The Ashden International Conference 2017

Scaling clean energy innovation


Posted By:

Ellie Mika

This year’s conference focused on ‘Scaling clean energy innovation’ — looking at expanding markets, reaching new places and developing capacity. James Gadsby Peet, Director of Digital at William Joseph (the designers of our fantastic new website) wrote a great summary of the day. We’ve pulled out some of his key points, but you can find the link to his full summary below.


In the markets that Mobisol work in, 80% of people don’t have electricity — they have been waiting 20–30 years for the grid to arrive. Unfortunately for them, the reality is that it is not economically viable for the big energy providers to bring cables to these regions. The people in these areas want the same thing as we do — to power a TV, fridges and charge their mobile phones and thus far solar solutions have not enabled this.

Mobisol are bringing a sustainable solution to meet this need. Their products power mobile phone charging stations, run sewing machines and barber shops. All of these situations allow the individual to make more money from their solar generation than they cost to buy, by selling their spare electricity to their local community.


It costs $30-$40 / month to run a Diesel pump which farmers need to help irrigate their pumps across Africa. The Futurepump SF1, which is powered by the sun, costs $650 and hence pays back to the farmers in about a year and a half. In addition, farmers who purchase it, can lend it to their neighbours for an additional income stream.

86% of their Futurepumps’ customers never need to spend money on pumping water again.

Charles Ahenda-Bengo, Futurepump

The pumps are designed to be simple, easy to use and can be maintained by the farmers themselves — rather than having to call someone in to fix it for them. The SF1 is the 5th generation of the product and is continually being updated based on the insights received from people who are using it on the ground.

Panel 1: Disruptive innovation and opportunities for clean energy

In Nigeria, 18 million small generators are operating — powering TVs, fans and light — each consuming 5 Litres of fuel every day. The industries that power these generators are heavily invested in the market and have little reason to change. The government of the country also have deep relationships with these companies giving tax breaks and preferential treatment across the board. Changing these paradigms will take a long time, but it will only happen by starting with small solutions that can help a lot of people.

Out of 950 households that were shown the Mobisol system, 902 wanted it — the demand is there, generating access is the challenge.

Thomas Duveau, Mobisol

Pay as you go solar now has 650,000 households across Africa — the potential is there and starting to be realised. A move from micro-grids to individual, decentralised, household solutions seems to be underway. It is likely that there will be a role for a number of solutions — some providing traditional grids on a small scale, some putting the power of generation in the hands of users.

Governments will have a role in helping socially responsible businesses to get to the hardest to reach communities, which they wouldn’t do otherwise.

Successful stories from the types of products that Ashden supports, will be the things that generate interest and credibility whilst convincing communities to change.

According to DFID, the step change has been pay as you go solar models, which are affordable by consumers in Africa. Linked to mobile phone plans, these financing options have driven access like nothing else.

Arguably the solar technology is already there. The innovation needs to come from engagement with government to drive access and working with finance to improve individual affordability.

Pamir Energy

In the 90s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country went into an energy crisis. 70% of the country’s trees were lost, due after being burned for heat and light.

The infrastructure that had existed previously was left to decay, with no investment from either government or companies. At the same time, across the country, people were demanding cheap or even free electricity — as they were used to receiving it as part of a socialist society. The average Pamir tariff is $6.4 / month, the lowest in the world, but even that is considered expensive by their customers.

Pamir has so far restored 11 small hydro power plants and upgraded 4300km of old transmission and distribution facilities in East Tajikistan. In 2027, the aim is to hand back these facilities to the government, so that they can become part of the local infrastructure for the next 20–30 years.

PEG Africa

PEG Africa is the largest off-grid solar company in Ghana, as well as a driving force for pay-as-you-go solar energy in West Africa, distributing solar home systems to the country’s most remote areas. Solar home systems are sold on credit, which customers paying back gradually, through their mobile phones — usually over the course of a year.

20 million people have no access to electricity in PEG’s primary markets. The only way to viably offer this service to someone earning on $1–5 dollars is through credit and finance. By creating a metering system that only allows energy to flow if the customer pays their bill, you are able to reduce the risk to the commercial entities putting in the up front investment.

PEG concentrate on licensing the best technology from other suppliers and have grown a local network of representatives that service and sell their products in communities. This helps to overcome some of the challenges in East Africa — in particular the lack of mobile payment penetration in the region.

Panel 2: Accelerating expansion to new geographies

Mobile money has transformed the way that Kenyan society works. You can now pay for almost anything using services such as M-Pesa and it has allowed access to all sorts of financing inclusion for the population. In Kenya this was driven by the lack of understanding of regulators, a desire for security from people to keep their money away from their homes and a strong promotion campaign from the one company offering the service. Adoption has been slower across the rest of the continent and no one is quite sure why.

Pamir found that working with the community to change behaviour was a big driver of success. They helped people understand how to conserve energy at home and to insulate their housing more effectively — reducing both their costs and the amount of electricity required.

There is a need for ‘risk money’ to explore and test which technologies and business models are viable for scaling.

There is a perception that theft is a big problem in developing markets. For Mobisol, with 80,000+ units in the field, only two have been stolen — one of which was from a roof in Berlin!

Empower Generation

The poorest people Nepal, those earning under $700 / year, spend over 20% of this income on Kerosene and basic lighting. Due to society’s inequality, this is problem is most keenly felt by the women of households.

Empower Generation exist to help these women to become clean energy sales agents. They provide the tools, the training and the supplies to help them become viable businesses in their own right, by being distribution channels into ‘the last mile’ so that these products can be used on the ground, in family homes.

To date they have sold over 55,000 products and have 23 entrepreneurs who are becoming energy leaders within their communities.

Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT)

In 1900, nearly half of Uganda was covered in trees and forests. Now, only 10% is. This is largely down to the use of firewood in the firing of traditional bricks. HYT exist to tackle this growing environmental disaster, by using interlocking blocks made from stabilised, compressed earth: a low-cost, carbon-saving alternative to the environmentally damaging fired brick.

Skills training and capacity building are at the heart of their approach. With one of the fastest growing populations on earth, skills and future careers are in high demand. In addition, so are buildings to house families, whilst preserve Uganda’s delicate environmental balance. HYT aims to meet both of these needs locally whilst generating employment and economic sustainability.

Panel 3: Developing local skills & capacity

HYT started as a training project, and have expanded into a social enterprise which is used by other NGOs to build various premises and buildings using their technology and workforce. They see this as a model that can scale and move into other markets to extend their impact and reach.

The Empower Generation team are looking to become the leading supplier of renewable energy services in Nepal. They are trying to do this with a completely non-traditional business model — but one that has proved its success and potential.

Some policy makers are starting to understand the opportunity for addressing the skills, training and employment gaps by looking at them together. By training people in emerging industries, you give them skills and help them to find employment which supports the local community. In this circumstance everyone wins, including the government whose economy begins to develop.

We compete with subsidies by providing a higher quality service and product.

Empower Generation

Hangzhou Bicycle Service

The biggest public bike share scheme in the world, has 85,000 bicycles and there are 115 million hires per year, and increasing. 96% of these are free — as they are for less than 30 minutes.

Hangzhou’s cycle scheme has become a highlight of visiting the city, whilst providing significant benefits for the local population — saving time, reducing pollution and providing low cost ‘last mile’ travel.

By taking advantage of the existing cycle lanes within major Chinese cities, and integrating with other modes of transport the scheme has been a run away success — far exceeding similar programmes in Paris or London.

So far, 2.3 Billion km have been ridden, with many more to come.

Ecolibrium Energy

50% of the energy in India is consumed by large industrial buildings. In a country where a third of the population can suffer from power cuts lasting several hours, this innovative Indian start-up is addressing the need for demand-side energy management.

Ecolibrium’s big data energy analytics platform, SmartSense, is helping more than 750 commercial and industrial consumers and utilities in South Asia to save up to 15% of their energy and asset maintenance costs.

The system integrates with existing infrastructure, and provide a range of solutions — providing a system that can meet the needs of any business, big or small.

A huge thank you to James for writing a brilliant recap of the day. To read James’ full summary of the International Conference, click here.

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