By Craig Burnett, Editor, Ashden
COVID-19 has pushed up to 40 million people in Africa into extreme poverty, the World Bank reports. The hardest hit include women, young people, and those with limited work skills or employed in the informal sector. With the continent already facing challenges providing work for a growing youth population, the need to invest in skills has never been greater.
Support for effective training in the clean energy sector, backing courses designed to meet the needs of frontline enterprises and organisations, is a pathway to positive change across Africa. Action would help address the fact that 567 million African people go without access to electricity, and 923 million are put in danger by polluting stoves and cooking fires.
In addition to enhancing energy access, it would also strengthen livelihoods, set countries on the path to low carbon development, and help communities prepare for the worsening effects of climate change. Investing in skills for the clean energy sector is a vital first step towards more efficient farming, sustainable cooling and better equipped health centres.
African pioneers are already breaking new ground, with training innovation targeted at the most marginalised groups and communities. It’s vital that policymakers and funders support these efforts — by mainstreaming energy access skills at the COP27 climate talks this November.
African Innovators Close The skills Gap
Togo’s Energy Generation is a pioneering training provider, supporting West African entrepreneurs and technicians, with a focus on empowering women.
Its work is internationally accredited and backed by energy businesses. A two-year course blends engineering with business skills — powering up a new generation of African innovators.
In its well-equipped fabrication laboratory, entrepreneurs work on ‘Made in Africa’ solutions: from solar-powered wheelchairs to systems extracting energy from food waste.
Energy Generation also offers shorter courses training electricians to install and maintain solar technology. Across the organisation’s work, 70% of trainees are women.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, Zonful Energy is expanding the country’s skills base to support the growth of clean energy. The company is a retailer of off-grid solar products, with innovative training at the heart of its business model.
Zonful has trained 6,000 technicians and sales agents, working in partnership with Zimbabwean universities and NGOs. It focuses on recruiting women and people from rural communities, and its approach is practical and ‘hands on’ — with a month-by-month programme that helps make training affordable to a wider range of people.
A pipeline of trainees has helped the organisation install 48,000 solar home systems, powering lights, phones, and technology to help people make a living.
Trainees not directly recruited by Zonful are helped to find work as freelance contractors, through a Zonful-run app and phone line that connects technicians with potential customers. Zonful’s links with NGOs have even helped some graduates secure funding to start their own solar businesses.
Use COP27 to Power up Energy Access Skills
Zonful, and many other African enterprises and organisations, are already delivering powerful homegrown clean energy solutions — supporting jobs and livelihoods and helping people farm more efficiently, study at night and cook safely. Leading African governments are enabling this with inclusive national and regional clean energy access initiatives, made possible by strong international support.
These efforts can prepare Africa for the effects of a changing climate, and boost the continent’s transition to an economic powerhouse, with opportunities for its growing youth population. Clean energy brings these benefits faster, and to more people, than new high-carbon energy infrastructure.
However, clean energy innovation — at the grassroots, regional and national level — needs greater investment from the international community, including more support for skills and training.
The COP climate talks can unlock this support, dramatically accelerating climate justice. Action would drive economic growth and raise living standards, create more resilient communities, and help countries move towards a low carbon future.
COP27 — Africa’s COP, taking place in November 2022 — is a unique opportunity to shift the focus of global climate action towards the priorities of low-income nations.
Speaking with a united voice, and equipped with a compelling business case for investment, African leaders can secure this change. The more Africa’s policymakers, businesses and civil society back this effort, the greater the benefits created across the continent.
To be a part of a conversation that explores the skills and training that are needed to strengthen the solar appliance sector, boost green skills, and accelerate a just clean energy transition — follow Efficiency for Access’ campaign here.