Off-grid solar in Africa gets $224 million World Bank lift

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The World Bank has agreed to bolster the Regional Off-Grid Electrification Project (ROGEP) with access to $225 million in cash and credit.

The project improves off-grid access to electricity through standalone solar systems in 19 countries in West Africa and the Sahel including Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.

The World Bank funds include $150 million in credit and grants from the International Development Association – a unit of the World Bank that helps the world’s poorest countries – and a $74.7 million contingent recovery grant from the Clean Technology Fund of the Climate Investment Funds, which are also administered by the World Bank alongside regional development banks. Contingent recovery grants must be repaid if other lenders go on to supply funding to ROGEP.

“The project is expected to benefit about 1.7 million people currently living without electricity connections or with unreliable supply, as well as businesses and public institutions who will use modern standalone solar systems to improve their living standards and economic activities,” the World Bank said in a statement announcing the funding.

Solar as primary resource

According to the development bank, only 3% of population can currently access solar power through off-grid systems in West Africa and the Sahel. It is estimated a further 208 million people in the region have no access to power.

“The project seeks to assist regional policymakers to address barriers to creating a regional market for standalone solar systems – which is essential to reduce energy poverty in the region – and [to help] entrepreneurs … take opportunities in this market through [the] development of scalable business solutions,” said World Bank representative Rachid Benmessaoud.

Solar power is becoming considered a primary resource for development in the Sahel, a region particularly affected by climate change. A recent study claimed solar power plants and wind farms covering large surfaces may be able to contribute to increased rainfall in the Sahara desert, and particularly in the Sahel.

In April last year, the African Development Bank, Green Climate Fund and Africa 50 investment fund signed a letter of intent to collaborate on a Desert to Power program which aims to install 10 GW of solar generation capacity and provide electricity to 250 million people in the Sahel.