BGFZ Wins 2019 Ashden Award for Innovative Finance

The Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia, a Sweden-funded programme that has brought clean, off-grid energy to over 600,000 people, has won the 2019 Ashden Award in the category of “Innovative Finance”.


LONDON, ENGLAND (26 June 2019). The Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia, developed and implemented by REEEP, has been recognised for its use of an innovative financing mechanism to kick-start a market for affordable off-grid energy services in Zambia.

“We are honoured to receive this award not only as REEEP, but also on behalf of the Zambian and the Swedish people,” said Sabera Khan, Senior Liaison for Beyond the Grid Fund, based in Lusaka, Zambia. The programme, she said, is “well on its way to connecting more than one million Zambians to clean and affordable energy.”

“This international recognition and the success stories and lessons learnt from Zambia will support us as we expand the BGF approach to other African countries,” said Khan. The Ashden Awards will be officially presented during a ceremony in London on 3 July.

“We are delighted with this recognition for the Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia, for our partnership with the Swedish Government and REEEP, and our work with a host of other partners through the Off-Grid Task Force,” responded Arnold Simwaba, Acting Permanent Secretary at the Zambian Ministry of Energy. “Together we are building an enabling environment for the private sector to use new technologies and provide cost-effective solutions with great impact. The Beyond the Grid Fund has demonstrated how a well-designed financing mechanism can be truly transformative, and this Ashden Award will help us show that to the world.”

“For BGFZ to be recognised as an ‘international trailblazer’ in sustainable energy is incredibly encouraging. We hope this award will bring new partnerships and opportunities to take the programme even further,” said Anders Arvidson, Project Lead for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) Power Africa Initiative. “We have proved that small-scale energy solutions can generate large-scale effects.”

The Power Africa: Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia (BGFZ) was launched in 2016 by the Swedish Embassy in Lusaka and REEEP, with the aim to expand access to clean off-grid energy in rural and peri-urban areas in Zambia. The programme supports four companies through an innovative results-based financing mechanism, and works closely with the government in its efforts to build a thriving market for off-grid energy services.

Mr Stephen Mwansa, Permanent Secretary for Administration in the Office of the Vice President in Zambia, stated: “We are very happy to be associated with the oversight role that the Vice President’s Office has played in this regard, facilitating the achievements of the Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia. This has enabled private sector companies to work effectively with Government and other partners to launch a thriving market for off-grid clean energy services in our country. In line with the Economic Diversification and Job creation agenda under the Seventh National Development Plan 2017-2021, more than 600,000 Zambians are already benefiting from this market resulting in job creation, preservation of forests due to lower use of charcoal and improved lifestyles being enjoyed by beneficiary families.”

In a country where some 70% of the population does not have access to modern energy services, BGFZ has kick-started a market for affordable, reliable and renewable energy services provided by the private sector. Though the original goal was to connect one million people by 2021, the four contracted companies are on track to reach 1.6 million by the programme end date.

“These numbers really prove that development can happen while addressing climate change,” said Magdalena Svensson, of the Swedish Embassy in Lusaka.

Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb hailed BGFZ for its success in incentivising companies to move into underserved parts of Zambia. “The Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia deploys finance in a strategic way to increase access to clean energy rapidly, at scale. The principle of ‘leave no-one behind’ is at its very core, incentivising companies to reach the most marginalised communities, with high quality energy services and long-term maintenance. What’s not to like? We hope they can inspire others to follow their pioneering steps.”

The four companies supported by the programme, Emerging Cooking Solutions, Fenix Intl, Standard Microgrid and VITALITE Zambia, provide services ranging from small, entry-level solar home systems that can power lights and a phone charger to mini-grid-connections, which offer similar service to the national grid. All products deployed by the companies meet minimum quality standards, and all companies offer a three-year warranty.

BGFZ has also been working with the Zambian government, private sector representatives and development partners to improve market ecosystem conditions through a combination of capacity building and technical assistance, stakeholder outreach and market intelligence development. This work has been formalised as the Off-Grid Energy Task Force, embedded in and led by the Ministry of Energy. Since its launch in April 2018, the Task Force has met four times and already, among other activities, has facilitated a VAT exemption for LED lights, the drafting of a new national mini-grid policy and has initiated discussions to improve the affordability of off-grid energy solutions.

In addition, the programme collects unrivalled off-grid market intelligence through its Energy Data and Intelligence System for Off-grid Networks, or EDISON for short. This system gathers information on new connections, warranty events, repayment rates and the programme’s climate change mitigation impacts directly from the four companies’ internal systems. This data is used by REEEP to verify the performance of the companies, and a selection of the results is displayed in real-time on EDISON’s public dashboard. The numbers continue to tick upwards and can be viewed here: Sweden and REEEP are currently exploring ways to leverage this unique dataset to help inform decision-making in both the private and public sectors.

These three pillars of BGFZ – an innovative financing mechanism, close collaboration with the Zambian government through the Task Force and unique market intelligence generation through EDISON – are what make the programme unique, and highly successful: as the EDISON dashboard shows, 620,000 beneficiaries have been reached, more than 1,000 jobs created and a total of over 2,750 MW of clean energy capacity installed across all ten of Zambia’s provinces.

“It is really exciting how BGFZ has been able to help the companies leverage their products and services and make such a strong impact on the ground,” said Martin Hiller, Director General of REEEP. “We are proud of the new approach and methodology that our team developed, cognisant of the vision of the Zambian government, impressed with the dedication of the companies, and grateful to Sweden for their leadership in this initiative, which goes much beyond funding.”

Building on the successes in Zambia, the Government of Sweden early this year announced the creation of a new facility, the Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa, with the aim to expand the Beyond the Grid Fund approach to Burkina Faso, Liberia and Mozambique, and launch a further funding round in Zambia. The fund will be managed by the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) as Facility Manager and implemented by REEEP as Programme Implementation Manager. It aims to reach at least five million beneficiaries by 2025.

Commenting on the expansion of the Beyond the Grid Fund approach, Mr Stephen Mwansa, in the Office of the Vice President said: “We are very pleased with the international recognition that the Ashden Award brings to the efforts of Zambia, Sweden and REEEP to increase clean energy access to all Zambians through this innovative financing mechanism. We are also happy that as Zambians, we have become trailblazers in Smart energy solutions, and that the success of the Beyond the Grid Fund operations in Zambia has led to other countries deciding to apply the same model under the Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa. We look forward to exchanging ideas and opportunities with Burkina Faso, Liberia and Mozambique as they launch their own activities under the Beyond the Grid Fund concept.”

Andreas Zahner, Programme Director at REEEP and Team Lead for the new Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa, said: “There is a lot of work still to be done, and this award offers great encouragement for all of us to be more ambitious, move faster and ultimately reach more people with clean off-grid energy. We are delighted that we will be able to scale up our efforts in collaboration with Sweden and NEFCO under the Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa.”

The Ashden Awards, now in their 19th year, identify and reward excellent clean energy initiatives in the UK and globally. Besides Innovative Finance, categories include Sustainable Energy & Health, Clean Cooking and Sustainable Mobility.