The Future of Energy Access

On 20 September I started a new role with Crown Agents based in Lahore, Pakistan focused on developing business around assisting governments and donors to maximise the transformational impact of their spending on solar energy infrastructure programmes for public institutions. Publicly funded solar is our starting point but it’s already clear to me that the future of energy access in Pakistan and in other emerging economies has to be driven by the private sector as well. Real sustainable, transformation will depend on pro-poor, socially-conscious business models developed (with government and donor support) by local partners, entrepreneurs, finance experts, technical innovators and the end users.

As our work in Pakistan and also in East and West Africa moves forward I’ll use this Medium to post my thoughts and stories from the frontline (or at least somewhat nearer the front line than my London-based colleagues).

To close this first post here are three preliminary observations:

  • Governments and donors are still earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars for PV solar systems for schools, health centres and (in Pakistan) mosques. They are implementing these programmes with varying degrees of success and the potential for these programmes to actually deliver sustainable energy access over 10,15 or 25 years is unproven. Crown Agents has the tools and experience to help improve the impact of these programmes from a programme design, procurement and quality assurance point of view. But there is a much bigger question around how these programmes actually drive transformational change longer term.
  • Entrepreneurs in private sector are alive and well in Pakistan. At least two new companies are developing solar capacity as Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and others are exploring Distributed Energy Supply to middle and upper income households. The home solar system (HSS) model is present in Pakistan but small and I would argue that the pro-poor credentials and scalability (in terms of future increases in power generation per system) of that model are questionable. Replication of the East African HSS phenomenon may not be what Pakistan needs.
  • Sustainable finance of solar power projects (micro, mid-size/commercial and utility-scale) is absolutely critical to the future of Energy Access in Pakistan (and elsewhere). This rather than particularly technology selection or availability may be the most critical question we need to answer in the short term. Governments and the private sector will require the support of trusted, reliable partners to develop project proposals and to help access finance and guarantees from a wide range of sources globally.