More from: energy access

Closing the Financing Gap: Upcoming Solutions and Challenges for the Rural Poor, October 2017

On Tuesday, October 25, 2017, Bicycles Against Poverty and the Bucknell Alumni Club of DC will host an event in Washington, D.C. centered around social enterprises and financial inclusion, with a focus on Sub Saharan Africa.

Arc’s Managing Director Niki Armacost discusses financial innovations in securing consumer financing for clean energy products and services for energy poor communities around the world.

Register for this event here.

 




Solar Microgrids in Odisha: Arc Partner Mahashakti Foundation Electrifying Off-Grid Villages

Mahashakti Foundation (MSF) is one of Arc Finance’s partner organizations under the Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP) funded by USAID. An NGO-MFI based in the Indian state of Odisha, MSF has, with Arc’s support, provided loans for efficient cookstoves and solar portable lighting under REMMP. In recent months, MSF has taken on a more ambitious program: connecting rural, off-grid villages to solar microgrids. Durmusi and Totaguda are two examples of how a partnership between the financial institution, investors, developers and the villages can connect households to reliable, clean and affordable lighting – providing significant and positive economic, social and environmental impact to these communities.

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Durmusi village is situated in the Gopinathpur Gram Panchayat of Thuamul Rampur block of the Kalahandi district in Odisha. A largely tribal block, Thuamul Rampur is the poorest block in the district and lacks even the basic infrastructure of roads, water, communication and electricity. Illiteracy rates are high – 95% for men and 97% for women. Socio-economic and gender disparity rates are also among the highest in the country. Durmusi consists of 47 households, with 230 people. Most are small-scale farmers, people scavenging in the forest for produce to sell, and some daily wage workers. MSF is one of the few financial institutions or NGOs working in what is one of the least developed parts of India.

After promising results with sales on credit of efficient cookstoves and small-scale portable solar lighting, MSF with Arc’s support conducted a needs assessment of the area, concluding there was scope for installation of a solar microgrid. TERI New Delhi and Utkal Alumina Kashipnded supported the installation, and the microgrid is now operating in the center of Durmusi, with solar modular units allowing generation capacity to scale up easily to meet demand.

Demand has been considerable. Out of 47 households, 40 are connected through fixed wiring with two LED lights per house. Operation and maintenance costs are only INR 30 (USD $0.50) per month per household. Power is generated during the day, charging four battery banks, and consumed during the night. The whole system is controlled by a main switch, installed in one household – that of a designated Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE). The two LED lights were selected to provide superior lighting quality to kerosene – the previously dominant lighting source. A Users’ Committee has been formed, involving all active households, and a President and Secretary appointed to ensure smooth management of the grid.

When the grid was installed, the villagers requested that one grid node be used for a street light in the center of the village, which is the social focal point of Durmusi. This allowed villagers to meet in the evenings, and will enable them to celebrate local festivals all year round. As Sri Bagi Majhi, one of the village leaders, says: “The light brings our village together now.”

Totaguda is close to the block headquarter Kolanara, in Odisha’s Rayagada district, and includes 33 households with around 150 people. The Government of Odisha has launched a program called Biju Grama Jyoti, with the objective of supplying grid electricity to each household. However, Totaguda’s remoteness means there is no grid connection at all. Like the villagers in Durmusi, most residents depend upon income from agro-forestry, or have small plots of land, and rely on rainwater for irrigation. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent. There is no school, health center, nursing or veterinary facilities in the village. Totaguda villagers are entirely dependent on the villages of Khamasing and Kolnora for any medical, educational or other support. The only infrastructure or services of any kind is, again, MSF.

Totaguda was therefore a clear choice for a microgrid pilot project, because of the immense impact that regular, clean and inexpensive electricity would have on its residents. It was during a village borrowers’ meeting that one of MSF’s solar sales officers identified the issue of grid inaccessibility in the region, and raised the issue of switching Totaguda to a microgrid. Interest and enthusiasm only continued to increase after educational sessions informed the residents of the benefits and responsibilities involved.

After a needs assessment study by MSF, TERI New Delhi supported MSF with a CSR fund of from SBI in Mumbai. Out of 33 households, 32 are now connected to the microgrid, which is similar in design and capacity to the slightly larger one in Durmusi. As in Durmusi, there is a Villagers’ Committee, with a President and Secretary. A joint savings bank account has been opened in Mahashakti Primary cooperative in Rayagada in the name of the President and Secretary. The usage fees, (again, INR 30/month per household) are tied to previous monthly expenditure on kerosene.

Besides the intangible community benefits of having lighting at night, several villagers have expressed plans to use the after-dark lighting for income-generating activities, extending their potential working hours, as well as encouraging children who are in school to do homework after dark.

Roji Madangi, 29, is a typical Totagudan. As darkness falls, she scampers to wind up her daily evening chores. Like most other women in her village, she heads to her kitchen to prepare dinner long before dinnertime, because preparation and cleaning under the light of kerosene is almost impossible. Roji’s husband is a farmer and the sole breadwinner for the family, earning about INR 3,500 (US$56) per month, which isn’t enough to provide even two meals per day for everyone in the family. This is a typical story, but one which has dramatically changed since the installation of the microgrid. The microgrid lights the village for more than seven hours per night, meaning villagers can prepare food and eat after dark, spend less on kerosene, and work longer productive hours. At night, the women are now able to earn income for the household by stitching sal leaves together to form Kholi, a plate made out of leaves. Roji herself now earns more than INR 2,000 (US$33) per month – adding half again to her husband’s monthly household earnings.

“Before, we could not even imagine this freedom in our families,” she tells the Arc team. “Our rice production was barely enough to support us, yet now I feel more empowered because I contribute to the household by not only making food for us, but by earning too.” Roji adds, “I make 100 to 150 Kholi each day, which we sell at one rupee each, and we get enough money from our hard work to afford both plenty of food and to save.”

A village ward member, Sri Naria Mandangi, says that she has been encouraging her neighbors to start new income-generating activities and make use of the additional productive hours at night. With access to modern electricity, each household in this small settlement will have an inspirational story to share. At Arc Finance, we’re proud to see the results that our partner organization MSF is achieving, and look forward to sharing more of these stories in the months and years to come.



Financing Small Scale Off-Grid Clean Energy: Opportunities and Challenges for Arc’s REMMP Partners in India

Arc’s REMMP India Partners meet for a full day of strategy building and knowledge sharing in Delhi

Financing Small Scale Off-Grid Clean Energy: Opportunities and Challenges for Arc’s Partners, a workshop in Delhi, India organized by Arc Finance in conjunction with USAID, brought together microfinance institutions (MFIs), energy enterprises, a crowdfunding platform, and an MFI apex funder for a day-long strategy session.

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How can MFIs best work with energy companies to bring renewable energy (and finance for it) to remote communities? How can these organizations make sense of the growing market of renewable energy products available? How can the sector access the long-term, low-cost debt required to reach scale in a working capital-intensive industry? And how can Arc Finance continue to help its partner organizations and other institutional friends to move from idea to business model to pilot to scale? These were among the questions discussed in a workshop round-table format with twenty CEOs and managers from Arc’s REMMP partner organizations in India (representing almost a dozen organizations across several states in India) and the Arc Finance team.

Funding challenges and opportunities were arguably the key issue of the day, with Arc partners FWWB and Milaap.org leading the discussion about the challenges of accessing low-cost and longer-term debt finance. Over the past several months, Arc Finance has been undertaking stakeholder research on debt finance needs by MFIs specifically for energy lending. The findings show strong demand and interest for an energy specific debt facility for MFIs, and this was reinforced by Arc’s partners at the Delhi Meeting. All present agreed that the market is ready for innovative new financing initiatives to scale the sector.

Results-driven business model experimentation was also a particular theme of the day. The partners discussed their experiences and lessons-learned from experimenting with different business models. The willingness to experiment and adapt when things aren’t working is a characteristic of successful organizations in any sector; energy finance is no different, as Utkarsh, WSDS, Mahashakti Foundation and Grameen Koota demonstrated when sharing their experiences.

The partners then took a deeper look at different sales models, which are central to any organization’s energy finance business model. Should an organization retain mobile agents such as Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) to carry and demonstrate products to potential customers? If so, should the VLE’s offer informal credit to customers who cannot afford to buy in cash? How does the institution get the products into the hands of agents – through micro-consignment, for example? With whom lies the responsibility for timely after sales service in the case of a defective product?

Several of Arc’s partners in India and other countries are exploring these options, identifying and adapting the right model for energy lending. DCBS (a small MFI in West Bengal) and Simpa Networks (a developer of proprietary metering technology for solar home systems which now uses a direct sales model) have both shown innovations in sales models – particular through agents. And while anecdotes are not evidence, sometimes one deserves a moment’s spotlight: the son of a DCBS client who received a loan for a solar lantern recently placed 44th out of more than a million candidates nationwide in tertiary entrance exams, something he attributes in large part to being able to study in the evenings thanks to his solar lamp.

How to transition from “push” products (supply-led) to “pull” products (demand-driven) was a dominant theme as well. The primary market barrier for energy products is lack of trust – particularly when government initiatives in the past have introduced poor quality products, hindering their reputation and making energy programs all the more difficult down the track. But as so many stakeholders know, energy clients very often become repeat energy clients – who increasingly “pull” new products as their trust and energy needs and appetites grow.

The final session of the day was interactive and more open. The participants were asked to articulate their visions and dreams for the small-scale renewable energy finance sector in the years to come. Beyond sales targets, what do they want the future to look like? Arc’s wide range of partner organizations had various aspirations, from product expansion to unlocking new sources of financing. But one common thread was the recognition that this sector is not just about providing lighting to off-grid communities. Rather, it’s about understanding and supporting the so-called “energy ladder,” or “escalator.” Partners are committed to providing broad solutions to help clients climb this ladder while increasing household economic productivity along the way.

The willingness of Arc’s partners to share information so freely is clear evidence that they see themselves all heading in the same direction and that ending “energy poverty” is a shared goal. This partners’ meeting built upon an Arc-workshop held in Manila last October in conjunction with the Microcredit Summit, and there is strong enthusiasm for this group to morph into a de facto network. Arc Finance provides a range of services to stakeholders, from Technical Assistance (which includes product identification, marketing, human resources, business model and sales support) to loan guarantees, catalytic grant funding and training. But core to its mission is being a “conduit” of sorts, a hub to develop new partnerships in small-scale energy finance. To this end, this partners’ meeting in Delhi was an exciting platform that Arc Finance was proud to organize, and from which the Indian sector can continue to grow.


Going “All in” on Solar Finance: How IDCOL Incubates a Growing Industry in Bangladesh

IDCOL and Solar Home Systems in Bangladesh

While demand for small-scale renewable energy is virtually infinite, a small microfinance institution or energy enterprise needs capital to meet that demand with supply. The Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) addresses this barrier to scale in a unique and exciting way. With massive infusion of government capital, management from the private sector and a unique asset finance model using creative partnerships, IDCOL has produced a stunningly successful program.

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Innovative Consumer Finance Mechanisms for Small Scale Off-Grid Energy

Efforts to provide energy access on a commercial basis to rural populations in developing countries face a range of challenges, including access to finance. Off-grid customers from lower income communities currently pay a high price for purchasing kerosene for basic lighting services and switching to renewable energy based systems would not only save them fuel-costs but also improve their overall quality of life. However, the high upfront cost of the renewable energy based systems (handheld devices and stand-alone systems) restricts them from making this switch. This is identified as a major barrier by all stakeholders committed to the delivery of energy access solutions in a commercially viable manner and at scale. Over the past decade, microfinance institutions, supported by the international development community, have played an important role in providing direct consumer finance for purchase of handheld devices and single home solutions. In addition to microfinance, a number of other innovative end-user finance schemes have emerged in recent years. Building on the findings from USAID’s Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP), and specifically the experience of Arc Finance, this 3 weeks long e-discussion featured and discussed a number of mechanisms for downstream end-user finance and their integration into innovative energy access business models including pay-as-you go technologies, crowd funding, microfinance, remittances, and asset finance. See summaries of the discussions and recordings of the webinar ►


WSDS and Arc Finance: Financing and Disbursing Renewable Energy Technology to Remote Communities in Manipur

The Weaker Section Development Society (WSDS) is one of seven microfinance institutions (MFIs) that Arc Finance currently assists under its USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP). A small but fast-growing, community-based MFI, WSDS operates in the central and southern districts of India’s northeastern state of Manipur and has recently begun finance and disbursals of solar home system components to underserved communities.

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Microcredit Summit

October 8, 2013, Manila, The Philippines

The Microcredit Summit Campaign brings together a range of organizations to promote best practices in the microfinance field. Facilitating the interchanging of knowledge, the summit, a 4-day conference held in 2013 in the Philippines, aimed to support the sector in reaching its goals. As a leading organization of its type in the renewable energy finance sector, Arc Finance was invited to organize and host a day-long pre-event workshop at this year’s summit, and for this purpose brought together high-level representatives from MFIs, energy enterprises, government entities and funding platforms to help engage MFIs on the renewable energy finance landscape. Arc’s event was entitled “Pioneering Small Scale Energy Finance Through Innovative Partnership Models.”

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Arc Finance at the 2013 Ashden Awards: Partnerships and Innovation in Practice

Solving the “last mile” problem – or providing renewable energy and suitable finance for it to the Bottom of the Pyramid – is far more collaborative than competitive. You can see this clearly in the network of partnerships we at Arc Finance have developed for our current portfolio of projects: we link energy companies, MFIs, technology providers, remittance companies and other distribution organizations to facilitate access to finance for renewable energy for the un(der)electrified billions whose lives can be improved.

Collaboration and partnership were among the key themes of the 2013 Ashden Awards held in London last week. We are proud to be a supporting partner of Ashden and were thrilled to attend the awards, which are among the most prestigious for sustainable energy solutions. Projects awarded ranged from partnerships at the local level (UK-based initiatives such as encouraging cycling or recycling in cities, or developing green spaces) to global projects that try to leverage new technologies, financial innovations and the brightest of ideas in order to scale access to affordable renewable energy to those who need it most: the poor. The conference was a great opportunity to share ideas, contacts and build further partnerships. Collaboration might be a tedious and overused bit of management-speak, but in this space, it is the sine qua non of progress.

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Managing the Success of “The SunnyMoney Way”

SunnyMoney is a social enterprise that was spun off from the NGO, Solar Aid, in 2011. While Solar Aid focuses on installing solar systems into schools across several countries in Africa, SunnyMoney focuses on selling solar lanterns. In just a few years since its launch, SunnyMoney is already reaching sales levels of tens of thousands each month, growing very quickly in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. The company employs a unique sales and marketing approach called “The SunnyMoney Way,” which works closely with education authorities, incentivizing head teachers in geographically defined regions to promote the benefits of solar lanterns to their students and families. Orders are then collected and the lights delivered in follow-up sales visits by SunnyMoney team members, during which thousands of lights can be sold in a single event.

SunnyMoney’s Managing Director, John Keane, talks to us about the excitement and hard work of the transformation of SunnyMoney from an NGO program into a social enterprise, and now the daily challenge of supporting its growing success.

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What Do Solar, Mobile and Microfinance Have in Common? Meet Fenix International.

Fenix International is a Silicon Valley based renewable energy company that designs and manufactures income generating energy solutions for mobile telecoms in emerging markets. The company has developed the ReadySet, a plug-and-play smart battery that charges by solar panels or bicycle dynamo to power mobile phones, lights, and many devices powered by USB or Car Lighter Adapters. The ReadySet is sold by MTN, Africa’s largest mobile phone company, through its network of retail outlets in Uganda. The end customers are micro entrepreneurs who use the ReadySet to make additional income from charging phones in off-grid rural areas.

In a conversation with Arc Finance, Brian Warchawsky (Chief Operating Officer) and Peter Glenn (Business Development and Sales Manager) explain how Fenix combines its core skills to ensure that its products work not only for the customer, but for the whole chain from manufacturing, to distribution and financing.

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How Women Are Powering Energy Access in Uganda

Founded in 2010, Solar Sister is an energy company that promotes access to affordable solar lamps and small solar systems in communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister builds and extends the supply chain through women’s rural networks by providing women with a “business in a bag”: a start-up kit of inventory, training and marketing support.

Arc Finance talks with Katherine Lucey, CEO of Solar Sister, about the process Solar Sister uses to support rural women to become micro-entrepreneurs and how it enables rural women to earn an income in a flexible way, doing as much or little as their circumstances and preferences dictate. Due to the pioneering work of Solar Sister, renewable energy gets to even the most remote villages, women are empowered and supporters are satisfied. In this extract, Katherine discusses, among other things, village level cash management, the importance of mobile, and learning to let her entrepreneurs set their own pace.

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Using Energy Products and Other Initiatives to Spur Growth at a Philippine MFI

Since its founding in 1984, the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) has explored a range of ways to live up to its mission of helping poor Filipino women achieve self-sufficiency and self-reliance. NWTF offers an impressive array of products, including micro-loans to assist micro-entrepreneurs, insurance and student loans, and continues to look for innovative products and services to meet the needs of its clients and grow the organization.

Arc Finance talks with Raymond Serios, Director of Research at NWFT, about how the MFI embraced energy lending as a way to expand its mission and find new ways to grow and attract customers. In 2009, Arc Finance helped the organization launch its energy loan portfolio, and since that time the program has changed in a number of ways as NWTF has learned more about client demands, and as energy products have continued to diversify and evolve. In this extract from a wide-ranging interview, Raymond reveals how NWTF’s business strategy and operational approach to energy has transformed over time, moving from a narrow focus on consumer credit to a model in which members are trained and financed as energy product sales agents.

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Crowd-Sourcing Low Cost Capital Helps MFIs Make the Leap to Energy Lending

Founded in June 2010, Milaap is a Indian start-up based in Bangalore that crowd-sources low-cost capital for microfinance institutions through its online platform as well as social funds, high net worth individuals (HNIs) and corporate partnerships. Funds are not donations, but rather micro-loans between a growing global network of contributors and low-income Indian borrowers. Milaap sources capital exclusively for non-traditional, value-added product portfolios, supporting investments in water and sanitation, vocational training, and SME capital.

In 2011, Milaap added energy lending to its portfolio when it established a partnership with DCBS, a small MFI based in West Bengal (India), and Onergy, a leading solar integrator in the region. Milaap has also made plans to partner with Karnataka-based Grameen Koota, one of India’s largest MFIs, to co-fund its growing energy lending program.

Arc Finance recently caught up with Milaap co-founder Anoj Vishwanathan to discuss the company’s origins, its growing focus on energy, and the core value proposition that it offers its MFI partners in the challenging environment of the post “microfinance crisis.”

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An Inside Perspective on Change and Evolution In the Micro Solar Sector: A Conversation with Ned Tozun, d.light Design

Product R&D and design, high volume manufacturing, global distribution, sales and marketing – this is the range of one of the world’s best known micro solar companies, d.light. Since 2006, the company has been developing and distributing high-quality, solar portable lighting products to low-income, off-grid customers worldwide. Ned Tozun, d.light’s President and Co-Founder, recently took some time to speak with Arc Finance about the company’s growth, its approach to distribution and marketing, and the role he sees for microfinance in making improved energy affordable for d.light’s target customers.

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