COVID-19: what has it meant for people, the planet, and the future of off-grid energy access?
A session featured in the COP26 conference focused on how COVID-19 impacted the energy industry and the demand for reliable and affordable electricity across the world. This session included a panel with the following industry experts:
- Cina Lawson, Minister of Digital Economy and Digital Transformation of Togo
- Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and Co-Founder of Bboxx
- Leslie Labruto, Head of Investment Strategy for Acumen
- Gary Almond, Head of Communications for the Shell Foundation
Bridging the gap between energy equality and the digital space
Lawson is the Minister of Digital Economy and Digital Transformation for Togo, located in West Africa. Lawson discussed bridging the energy sector and the digital space for her constituents, especially during the outbreak of the pandemic. When COVID-19 hit Togo, Lawson worked to fight the pandemic while making sure the poorest communities were also supported and maintained access to electricity.
This is where Bboxx came in. Bboxx is a utility company with a mission to solve energy poverty. According to the company website, “Currently, 759 million people live without access to energy, of which 570 million are in Africa. An additional 840 million people are connected to an unreliable grid.” Bboxx is working to solve this issue.
Bboxx offers decentralized energy solutions for people living in energy poverty. In 2018, Bboxx teamed up with EDF – one of the world’s largest energy companies – to invest in off-grid electricity solutions for people living in Togo. In 2019, EDF customers in Togo received a subsidy to spend on solar energy.
With Bboxx working to bring affordable, off-grid energy to her constituents, Minister Lawson helped to create a cash-transfer program to send financial aid to low-income families in Togo. During COVID, Lawson felt this program was the best way to ensure all families were able to afford electricity, regardless of their gender, location, or profession. Lawson’s COVID relief initiatives also included waiving utility bills for electricity and water for the poorest households.
The pandemic highlights energy inequality and the need for change
Hamayun, the CEO and co-founder of Bboxx, spoke about COVID’s initial impact on the company’s supply chain. The supply chain issue resulted in a rising cost of products, which was especially impactful for the company because it’s goal was to make these products more affordable for lower-income communities.
However, Bboxx has been able to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Hamayun discussed how the company was able to raise enough funds to roll out affordable energy across the globe. But in order to do that, there needs to be a combined effort across all sectors and industries.
Labruto works in the nonprofit space and spoke about the need for more philanthropy in the energy sector. She urged companies and nonprofits to work together to create new methods of using grant money to bring energy solutions to low-income communities.
Almond also works in the philanthropic sector. He stressed that COVID reinforced the need for reliable and affordable access to energy. As the panel discussion came to a close, Almond said, “There’s this need to keep investing time, effort, and money across all tiers of energy access…from home solar systems up to mini grids and beyond.”
Caitlin Cosper is a writer and editor within the energy industry, specializing in deregulation, energy efficiency, and solar power. Her writing and research have been cited by Snopes, The Washington Post, The American Solar Energy Society, and other major sources. Find more of Caitlin’s work at ChooseEnergy.com.