Improving the availability of financing for low income consumers and clean energy businesses, and greater collaboration between those working to break down barriers to energy access in Asia and Africa, emerged as key priorities from the inaugural CleanStart Connect forum.
Staged by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), CleanStart Connect 2013 saw two days of lively exchanges between energy entrepreneurs, investors, financial service providers and development partners on the frontlines of building decentralised energy markets serving low-income communities.
In keeping with this year's theme, Building last-mile energy markets: financing scale and impact, discussions focused on improving the range and scale of financing for consumers, micro-businesses and energy enterprises at all stages of development, such as microcredit, pay-as-you-go schemes and financing for energy enterprises at various stages of growth.
Intended to share learning and new ideas, CleanStart Connect 2013 showcased business models aimed at scaling up clean energy technologies such as solar PV systems, improved cook stoves and biogas solutions.
The forum culminated with common recognition that in order to boost development and bring people up the "energy escalator" – whereby consumers gradually move from simple energy technology onto more elaborate solutions – a collaborative approach with the right supply chain and financing partners is required.
"UNCDF will look at syndicating an innovative Challenge Initiative to provide the incubation space needed for innovative clean energy business models to flourish and achieve scale quickly," UNCDF's Senior Regional Technical Advisor, Feisal Hussain, announced as a direct response to the debate.
At the forum, UNCDF also launched its new magazine, CleanStart Connections, which highlights the latest developments in energy-finance markets serving poor consumers. It profiles energy entrepreneurs, financiers, policy-makers and development partners.
"We hope this publication will contribute directly to building knowledge of how energy and financial service providers are working together to make energy markets work for the poor, while giving a voice to the people whose lives have been transformed as a result," UNCDF's CleanStart Programme Manager Vincent Wierda, said.
Designed to share learning, new ideas and partnership opportunities in energy-financing, CleanStart Connections examines how people access and use energy and what is being done to offer better solutions, with this first edition focusing on Nepal and Uganda.
Participants from 18 countries attended the inaugural CleanStart forum in Bangkok. CleanStart Connect in 2014 will be held in Africa, with the exact location to be confirmed by UNCDF.
Voices from CleanStart Connect 2013
"Overcoming energy poverty is a major human development challenge, yet it's also an immense investment and business opportunity. There's untapped potential for market growth but the scale of the transition is too large and the ecosystem too complex for any one sector to lead alone, and that's why UNCDF convened this forum to catalyze new partnerships and share knowledge." Shalina Miah, UNCDF's Regional Office Manager for Asia and the Pacific
"I feel that we're starting a great journey by combining access to energy and microfinance. These two worlds, or sectors, are going to merge and amplify their efforts to serve the same Base-of-the-Pyramid market which deserves access to energy. It's important this involves entrepreneurs, NGOs, product and solutions suppliers and financiers – and this is the key message from CleanStart Connect." Joel Lelostec, Business Development Director, Schneider Electric
"CleanStart Connect has given me a lot of fantastic ideas about various best financing models already tested and successful for renewable energy products. I think this kind of event will provide the range of financing models to customise accordingly based on customer needs." Surya Kumar Sapkota, Assistant Director, Nepal's Alternative Energy Promotion Centre
"Ambition is the name of the game given the scale of energy poverty which still needs to be overcome. The market opportunity we all see. Now it's about the way that we can collectively overcome all the speed bumps that lie on the road ahead." Erica Mackey, Chief Operations Officer, Off.Grid:Electric, Tanzania
"The one thing that's holding the market back is finance. It's the issue of consumer finance at a customer level and then working capital for distributors and manufacturers, and that's a really fundamental bottleneck so this UNCDF event speaks directly to that concern." Charlie Miller, Partnerships Manager, Solar Aid
"With energy, we are entering a very complex ecosystem. Not everyone has all the skills. Each one of us brings an added advantage. Pamiga is a network of microfinance institutions in Africa. Schneider Electric has energy value chain ranging from households to village-level solutions. We have clear division of roles and we think this is the perfect way to scale up quickly."Renée CHAO-BEROFF, General Manager, PAMIGA (Participatory Microfinance Group for Africa)
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CleanStart is a UNCDF programme which aims to expand access to clean energy for low-income households and micro-entrepreneurs through microfinance. It contributes to the UN Secretary General's Sustainable Energy for All initiative and is supported by the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). For more information, please visit www.uncdf.org/cleanstart