity Act removed
NEPA’s monopoly powers. To date, much of the new
entry has occurred in generation to supply the grid, as
captive power/self-generation.
Exclusive distribution franchises that together
covered the entire country have been awarded by
In 2001, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act
(EPIRA) made it possible for the Energy Regulatory
Commission (ERC) to give permission to “Qualified
Third Parties” to supply power in franchise areas where
the incumbent was not supplying power. In 2006, the
ERC promulgated a set of Implementing Rules and
Regulations governing the process.
Electrogaz was established in 1976 by Organic
Law 18.76 as the state-owned monopoly
distributor of water and electricity in Rwanda.
Restructuring and private participation followed
from 1999. However, Electrogaz remained the
monopoly distributor.
In 2011, a new Electricity Law was passed by
Parliament, and enacted into law in July of that year.
Article 7 of the law requires anyone engaged in
electricity distribution to obtain a license from the
regulator. Article 26 provides that the regulator may
create simplified licensing procedures for isolated
systems in designated rural areas, or waive the need for
licenses for companies operating under contract from
the Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (an entity
that can plan and fund rural electrification). The law
further provides that anyone who supplies power
without a license may be imprisoned for up to three
years (Article 50).
The state-owned utility Tanesco operated under
an exclusive license granted by the government
under the Electricity Ordinance 1957.
In 2008, a new Electricity Act was passed. Section 8
stipulates that licenses are required for electricity
distribution, and anyone distributing power without a
license may be imprisoned for up to five years. Licenses
may be exclusive or nonexclusive. Section 18 provides
that off-grid distributors in rural areas serving a peak
demand of less than 1 megawatt do not need a license.
The regulator, may, nevertheless make rules governing
such systems.
Appendix E: Photo Credits
Photo Credits
Barefoot Power
Bonny Utility Company
46, 69
First Energy
29, 46
Greenlight Planet
29, 41, 65
Hans de Keulenaer
Husk Power Systems
1, 6, 11, 20, 21, 29, 49, 54, 96, 117, 124, 130, 134
Katene Kadji
Nuru Light
Pepukaye Bardouille
48, 59
29, 41
41, 57
27, 29, 40, 113
Double bottom line companies are companies that expect
both a financial and a social return.
The Director for Central Africa Market Development,
For example, UNDP 1997; and UN-Energy/AGECC 2011.
For example, Bazilian et al. 2011.
The campaign took place in the province of Mwanza with
a budget of around $500,000. It included building awareness
with key decision makers.
IEA 2011.
Flows from members of the Development Assistance
Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
This $37 billion spent annually on energy services by
households without access to modern solutions should not be
confused with the International Energy Agency’s 2010 estimate
of $36 billion in annual investment needed to achieve universal
energy access by 2030 (IEA 2010). The amounts are similar,
but they refer to different aspects of energy access.
Lighting Africa Research,
IFC-WRI 2007, adjusted to only account for cash
A 30 percent interest rate is used for this calculation, which
is a rate typically faced by poor people in developing countries.
Estimates of the addressable market are not based on the
assumption that finance is available for free or at low rates.
Rather, the estimates assume that the business model used to
sell the product or service embodies a way for the supplier, or a
related financing institution, to embed financing in the product
offering. Capital costs are recovered with commercial interest,
but the up-front payment is removed and replaced with a level
stream of monthly payments.
Also called an installment plan, closed-end leasing, or rent
to own.
GSMA 2010.
Watts peak is a measure of the nominal power of a
photovoltaic solar energy device.
According to research from the IFC Lighting Africa Team.
Funds from the University of Colorado and the Bohemian
and Shell Foundations.
Several device companies, across technologies—including
SELCO, Tecnosol, and Toyola—are investees in an investment
fund, which, in turn, receives financing from a range of
development institutions, including IFC. The private sector
arms of some donor institutions might also invest directly in
businesses. For instance, in 2011, the Norwegian Development
Agency made a $5.5 million investment in lighting device
supplier, ToughStuff.
In 2007, the AMS II.G (Clean Development Mechanism
[CDM] methodology on energy efficiency measures in thermal
applications of nonrenewable biomass) was approved as part
of the CDM of the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change). AMS II.G was the first small-scale
methodology to assess baseline and monitoring for activities
promoting energy efficiency in biomass use. CDM is a
mechanism that commoditizes or monetizes carbon reductions
in developing countries—which are, in turn, accounted
through national and United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change greenhouse-gas registries to be purchased
by developed-country markets such as the European Union
(European Union Emissions Trading System, EU ETS)—to
meet national greenhouse-gas reduction targets.
GIZ 2011, 5.
Toyola’s process for Voluntary Gold Standard registration
started in 2007.
Lighting Africa 2010.
IFC 2007.
The Paradigm Project, headquartered in the United States
with operations in Kenya, is leveraging carbon offsets through
the voluntary Gold Standard to finance sustainable cookstove
businesses in the developing world. This financing approach
helps attract investment for project start-up costs and helps
reduce the cost of the stove to end users from an average of
$35 to an average of $15, a price that helps overcome barriers
to clean energy access for the poor. Through this model,
Paradigm was able to sell nearly 40,000 stoves in its first full
year of operation and forward sell over 125,000 tons of offsets
to a nonprofit buyer in the Netherlands.
GIZ 2011, 6.
Haigler et al. 2010. This figure is reasonable if the CDM
mechanism or something similar continues. Gold Standard
Carbon Credits may sell for less than this, perhaps around $5.
specific factors, notably the cost of generation by the miniutility, the quality of the solar resource powering a solar home
system, and the cost per kilometer of erecting distribution
lines. Other factors, like the diversity of load profile in the area
served, can also come into it.
Programmatic CDM is also called a program of activities
(PoA). This is a voluntary action undertaken by a private or
public entity that coordinates and implements any policy,
measure, or stated goal (that is, incentive schemes and voluntary
programs), which leads to greenhouse gas emission reductions
that are additional to any that would occur in the absence of
the PoA.
The nonprofit arm is DESI Management Training Centre for
Rural Women, or Mantra, and the loan provider is Baharbari
Odhyogik Vikash Sahkari Samiti.
Wurster 2011.
1,000 kW = 1 MW.
This differs from independent or merchant power producers,
which feed power into the grid using an offtake agreement with
the incumbent utility, supply large customers through bilateral
arrangements, or generate power for their own consumption.
Used broadly to describe the shift, as incomes rise and
preferences change, to increasingly efficient and less directly
polluting energy carriers and conversion devices. For cooking
and heating, the steps rise from dung or crop residues to fuel
wood, charcoal, kerosene, and liquefied petroleum gas, natural
gas, or electricity. In the case of lighting, the steps are initially
fire then kerosene or candles and then electric bulbs.
Feed-in tariffs are a policy mechanism used in a number
of countries to accelerate investment in renewable energy
technologies by offering power producers long-term supply
contracts, generally reflecting the technology-specific cost of
While there are a few examples of mini-utilities leveraging
carbon finance, these are limited, and therefore will not be
discussed here.
Micro hydro is a type of hydroelectric power that typically
produces up to 100 kW of electricity using the natural flow of
Castalia research for World Bank.
Jadresic 2000.
The arguments in this section are based, in part, on Ehrhardt
and Burdon 1999.
State governments specify which parts of the state are to be
classified as rural for these purposes.
According to interviews with three mini-utility companies.
Three-phase electric power, the most common method
used by grids worldwide to transfer power, is a method of
alternating current electric power generation, transmission, and
Baker 2009, 18.
Since the report does not consider the additional restriction
of load density, but only income levels.
IFMR 2010.
Baker 2009.
Marboeuf 2009.
Electricité de France and Total sold their shares to RESCO
employees in 1999.
This later resulted in significant overcapacity. These
circumstances reversed dramatically under different leadership
a decade later, leading to rolling blackouts. But due to the bulky
nature of power generation investments and lag times in new
capacity coming online, such dynamics are, unfortunately,
UNDP 2011.
IFMR 2010.
Silica and rice husk char are by-products of HPS’s operations.
Rice husk char can be compressed into incense sticks.
As the distance between customers increases, the cost of
distributing power to each user rises (because more investment
in wires and poles is needed), and at a certain point the additional
cost of distribution starts to exceed the cost advantage that the
mini-utility has in generation. The crossover point between the
costs of the different technologies depends on many location-
Ampla’s initiative has won multiple prizes, including “Best
International Metering Initiative” in 2006.
The company offers basic life insurance to families that
remain current with their bills. This is valued by customers
because life insurance is otherwise not available in these
communities, and the loss of a breadwinner can leave a family
destitute. NDPL is able to create a risk pool that is insurable and
to provide a low-cost distribution mechanism for the families.
The company pays the premium to keep the insurance current
so long as their bill is paid. This creates a strong incentive for
families to pay their bills, since there is no other way to obtain
or maintain life insurance.
IFC 2010, 46.
World Bank 2011.
Return on equity figures were not available.
Jadresic 2000.
Majority owned by WRB Enterprises of Florida, DOMLEC
was established in 1949 as a private company and has grown
to serve nearly 100 percent of the population, using a mix
of hydro- and oil-based thermal plants. In 2009, it earned
revenues of $76.8 million and has averaged above a 5 percent
return on assets over the last five years.
In a competitive situation, the subsidy required should be
no more than the gap between the (present value of) returns
expected on the area and the returns required for commercial
viability. This kind of output-based plan can also be referred
to as “Viability Gap Financing,” since the government puts
in only the minimum amount of grant finance needed to fill
the gap between the expected returns and commercially viable
returns. Both Output-Based Aid and Viability Gap Financing
fall into the broad category of Results-Based Financing.
Smith 1995, 48–9.
The utility is regulated by the Energy Regulatory
Commission, which has traditionally operated on a U.S.-style,
cost-plus regulatory plan, in which tariffs are adjusted only
when the utility so requests. The dynamic in the Philippines
under this regime has been that companies that grow quickly
do well—since the reductions in cost from growing economies
of scale can outstrip cost increases from inflation, allowing
companies to earn attractive rates of return. It thus seems
likely that a strategy to promote rapid growth will contribute to
higher returns on investment for the company.
Codensa emerged from the 1997 unbundling and
privatization of the public utility and has extended electrification
in its area to 99.98 percent.
ONE will operate the concession through a special purpose
company known as Comasel de St. Louis, a new company set
up specifically for the purpose, under a 25-year concession. The
company is a wholly owned subsidiary of ONE, the Moroccan
electricity utility. Comasel’s target for equity returns is in
the mid-teens. It is expected that the first customers will be
supplied during 2012, after some contractual issues have been
resolved with the regulator.
Gassner, Popov, and Pushak 2009.
For information on Dialog and Idea Cellular, see IFC 2010.
Another relevant point for the Codensa Hogar model is that
the utility also has the financial strength and reliable brand
name needed to encourage merchants to accept its card.
UNELCO serves Port Vila (the capital); Luganville, part of
the island of Tanna; and part of the island of Malekula. The
company was founded in 1945, and has been privately operated
and profitable throughout that time; in recent years, it earned a
return on equity invested of over 20 percent.
The source for statements about government motivation is
a Castalia interview with a member of the Privatization Task
Force. The information presented on North Delhi Power Ltd.
was kindly supplied by the senior management team of the
utility in a half-day interview at the company headquarters
in Delhi, and supporting documentation provided by the
That is, $80 million from the initial cash equity investment,
$210 million in retained earnings, and $320 million in bank
debt. Major lenders include IDBI (Industrial Development
Bank of India), IDFC (Infrastructure Development Finance
Company Limited), and the State Bank of India. Return on
equity from 2002 to 2010 was around 21 percent on capital
In the Philippines, utilities from the smallest rural
cooperative to huge enterprises like MERALCO have been
granted franchises by the Philippine Congress. No utility
is allowed to serve outside its franchise area. MERALCO is
the Philippines’s largest electric power distributor. It supplies
around 5 million customers, with an electrification rate in its
franchise area of 97 percent. An estimated 20 to 25 percent
of Filipinos are without power supply. Some of these could be
commercially served by utility grids, but neither MERALCO
nor any other utility is allowed to extend service to unserved
customers if they lie outside its franchise area.
IFC 2010, 9–10.
CEMAR, the previously state-owned utility, was privatized
in 2000. The utility was bought by its current owners, GP
Investimentos, in 2004, and since then it has provided
electricity to over 500,000 new customers. A universal
electrification program, Luz para Todos, was a key driver, but
so was the company’s own ability to improve management
efficiency and attract capital. In part because of this expansion
of access, CEMAR has achieved an annual average growth in
revenue of 12 percent, and a margin of around 40 percent on it
earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.
GSMA 2010b.
As asserted in Tenenbaum (2006), the two golden rules
for regulation should be that (a) regulation is a means to an
end. What ultimately matters are outcomes (sustainable
electrification) not regulatory rules; and (b) the benefits of
regulation must exceed the costs. The economics of off-grid
electrification are fragile, with the most expensive electricity
being “no electricity.”
Reiche, Tenenbaum, and Torres de Mästle 2006.
Castalia research funded by the World Bank.
Gassner, Popov, and Pushak 2009.
Concessional financing typically refers to financing which,
compared with commercial terms, provides a subsidy. This
subsidy can be in the form of a low interest rate, a long tenure,
a subordination, or a grant. (“Subordination” refers to the
priority in which financial returns are redistributed to investors
in a company or project. Typically, senior debt gets paid back
first, subordinated debt gets paid back next, and then holders
of a company’s or project’s equity, the highest risk category in
a capital structure, would see returns from their investment.)
Concessional financing takes the brunt of the risk and, as such,
aims to incentivize investors and banks to support an asset class
that otherwise has no or limited access to financing. It is used
to help design and test innovative business models (not just
technologies), and to take them to proof of concept. At that
stage, commercial capital can come in. The concessionality is
typically provided by philanthropic donors, governments,
international development institutions, or double bottom
line investors, either directly or in cooperation with other
development finance or commercial institutions.
Mezzanine financing is part of the capital structure,
typically convertible equity or subordinated debt, which has
characteristics of both equity and debt. It is subordinate to
senior debt but senior to the equity.
The arrangement would in addition be backed by several
other financial covenants to align the interests between the
bank as lender and IFC, which assumes the project risk without
due diligence.
Through a certification by Det Norske Veritas, DESI Power
has been able to validate its project plans as per the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change criteria,
and carbon credits equivalent to 5.15 MW of power generation
have been sold in advance (Intellecap/IFC-Lighting Asia).
Of both CDM and Gold Standard CERs (Certified
Emission Reductions).
The Global Energy Entrepreneurship Program intends to
launch an Energy Enterprise Portal to help connect potential
investors to early-stage funding deal opportunities.
The network has ambitious plans to create over 2,400
enterprises, generate 240,000 direct and indirect jobs, install
3,000 MW of off-grid energy capacity, provide energy access to
over 28 million people, deliver clean water to over 10 million
households, and mitigate 65 million tons of carbon dioxide.
The first center in Kenya, which secured $15 million in
funding, was launched in 2011.
Dasra, a nonprofit funded entirely by grants, works with
philanthropists, corporate foundations, and the government to
pool and structure capital to meet their needs. It also serves
as a conduit for eager impact investors, using its research arm
and strong local networks to identify high-potential investees
and document their business models. From that knowledge
base, they pick companies that move into what is termed their
“portfolio.” These portfolio businesses benefit from an intense
nine-month executive education program (which brings
together 20 social businesses and 20 nonprofit organizations
in an attempt to cross-pollinate the two categories) that builds
investment readiness, develops and articulates business plans
and a compelling growth story, and details their fundamental
operating approach. Dasra helped Husk Power Systems raise
its first round of equity, and has also been involved in d.light’s
fund-raising efforts.
The focus has often been on cooking—SNV (the Dutch
international nonprofit organization) on biogas, GTZ and
USAID on improved cookstoves, and DfID on indoor air
pollution, for example.
For instance, until recently, there was very little data on
kerosene spend in East Africa and, therefore, limited interest in
alternatives. Data provision attracted market entrants. Another
case showed that low quality solar lanterns have spoiled consumer
confidence in many markets. These data, which have enabled the
development of national level initiatives involving both business
and public sector entities, would probably not have been generated
without donor supported programs. The same is true for miniutilities. Without basic mappings of both renewable energy
(hydro resources, biomass availability, solar irradiation and wind
speeds) and a detailed understanding of demand centers, miniutility developers will struggle to build businesses.
The addressable market is not the maximum market size.
Rather, calculations for estimating the size of the addressable
market are based on a mix of conservative and more aggressive
assumptions. Equalizing willingness to spend with current
spending on primitive energy (not increasing it for better service
levels) is conservative; using levelized cost is more aggressive.
Household Consumer Expenditure in India 2007–2008,
National Sample Survey Office India, 2008.
The market size model used estimates of the breakdown
between grid access, mini-grid, and off-grid energy solutions
to meet the target in the Universal Modern Energy Access
Case presented by the IEA in IEA (2010). The Universal
Modern Energy Access Case quantifies a scenario in which
only 1 billion people have access to electricity by 2015. To
reach this target, the scenario estimates that 100 percent of
the urban population and 30 percent of the rural population
will have grid access. Of the remaining 70 percent of the rural
population, 75 percent will be served by mini-grids and 25
percent will be served by off-grid solutions, such as solar home
systems. These estimates are taken as indicative of a potential
market share of these technologies.
Note that the present value of costs under the two payment
options is the same (at a 30 percent interest rate, a rate typically
faced by poor people in developing countries). Estimates of
the addressable market are not based on the assumption that
finance is available for free or at low rates. Rather, the estimates
assume that the business model used to sell the product or
service embodies a way for the supplier, or a related financing
institution, to embed financing in the product offering.
Capital costs are recovered with commercial interest, but the
up-front payment is removed and replaced with a level stream
of monthly payments.
While amortizing the remaining 50 percent at an interest
rate of 30 percent over the three years.
Lighting Africa 2010.
World Bank 2007.
IEA/OECD 2010.
UNDP/WHO 2009.
The threshold for charcoal-fueled cookstoves ($1.30 per
month) is higher than the one for wood ($0.90 per month)
because the efficiency gains are higher for wood. As a
consequence, fuel savings are higher for wood, and cookstoves
amortize faster. Improved cookstoves achieve fuel economies
of 30 to 60 percent over traditional charcoal stoves, and they
achieve 40 to 80 percent for wood. For the purposes of the
market size methodology, 30 percent is used as a conservative
estimate for charcoal and 40 percent for wood. These
differences are linked to the fuel used and not to technical
differences between improved charcoal and wood stoves, which
have the same capital cost.
Assuming financing over the life of the stove, with a 30
percent annual interest rate.
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Copyright © 2012 IFC. All Rights Reserved.
IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, creates opportunity for people to escape poverty and improve their lives. We foster
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through its Sustainable Business Advisory, which works with companies to adopt environmental, social, and governance
practices and technologies that create a competitive edge. IFC seeks the broad adoption of these practices to transform
markets and improve people’s lives.
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