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Off-grid solar funding concentrated in just three companies

With a previous 50-50 split between equity and debt investment funding for the off-grid market lurching to 84% borrowing, and commentators stating most of this year’s backing was agreed before the onset of Covid-19, fears are mounting about the prospects for the sector.

When the global trade body for off-grid solar hosts a webinar about trends in the market next week, the role Covid-19 has played in plunging sales is likely to be high on the agenda, alongside the fact investment in the sector in the first eight months of this year was entirely concentrated in just three companies.

Koen Peters, executive director of the Netherlands-based GOGLA off-grid solar association, and database specialist Silvia Francioso recently blogged on the website of GOGLA – formerly the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association – about the trends observed this year, ahead of Thursday’s launch of the organization’s GOGLA Deals Database 2019/YTD 2020 update.

The report notes that while the $198 million invested in off-grid PV to the end of August is broadly similar to the backing seen in the same period of last year, it found its way to only three, unnamed companies – which will hopefully be identified at the webinar organised to discuss the report’s findings, on October 13.

Concern

Of even more concern is the revelation interviews with industry representatives have indicated many stakeholders believe the money invested by the end of August is related to pre-Covid-19 agreements, hinting investment may suffer a sharp fall at any point. With the previous 50-50 split between equity and debt investment having yawed to 84% debt-driven funding in January-to-August this year, there are further reasons to question how sustainable existing lines of credit will prove.

The GOGLA report – compiled with Berkeley, California-based consultant Catalyst Off-Grid Advisors and supported by EU program GET.invest – reveals off-grid solar sales fell 26% year-on-year, from 4.1 million in the first half of last year to 3 million from January to June 2020.

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Solar lighting product sales plunged 57% to 495,000 in South Asia – a market which also drove most of the 54% fall in off-grid fan sales – and 49% to 74,000 in the East Asia and Pacific market. East Africa experienced less of a fall in lighting sales, 11% to 1.6 million, and the West Africa (354,000 sales) and Central Africa (130,000) regions saw stable year-on-year figures, although GOGLA highlighted notable falls in previously strong Nigeria, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, mitigated by pre-Covid-agreed bulk transactions in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

First-half sales of off-grid TVs retreated 20% from the levels seen in the second six months of last year but were up 16% from January-to-June 2019, with GOGLA suggesting customers prioritized access to entertainment and information during the first national coronavirus lockdowns of the year.

GOGLA is also preparing to publish the Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report it compiled with the IFC Lighting Global program operated by the private-sector arm of the World Bank, the Washington DC-based Efficiency for Access global efficient appliances coalition and Dutch management consultancy Berenschot. That study, due on October 14, will provide more first-half off-grid solar insights.

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Source: pv magazine