One billion four hundred million people get by without electricity. Another three billion are dependent on coal and traditional biomass sources such as wood and crop waste to meet their lighting, cooking and heating needs.In energy terms, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most deprived region. Over half of the population – 620 million people – lacks access to electricity, particularly in the countryside. Africa has the same electric power output as Germany, although its population is thirteen times larger. Moreover, the average price per kilowatt-hour is higher south of the Sahara than elsewhere: $0.14, compared with $0.04 in South Asia, for example.
Energy poverty in the region is clearly an obstacle to human, social and economic development. Its adverse impact on schooling for children and the agricultural value chain (production, processing and storage) is particularly well-documented. To make matters worse, 1,400,000 people die every year from inhaling toxic fumes given off by cooking fuels. Malaria is responsible for fewer deaths.
EAV co-founder Emmanuel Beau is someone who takes the long view. He aims to make clean, affordable power available to a million more Africans by 2025. And that requires mobilizing investors and raising funds.
Laid-back, self-confident, Emmanuel Beau gets passionate when he talks about EAV, energy access and Africa. In his late twenties, Beau considers it a matter of necessity to provide Africa’s rural dwellers with lighting, above all from renewable sources. Necessity in this case means “reinventing the world we live in, starting with our approach to producing, distributing and consuming energy”. Before becoming a manager of a €54.5m investment fund, Beau gained valuable experience on the ground. He turned a workshop in the Senegalese bush into a social enterprise that leases out solar power systems under hire-purchase schemes (managed and supported by rural microfinance institutions) to individual and collective users, for example, and managed social impact energy investments in Africa for Schneider Electric. He belongs to the up-and-coming generation of bold French entrepreneurs and investors who believe in taking action to “change the world”. But because naive optimism isn’t his style, he stresses the need to raise “loads” of capital to achieve that. “The mobile money boom, with Africa leading the way, has combined with progress in solar energy technology to make low-cost individual energy access solutions a reality. As a result business models that foster the emergence of viable venture capital firms are gaining traction. Most startups in the sector are in the experimental stage, but in Tanzania, for example, OGE has gone from 10,000 installations a year to over 10,000 a month.” EAV’s goal is for “those startups to break even and start turning a profit so that they can scale up and demonstrate the maturity of the market”. For that to happen, support from Proparco and other development banks is “essential to ‘de-risking’ the business model and attracting capital”, Beau explains. Driving his determination to see the companies in his portfolio succeed is the belief that their success is “the prerequisite to replicating their business model across Sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps at that point to make electricity available to 620 million Africans”.