Deborah Foy, Opportunity-UK’s International Programmes Director told me that 2012 is the United Nations’s “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.” In the UN’s own words, “Energy is opportunity. It transforms lives. Economies. The planet.”
Opportunity’s clients enjoy some of the world’s sunniest days–but they also experience the darkest nights. Lacking electricity, over a billion people around the world are forced to rely on kerosene lamps that emit no more light than a cigarette lighter, or on batteries that can supply power to a hut but require frequent refilling journeys to diesel-powered charging stations. This is defined as energy poverty–a lack of access to electricity, fuel and more efficient cooking technologies.
I’ve asked my colleagues if they’re using microfinance to respond to this energy challenge. And if not, do they know anyone who is. I asked, how are you using microfinance to fund sustainable energy initiatives? What other programs and innovations do you know of that address the needs of people without energy access? Here is what they told me…
Jeffrey Lee, CEO of Opportunity Rwanda:
Opportunity Rwanda has been providing microcredit in cooperation with NURU for microenterprises to sell renewable (bicycle-powered) energy to reduce the use of kerosene. This will also reduce the carbon in the air.
Opportunity Rwanda is also exploring partnerships to provide solar-charger units (with MTN) and solar-powered panels and lights for microenterprises (with Great Lakes Energy) to help preserve the environment.
Lydia Njoroge, CEO of Opportunity Kenya:
Opportunity Kenya is in advanced stages of developing an Energy financing product. Working closely with Lighting Africa to vet the providers of imported solar products for domestic and business lighting, charging cell phones, etc. We are entering into an MOU with the provider to ensure that there is continuity in terms of supply and maintenance. The product pricing will take into consideration our operational costs and the transformational benefit (cost savings) accrued from the use of the product. In a typical Kenyan household, it is the woman’s role to provide fuel for cooking and lighting and we anticipate a higher demand among the female clients.
Marissa Benner, Program Manager at Opportunity-US:
Opportunity Uganda is working with the government of Uganda’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA). OBUL is one of six financial institutions involved in the program. They are providing loans (subsidized by REA) to access solar systems. The staff have been trained in basic solar products and the loan. To date, there are over 25 loan applications received and preparation for installation is in progress.
Leah Aguirre, Opportunity Philippines:
We are introducing green charcoal to our clients. The Philippines banned the use of charcoals made from wood and we find this a very good opportunity for our clients to make a living out of this. We want to distribute as many briquetting machines as we could to provide livelihood opportunities specially to the sugar farm workers who cannot cope with the needs of the family during off season of the crop. This will help save the trees as it only makes use of dried leaves. There is a high demand for charcoal in the market. The clients will then have the capability to return the money invested in the machine through the sales they make out of green charcoal they produce.
Rolando Victoria, Executive Director, Opportunity Philippines:
Since 2010, Opportunity Philippines in partnership with Hybrid Social Solution Inc. is promoting the use of solar lanterns not only to its clients but to the public as well. They can buy solar lanterns at Opportunity branches with cash or as part of their loan. Aside from solar lanterns, we are looking into other solar energy gadgets and equipment that can help our clients. We are also considering the use of solar panels in the hard-to-reach areas. Opportunity Philippines’s other environmental programs include tree planting–we hope that we can plant one million trees this year–development of spring water for the indigeneous people, and the use of organic fertilizer for our farming clients.
Annsley Scruton-Wilson, Program Manager at Opportunity-US:
Opportunity Ghana has spoken on several ocassions of their interest in exploring partnerships in the solar energy sector this year. This discussion is at the very early stages, although they may have completed some initial research.
Manfred Kuhn, CEO of Opportunity South Africa:
Opportunity South Africa has entered into a partnership with a supplier of solar powered water heating systems. We finance these solar water heating systems for our low-income clients.