Bigger and Better: Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge Intensifies in Round II

(L-R): Executive Director Chuka Eze and CEO Ifeanyi Orajaka, of Green Village Electricity Project (GVE) demonstrate how their in
(L-R): Executive Director Chuka Eze and CEO Ifeanyi Orajaka, of Green Village Electricity Project (GVE) demonstrate how their innovative technologies can illuminate households and increase productivity in remote areas.
Photo Courtesy of GE

By Rabayah Akhter
US African Development Foundation

Power Africa has brought all corners of the U.S. Government together to tackle a challenge of monumental proportions. Power fuels economic growth. It also lights homes so children can study at night, and chills medication to ward off unwanted disease. This is one development battle that, together, we can win.

Almost 70% of sub-Saharan Africa is home to communities which do not have basic access to electricity. What does Power Africa mean for these communities?

Africa's energy entrepreneurs are in the process of answering this question. All across the continent, we see entrepreneurs and communities coming together to create new ways of generating and delivering renewable energy, while also making it available and affordable to remote households, schools, clinics and local industries.

To spur this wave of innovation, last September, the US African Development Foundation (USADF) teamed up with General Electric Africa to launch the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge. The business plan competition awards $100,000 grants to 100% African-owned and managed enterprises that propose innovative solutions to meet the power needs of rural and/or underserved communities.

In that first round, Kenya and Nigeria were chosen as the pilot countries. The positive response to the challenge was clear as there were over 150 submissions culminating in six dynamic winners. But many ambitious African entrepreneurs also asked: "When will the Challenge be in my country?"

In response, Round II kicked off in May 2014. It has tripled the number of eligible countries to include the other four Power Africa countries: Ethiopia; Ghana; Liberia; and Tanzania. The partnership was further fortified, as the US Agency for International Devleopment (USAID) recently joined USADF and GE, lending both its name and its dollars to the initative. To accommodate the expected diversity of proposals, a second judging panel was added, featuring more varied experts.

Round II closed June 20th and garnered over 250 complete submissions from all six of the Power Africa countries. Eighteen applicants will be awarded $100,000 each this August. While Round II submissions are being evaluated, USADF is supporting the Round 1 winners as they execute their projects, milestone by milestone.

One of those winners, Green Village Energy Group (GVE), made remarkable progress on its winning project of scaling up a small six Kilowatts system in the rural community of Egbeke in Rivers State, Nigeria. The project will put electricity into upwards of 140 homes plus small businesses and impact at least 1,500 residents; and has the potential to be replicated in neighboring areas.

Of the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge Award, GVE's CEO Ifeanyi Orajaka (pictured below) said in a local newspaper that, "So far, it's been phenomenal. It's a huge motivation. It tells us that 'look, what you're doing is being appreciated out there on a higher scale.'"

Most recently, GVE has started constructing the powerhouse for its solar electrification project in Egbeke, and forecasts completion by August 2014. Afrisol, one of the Kenyan winners whose biodigester project will provide electricity for a school and neighboring small businesses, has to date completed three of its milestones. Each project is on its way to making a real difference for underserved communities.

One thing is certain - the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge is directly investing in African enterprises that use innovative technologies to improve the lives of those who need assistance the most.