Smith School's Project RISE Launches a Practitioner Report on Rural Electrification in Uganda and Zambia

The new report presents the results of studying the three main stakeholder groups in the off-grid sector: (1) the private sector, (2) the public sector, and (3) communities in relation to off-grid energy for sustainable development.

More than 85% of the rural population in Uganda and Zambia live without electricity. Moreover, population growth has outpaced connection rates, with rural areas mainly affected. Despite the fact that off-grid renewable energy systems are widely seen to be crucial to closing the energy access gap, major challenges for scaling impactful and sustainable off-grid electrification exist across the three key stakeholders.

To foster rural development enabled by off-grid electrification, a holistic approach across the business models, institutions and community engagement is required. Based on project RISE's systematic approach of researching the implication of off-grid energy for businesses, public sector, and communities, this report, Electricity for Integrated Rural Development, identifies and discusses novel models of electricity provision in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

The main findings from this report include:

(1) Mini-grid developers are designing innovative business models that go beyond delivering energy and towards supporting rural development.

The solution several innovative mini-grid developers across SSA are coming up with is to increase revenues from not only selling kWhs, but from selling electricity-enabled productive goods and services. This increases the per-kWh value-add of the mini-grid.

(2) Uganda's and Zambia's public sectors are fostering private sector-led off-grid electrification, but several barriers remain to unlock the full potential.

Off-grid solutions are often promoted and supported in isolation rather than as an integrated component of a broad and holistic sustainable development programme. Our research identifies a number of inefficiencies, both in terms of structure and decision-making processes, that may hold progress back.

(3) Rural communities demand much more than basic needs - and the off-grid market is not providing solution at scale.

Results from the household surveys reveal that the biggest percentage gap between current and desired uses of electricity exists for cooling, cooking and productive use of electricity, with between 40 and 50% of respondents wanting to use electricity for these services, but less than 10% being able to do so.

A concentrated effort from all stakeholders is required to capitalize on the significant opportunity of off-grid electrification for rural development. The links between these three stakeholder groups - the private sector, public institutions and communities - also need to be strengthened and governed in a way that focuses on the ultimate goal of sustainable development.