USAID’s Grand Challenge to Improve Off-Grid Energy Sector


SEATTLE — The World Bank estimates that over one billion people to lack access to electricity around the word. Many of these individuals live within sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions. Some see the rising off-grid energy sector as a solution to this problem within rural, impoverished areas throughout the world.

Off-grid energy is a source of power that is self-sustainable and does not require the support of a central system. This method of providing electricity can allow those who live far from cities and major energy sources to access power. In the modern era, this access to electricity is a necessity to survival.

USAID recently launched “Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Grand Challenge for Development” as one of its various developmental grand challenges. The government organization wants to invest in entrepreneurs across the globe to bring clean, off-grid energy to sub-Saharan Africa. This challenge is part of USAID and President Obama’s Power Africa initiative.

An estimated 20 million households in sub-Saharan Africa do not have adequate access to what USAID describes as “modern, clean, affordable electricity.” With drought and food insecurity affecting countless areas within Africa, the need for clean electricity is crucial.

USAID is investing $36 million to spark off-grid innovation with the goal of providing low-cost energy solutions to those who need it the most. The organization seeks to increase both the supply and demand of off-grid energy. USAID’s initial investment in this cause encourages greater private and public funding for off-grid power, which can lead to a stronger marketplace for alternative sources of affordable energy.

The Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigeration Competition is among the initiatives within the grand challenge. Proper refrigeration can increase the shelf life of food and thus improve upon food security within sub-Saharan Africa. $300,000 will be awarded to those who can find a solution to increase off-grid refrigeration. The winners of this competition will be announced in May of 2017.

Those who are interested in this completion or applying for grants to fund other off-grid energy projects are encouraged to do so through USAID. Innovation within the off-grid energy sector has the potential to increase electricity access in other parts of the world as well. New technology could be utilized to help millions of people living without reliable energy.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Flickr


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