Unlocking the Potential for Cleaner Renewable African Power

The 8.5 megawatt solar field east of Kigali, Rwanda was developed by Power Africa partner Gigawatt Global, thanks to catalytic e
The 8.5 megawatt solar field east of Kigali, Rwanda was developed by Power Africa partner Gigawatt Global, thanks to catalytic early-stage funding from OPIC via the ACEF program. The facility opened in February 2015.
Photo courtesy: OPIC

By Charlie Stadtlander, Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Earlier this year, in a quiet patch of land an hour from Kigali, Rwanda, with the help of Power Africa through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), energy development in sub-Saharan Africa took a historic leap forward. With the snip of a ribbon and the flip of a switch, East Africa’s first ever grid-connected, utility-scale solar energy facility commenced operations, proving that a private developer supported by a focused group of governments and diverse financiers can achieve real results to address acute energy shortages in sub-Saharan Africa.

The solar field was developed at a record pace by emerging-market solar innovator and Power Africa private sector partner Gigawatt Global, which took the plant from financial close to operations in under a year. The facility adds 8.5 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable solar power to Rwanda’s national grid; representing a six percent boost to the country’s total energy generation capacity. It’s an impressive addition to the Rwandan energy supply, but also a historic step towards addressing sub-Saharan African energy challenges.

OPIC’s Chief of Staff John Morton delivers remarks at the opening ceremony for Gigawatt Global’s 8.5 megawatt solar facility eas
OPIC’s Chief of Staff John Morton delivers remarks at the opening ceremony for Gigawatt Global’s 8.5 megawatt solar facility east of Kigali, Rwanda. The facility opened in February 2015.
Photo courtesy: OPIC

Notably, this is the first project to come on line under the U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) program, which is a key part of the Power Africa toolbox.  ACEF is funded by the State Department and the President’s Global Climate Change Initiative and undertaken by OPIC, the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, as well as the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). 

OPIC supported the Gigawatt Global project in its nascent stages, and due to this ACEF assistance, the project received financing from both private lenders and international development finance institutions needed to get the solar plan built and operational in record time.

The ACEF program helps promising clean energy projects develop into viable candidates for project financing by providing small amounts of early-stage funding for technical and feasibility studies, site surveys, and legal fees that are essential to getting a project from concept stage to reality. The financing tool can play a catalytic role to advance projects and attract private investment and fuel low-carbon economic growth in the region. These developments also give countries much-needed domestic sources of reliable and renewable power, and encourage stability through enhanced energy security.

OPIC’s intent in supporting Power Africa is not just to boost energy production in sub-Saharan Africa, but also to increase new energy access in underserved regions and communities.

OPIC’s Chief of Staff John Morton in the home of a customer of Off-Grid Electric’s innovative pay-as-you-go home solar service.
OPIC’s Chief of Staff John Morton in the home of a customer of Off-Grid Electric’s innovative pay-as-you-go home solar service. The overhead light bulb, mobile phone charging, and electronic devices are powered entirely by rooftop solar panels
Photo courtesy: OPIC

Another ACEF-supported project, Tanzania’s Off-Grid Electric is a pay-as-you-go home solar company that is providing new access to power to tens of thousands of homes that would otherwise have remained dark. With early-stage ACEF support, Off-Grid Electric is helping children be able to read at night, for people to be able to connect to the larger world through cell phones, televisions, and radios, and making homes and neighborhoods more safe. 

Overall, the initial $20 million of ACEF funding has the potential to lead to more than 400 MWs of new renewable power in sub-Saharan Africa and could mobilize more than $1.5 billion in project capital, a ratio of $75 of new private investments for every $1 from the program.  Since ACEF’s launch, OPIC and USTDA have committed funds to 30 renewable energy projects across 10 African countries.

Recognizing the success of ACEF’s catalytic model, at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in August 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. State Department’s intention to invest an additional $10 million in the program.

Last updated: June 07, 2016

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