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Mini-grid, Gender Equality and Productive Use
Mukabanji Mutanuka - Country manager, ENGIE Powercorner, Zambia Okenwa Anayo Nas - Founder/CEO, Nayo Tropical Technology Ltd, Nigeria Jennye Greene - Gender and Energy Enterprise Development, Sustainable Energy Solutions Monkgogi Otlhogile - PEAK Platform Manager, Power for All
Ranisha Basnet (energypedia UG)
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Is there evidence demonstrating that the women who end up earning incomes are actually in full control of their earnings? Does the male in the household experience a financial power imbalance or does he interfere with how the woman manages her finances?
Jennye Green: It is mixed and depends greatly on the local context. This is definitely a concern, so including it in the preliminary analysis and then, if necessary, developing supports and mitigation strategies are important. This is why programs that address ‘gender,’ including men’s needs and project involvement and male-female gender dynamics, often have higher chances of success than projects solely focused on women’s empowerment.
- Jennye Green: It is mixed and depends greatly on the local context. This is definitely a concern, so including it in the preliminary analysis and then, if necessary, developing supports and mitigation strategies are important. This is why programs that address ‘gender,’ including men’s needs and project involvement and male-female gender dynamics, often have higher chances of success than projects solely focused on women’s empowerment.
I feel we are talking about the importance of having a gender lense for a long time. There are a lot of studies that show the importance of having a gender perspective in productive, agricultural, etc. projects. Why do you think it is still so difficult to have enough budget and measuring tools to include this gender perspective since the planning?
- Jennye Green: I think it is important to continuously emphasize (and quantify if possible) the ways that gender analysis, design, etc. enhances project benefits. This is a great rationale for increasing budgets. Also, benchmarking against global leader organizations who do a respectable job of mainstreaming is helpful (e.g. how much does X institution spend gender mainstreaming in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of its projects as a % of overall project budgets).
What tools/guidelines/training manuals do you use, if any, to help you engage in gender mainstreaming for the energy sector?
- Monkgogi Otlhogile: There are number of organisations that produce tools for gender mainstreaming but we have to bare in mind the local context, the technology to be deployed and the length of the project when utilising any of these resources
Can the speakers share experiences (including documented experience) on renewable energy projects that have been done by women and for women, exclusively. Experiences where women do the project operations and maintenance etc of a micro grid etc.
- Jennye Green: It has been a while since I checked in on them, but Grid Alternatives had all female solar builds that were pretty interesting experiences for developing women’s technical and professional skills in the PV sector. An older example, but one that still had rich learnings in terms of the benefits and limitations of various business models for women’s participation, was the MFP program where in some cases the MFP functioned as a micro-grid.
How can we make women to be investors in micro grids? In Uganda for example, mini/micro grids are regulated, so how do we empower women to invest in them, own them, operate and maintain them etc.
- Jennye Green: One idea is to use rural co-op models where anyone with a connection by default owns shares in the corporation (and for example receives dividends at the end of the year) - of course, you would have to ensure that not all connections are registered to and controlled by men in households. Another co-op model is one where a women’s or gender diverse producer co-op, and presumably large off-taker, is the sponsor/developer of the mini-grid. Beyond that, we could think of SME support programs that do targeted outreach to female entrepreneurs, help connect them with professional networks and business opportunities, arrange affordance finance, provide mentoring and business service support.
How is child care addressed when women are engaged in jobs/training outside of the household etc. Is this a drawback for women's engagement in earning an income?
Jennye Green: If there exists a ‘critical mass’ of trainees with small children (e.g. 5+), a best practice is to hire on-site caregivers to watch the children while their parents are training. For nursing infants, this is important so that they remain physically close enough to their mothers to be fed.
Monkgogi Otlhogile: I definitely agree that the on-site caregivers are best practice but might not be viable during the early stage of a project. This depends on the local context but there might be an opportunity to leverage on community practices. In my experience there is already a communal childcare plan in place for women. This includes a rotational childcare system where a few women stay behind to care for the children on a particular day but go to work/training on the other days.
- Jennye Green: If there exists a ‘critical mass’ of trainees with small children (e.g. 5+), a best practice is to hire on-site caregivers to watch the children while their parents are training. For nursing infants, this is important so that they remain physically close enough to their mothers to be fed.
This may be coming out of left field, how can women work using mini-grid in an agricultural and sustainable area as food waste reduction and reprocessing?
Jennye Green: I don’t know, if there is food waste, could biogas be one of the energy sources for the mini-grid? Or if the reprocessing steps require mechanical energy, like for a press or extruder to make animal feed, that could be powered by mini-grid I suppose if the motors could be made very efficient, or even be DC with low startup current requirements.
Monkgogi Otlhogile: There are examples of biomass powered or hybrid mini-grids (Husk Power and Village Industrial Power) so there is definitely an opportunity for women engaged in agricultural activities to create a circular system. However, for solar mini grids already in place, the agricultural waste could be used to make biochar products to improve their yields or to make briquettes to sell or use for cooking.
- Jennye Green: I don’t know, if there is food waste, could biogas be one of the energy sources for the mini-grid? Or if the reprocessing steps require mechanical energy, like for a press or extruder to make animal feed, that could be powered by mini-grid I suppose if the motors could be made very efficient, or even be DC with low startup current requirements.
How do you deal with issues of women having ideas but not financially empowered?
- Jennye Green: I think this means the “energy” folks have to form partnerships with “financing” folks (or move directly into the provision of finance themselves). Financing often has to be tailored for female customers - for example, it might be more taxing for women to have to make repeated trips to a bank branch to apply for a loan, make deposits and repayments, etc. because of their competing domestic and caregiving responsibilities; thus, “doorstep” service, mobile platforms, or other innovations that reduce the number of physical trips can be helpful. Also, women might be less likely to have real property or other acceptable collateral titled in their name, so there are creative ways to relax or adapt collateral requirements for women without incurring significantly more risk to the financial institution (e.g. use movable property, use life insurance policies, use group lending methodologies, get guarantees from donor partners, etc.). It’s also important to have female representation among loan officers as female officers might be more familiar with businesses and sectors that women work in, might make borrowers feel more comfortable and willing to disclose information, might have wider networks of women entrepreneurs where professional introductions can be made, might be less likely to have negative implicit bias about female borrowers, etc.
PRODUCTIVE USE (PUE)
How can mini-grid operators make PUE equipment affordable and accessible to women in the rural areas?
Jennye Green: Design is a big challenge. The Efficiency for Access coalition has goals of making appliances twice as energy efficiency and half the cost as now. Bringing down the CapEx and the operating expense of equipment are both crucial, but not sufficient, for making equipment accessible to women. I believe women need: 1) Know-how, 2) Finance, 3) Robust, efficient technology, 4) Services (business services and equipment after-sales support), and 5) Confidence in order to be able to access and make use of mini-grid powered agricultural technology.
- What role do mini-grid developers play in supporting PUE?
- Jennye Green: Developers can certainly do demand stimulation activities by promoting local businesses and even financing equipment (i.e. seeing customers as partners). This is a well-established best practice. But there is a natural limit to how much developers can ultimately invest in these activities. By strategically involving other organizations, donors and civil society, developers have the ability to push demand stimulation even farther.
- Where do you think innovation is required in the PEU aspect?
- Jennye Green: In the United States, in the 1930s and 40s, during their big push for rural electrification, the rural electrification agency and also corporate interests like General Electric aggressively marketed appliances to farmers and these appliances were sometimes resisted by farmers or used in ways the “authorities” did not intend. I’m not sure that more innovation is needed - there’s already a good bit of knowledge about what success factors are - but I suspect the most important innovations (in terms of technology and business models) will come from local communities.
- Role of subsidies in adoption of off-grid energy and would women be able to afford it without?
- Jennye Green: Harish Hande of SELCO-India once said that subsidies play a role, but that they should target the weakest link of the value chain (including soft support). In one of his cases, the ‘weak link’ was interest rates on consumer loans for SHS, so the subsidy component went towards buying down that interest rate. I think every situation for women and PUE in mini-grid settings should be studied on its own merits to find the “weak link.”
- Are direct current (DC) appliances widely used in these projects?
- Jennye Green: Yes, and they should be used more. Program and project designers should always do a comparison of DC versus AC appliances (upfront cost, use of inverter, startup loads, energy consumption, long term performance, ease of repair, etc.). More appliances are being developed and manufactured all the time. In settings where there are a large number of off-grid systems in place (or expected to roll out soon) there may be gains from pursuing a larger scale initiative to bring appropriate appliances into the market.
- Out of the different PEUs that you have implemented what do you see as financially viable?
- Jennye Green: It appears very dependent on local markets. This paper here presents economic analysis of 10 or so technologies along with a methodology that can be applied to other markets and technologies. https://a2ei.org/resources/uploads/2020/09/A2EI_Productive_Use_Report_Agricultural_Technologies.pdf
- How to integrate business training to upscale PEU?
- Okenwa Anayo Nas: We see business training as a key part of our hand holding PUE activities , this includes basic bookkeeping, financial discipline, product packaging and other value added services. ( this can increase revenue generation and retention by over 200%)
- What do you recommend as best practice cases of PEU in rural areas and what has not worked?
- Okenwa Anayo Nas: Historic skill set information and potential local activity, like main-stay activities ( fishing, rice farming, corn farming, vegetable farming ) scale and sessional considerations, these give a good pointer to developing a tailor made PUE model and best practice
- What methods do you suggest in approaching a community to reinvest in the future of their mini-grids for an intergenerational impact?
- Jennye Green: One, make sure the mini-grid is sustainable long term so electricity will be around for future generations. Other pathways for intergenerational impacts include: nutritional improvements (from income creation, better food conservation, increased agricultural yields), health improvements (from electrifying rural health centers, also perhaps access to information), educational improvements (access to information, lower chore burden maybe for female children), women’s role modeling (as maintainers of mini-grid technology or PUE entrepreneurs). Leveraging the mini grid to invest in community infrastructure that benefits women and men and that promotes men and women’s economic activity is a good place to start. There was an interesting pilot on mini-grid e-cooking in Tanzania, which if viable, could also potentially have intergenerational effects (reduced time poverty, reduced household air pollution, etc.)
- Monkgogi Otlhogile: For many communities, they only have experience with biomass, small solar products and/or the grid therefore we need to make sure we are making it clear where mini-grids lay within their understanding of technologies. A part of the sensitization process includes introducing the benefits for women and children as well as explaining the sustainability and flexibility of a mini-grid. Some communities are concerned about being ‘stuck’ with a mini-grid but the possibility for grid integration in my experience has piqued the interest of women and the larger community.
- How do you ensure that mini-grids do not fail?
- Okenwa Anayo Nas: PUE is the key to unlock the socioeconomic potential of any off-grid community , this substantially improves Net local export in volume and value, thereby creating more disposable income for payment of energy bills and other needs. As long as this ecosystem is maintained , there will be a sustained capacity utilisation of the Mini grid and in turn the mini- grid operator will have substantial incentive to maintain the project .We have also observed that creating robust linkages to external markets plays an important role in opening and sustaining the PUE /Mini- Grid ecosystem.
- How do you reach the last mile?
- Okenwa Anayo Nas:Using technology to design tailor made solutions for Last mile communities.
- How do you manage the growing power demand?
- Okenwa Anayo Nas:High revolution baseline data helps in propare system sizing and modular system deployment helps mitigated oversizing, reduce upfront CAPEX and add easy system upgrade in the future when Demand approaches full capacity .
- What data would be useful in addressing gender gaps?
- Okenwa Anayo Nas:Health, financial, trade skills and family background/cultural practice
- Monkgogi Otlhogile: First we have to be careful to not assume that there is a gender gap in a community but start with a mapping of the gender and energy situation in the country and more locally in the community of the mini-grid site/s. If a gender gap does exists, there are a variety of indicators you can collect and track to ascertain whether your project is addressing the gender gap in the community including health, income generation, percentage of women in decision making roles, number of women-owned/run enterprises, change in time usage for productive activities, consumption and electricity cost for women and men.
- How can we show more tangible results? What do we consider "success" ? What mechanisms are being implemented that let us gather lessons learned and good practices from our beneficiaries?
- Jennye Green: ENERGIA has done surveys about not just women’s sales data, but also whether they are making more decisions in their business and in their households. They also do “outcome harvesting” through qualitative interviews with women that allow for learning about unanticipated outcomes and impacts. I like their approach.
- Quality energy and socio economic baseline assessments are key to ensure you can later down the line understand the impact of your intervention. I would like to ask the presenters if they could share any good practices or online tools that be taken as reference for baseline for microgrid - PUE interventions especially when targeted to women
- Okenwa Anayo Nas: We currently use Kobo App for baseline assessment, with specific questions on baseline social economic situation of women and children, the demographics include basic house activities, financial capacity, health, education and skills. We also try to scope for potential PUE alignment from previous skills or trade records. The baseline customer profile created from the interview goes a long way in helping us create an impact/ business case for each woman and also help us track our progress post project commissioning.
- Monkgogi Otlhogile: Besides Energia’s Practical Handbookwhich includes baseline survey protocols and indicators, I also like Carbon Trust and Practical Action’s Social Impact of Mini-grids: Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Tools and Guidelines for Practitioners and Researchersbecause it includes the M&E practices from minigrid practitioners and suggested KPI framework that can be customized.