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Spreading solar business wisdom

Solar photovoltaic power is attracting Egyptian entrepreneurs. (Shutterstock)

Indian incubators share knowledge to expand energy access around Asia and Africa

A glaring gap in energy access leaves about 1.3 billion people – or a fifth of the world’s population, mainly in Asia and Africa – deprived of adequate electricity. Renewable energy technologies could serve that unmet demand, driving low-carbon economic growth and sustainable prosperity. But the momentum for the change needs to come from the private sector.

India, with its rising energy demand spurred by rapid population growth, has emerged the proving ground for new business models that could help to roll out off-grid solar and other renewable energy technologies rapidly in developing countries with areas suffering from energy poverty.

Two of the country’s leading business incubators – the SELCO Incubation Centre and the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad – have teamed up to spread their knowledge and best practices in the field to other parts of Asia and Africa.

“India’s diverse context compels differing approaches to tackle various challenges and thus offers the world an opportunity to adapt or replicate similar tools to build the ecosystem across similar contexts,” said Harish Hande, founder of SELCO. “Incubators play a vital intermediary role and have much to learn from each other to further help create sustainable energy enterprises targeted at the poor.”

With about 60% more power generation needed to ensure sustainable electricity for everyone by 2030, much of the added capacity will have to come from decentralised off-grid, mini-grid or stand-alone installations. Renewable energy technologies are especially suitable to provide cost-effective, sustainable off-grid solutions for people far from established power grids.  

“In addition to creating impact, there is a need for energy access entrepreneurs to plan for scale, so as to get their innovations accessible to more customers and markets. Business incubators can help them achieve that through mentoring, customer validation and access to seed capital,” said Kunal Upadhyay, CIIE chief executive. “In this regard, energy entrepreneurs have been able to validate their business models with early customers."

The Indian Institute of Management promotes “open innovation” with renewables to expand energy access to all. (IIM)

CIIE seeks out and supports entrepreneurs through various “open innovation” programmes. Infuse Ventures, housed at CIIE, supports seed and early-stage enterprises developing new business models across the renewable energy, resource efficiency, waste, water and other sustainability-related areas. National governments and international partners can also provide valuable support for entrepreneurial development, especially in areas lacking energy access.

The incubators, together with the International Renewable Energy Agency, held a week-long workshop in Bangalore, India, on 22-27 September on building businesses to extend sustainable energy access. It brought together participants from business incubators, renewable energy associations and energy enterprises from African and Asian countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Tanzania and Uganda. The UK Department for International Development, through its Knowledge and Partnership Programme, also supported the initiative.

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