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For Schneider Electric, access to energy means more than equipping communities that previously had no access to electricity with green and sustainable energy access solutions. It also means using inclusive business models that support local entrepreneurial activities that contribute to sustainable development in the communities.
In India, for example, Schneider Electric deploys an energy service sales model through the creation of a network of battery-charging entrepreneurs for its locally developed In-Diya low-consumption lighting system. In 2012, the network of more than 120 entrepreneurs offered this rental service to more than 1,000 households. The following year, the project partnered with Indian associations focused on the government-promoted Village Level Entrepreneurs model to allow its entrepreneurs to add a solar product distribution service to improve their income.
Another example can be found in Senegal. In 2014, the village of Baghagha in the Casamance area was equipped with two micro solar power plants that provide electricity to the school and the health center, and a battery charging station for lighting and cell phones in homes. The micro-units are managed by an entrepreneur located within the community and trained by Schneider Electric to ensure maintenance and long-term economic viability.
Besides including local entrepreneurs in its business plans and nurturing them, Schneider Electric provides financial support to small and medium-sized companies that contribute in innovative ways to providing access to energy through the Schneider Electric Energy Access (SEEA) Fund established in July 2009. Beyond providing funding, Schneider Electric also makes available to these local businesses its in-house technical and management expertise.
Among the companies that the SEEA fund has supported are: Fenix International, which develops energy access solutions in partnership with mobile telecom operators in East Africa; One Degree Solar, which designs, produces, and distributes solar products for off-grid communities in Kenya; and Nova Lumos, a technology company that offers solar home systems which enable customers to pre-pay for power via mobile phones. SEEA also invested in SunFunder, a startup finance company that provides short-term working capital and loans for solar home systems, micro-grids, and commercial solar projects in emerging markets.
Further, in partnership with other European entities, Schneider Electric jointly launched the Energy Access Ventures Fund in 2015 to boost access to energy in sub-Saharan Africa, where electricity access rates are as low as 23 percent. This fund targets small businesses in Africa that specialize in promoting low-carbon and low-cost electricity access solutions in rural areas where financing is hard to come by or even unavailable. In addition to funding, a range of technical support will be provided to offer practical help and advice for local businesses concerning management, governance, energy efficiency, and environmental best practices.