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Grant call open for innovators to harness clean energy to improve incomes and climate resilience in Africa

Immediate release: 30 November 2023: An open call to innovators, out today, is offering a share of €3.6million to help scale start-ups which support people and the planet.

This is the first of three rounds of funding planned through Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities (PREO), with over €8m in grants available over the next four years to support innovative, renewable energy-based projects, improving livelihoods and aiding job creation. The initial open call will concentrate on businesses focusing on Africa with future rounds expanding PREO’s geographic reach to Asia and the Indo-Pacific regions.

To be eligible, applicants must be piloting a new, or pivoting an existing business model and be able to demonstrate the viability of a solution that focuses on the productive use of renewable energy, with the grants used to scale these business models and innovations. Priority sectors include agro-processing, cooling, solar irrigation, e-waste recycling, textile production, e-mobility, education, healthcare, ICT and street lighting.

PREO’s overall mission is to help businesses harness clean energy to improve incomes, build climate resilience and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Since the programme’s inception in 2019, it has successfully awarded over €6.3m in grant funding to 34 projects across 11 sub-Saharan African countries, leading to the creation of 467 full and part time jobs.

Alongside grant funding, the programme has also provided technical assistance to a further 20 companies through dedicated sector specialists and will continue to provide this alongside the new round of grants.

Jono West, Director of Partnerships at Mobile Power, a company that received a PREO grant to help scale up its off-grid electric vehicle services.

He said, “PREO’s funding and technical support was invaluable to undertaking those early field trials. This enabled us to iterate the technology and business model. As a result, we have developed a business model that is attractive to taxi riders growing our rental numbers to over 500,000 every month and 2,000 new customers every week.”

Contributing to PREO’s impact is Ashden-award-winning enterprise SokoFresh, which provides farm level cold storage-as-a-service, coupled with a digital access-to-market platform to integrate small and medium scale farmers into commercial-scale supply chains.

PREO-funded SokoFresh’s first two cold hubs for horticulture, and subsequent expansion into fishing. The Kenyan company has demonstrated a 27% reduction in post-harvest losses and generated 13 jobs as a result of this project.

Jon Lane, Associate Director at the Carbon Trust, leads the delivery of the programme.

He said, “PREO has been extremely effective over the past four years, providing a real boost for African innovators focused on accelerating the productive use of renewable energy. Seeing the impact that PREO-supported projects have made in increasing job creation and reducing emissions is inspiring and sets the tone for more success in this next phase.  Further funding from the IKEA Foundation alongside the existing commitment from UK aid via the Transforming Energy Access platform demonstrates this value and a commitment to future innovators and we are excited to be expanding our focus to Asia and the Indo-Pacific in the coming phase.”

Innovators can use PREO grant funding for activities including covering the upfront capital costs of initial field units, operational expenses, building capacities, and designing information systems. As a result, the innovators have the potential to successfully demonstrate positive unit-economics, refine and improve their business model, and gather critical business data needed to back up the business plan and attract sufficient commercial capital that would otherwise materialise far more slowly.

Across the 34 projects supported so far, a total of €26m in public and private follow-on capital has been raised. For example, Roam, a Kenya-based e-mobility company has gone on to secure significant further funding. In 2021, during its PREO project, Roam closed a $7.5m (USD) funding round, the largest ever for an African electric mobility start-up, as well as opening an electric motorcycle assembly plant in Nairobi. The company was also  a finalist in the 2022 prestigious Earthshot prize and is named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential companies for its efforts towards electrifying transport in Africa. 

Since 2019, PREO has been supported by the IKEA Foundation and UK aid via the Transforming Energy Access platform and delivered by the Carbon Trust and Mercy Corps Energy 4 Impact.

The IKEA Foundation has committed a further €7.2m alongside the existing £5m commitment from the UK Government via the Transforming Energy Access platform to PREO for another four years, with additional calls planned for 2024 and 2025.

Jolanda van Ginkel, Programme Manager Renewable Energy at IKEA Foundation commented, “PREO is supporting companies across Africa to test, build and replicate renewable energy solutions that deliver results for people and the planet. The IKEA Foundation is proud to support the programme and welcomes today’s open call to sub-Saharan African innovators. We look forward to its expansion to Asia and the Indo-Pacific in coming rounds.” Interested innovators should visit the PREO website to download the full application pack


Meet the women with a cool head for business generating pride and profit from solar-powered freezers in Nigeria

As Kehinde Fayemi serves customers at her frozen food shop in Nigeria’s Lagos State, few might guess exactly what her freezer generates other than ice and a tidy profit. While the big white box in the corner does exactly what it says on the tin – preserving the glittering fish and pink cuts of meat inside – it’s also the source of a great deal of kudos. “Now, with the quality of the freezing, it commands respect,” Kehinde says.

It wasn’t always so. According to the World Bank, 43% of Nigeria’s population have no access to grid electricity. And an estimated 40% of food is lost and wasted each year in part due to the lack of cold storage. Kehinde was once one of the country’s women fish traders who typically see stock lost because their fridges and freezers are left without power for extended periods of time. With the national energy supply patchy and unreliable, and back-up polluting diesel-powered refrigerators expensive to run, these businesswomen find their fish spoils quickly in the heat and profits go literally down the drain.

Kehinde has owned the shop in front of her house in Ikorodu, where she lives with her husband and son, for the last six years. Despite being passionate about her occupation and driven to succeed whatever the obstacles, the 38-year-old  recognises only too well the challenges of trying to run a business against this level of uncertainty. Grid electricity is “rare” where she lives and supply could be on one day and off the next, with only a fuel-hungry generator filling the gaps. “With selling frozen foods, you need a good power source,” she says. “Some goods don’t sell fast and require good preservation.” Despite using the generator for eight hours a day, her food could not always be kept cold for as long as it took to be sold, and Kehinde says that a lot of stock would go to waste. Losing money and feeling stressed, a solution soon came her way.

After sharing her frustrations with a friend from church, Kehinde was given a flyer about a snappily-named start-up called ‘Koolboks’. The company originally made cooling boxes for the camping industry but soon pivoted to where they felt they could make a bigger impact – the business owners in Africa who struggle to keep their products cool, and the health sector, such as pharmacies and clinics.

The beauty is in the product’s simplicity and reliability, and the fact that it is 100% solar-powered. The ‘Koolhome’ appliance can be used as a fridge or a freezer, and the units can generate refrigeration for up to seven days, even when there is limited sunlight. This is down to the insulation and ‘ice battery’ – a technology that enables the storage of energy in the form of ice – complemented with lithium-ion batteries. Users can switch back and forth between using energy from the grid and solar power, and the appliance can also charge mobile phones and power LED bulbs.

The clever concept attracted funding from the Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities (PREO) programme, supported by the IKEA Foundation and aid from the UK government via the Transforming Energy Access platform. The resulting project, delivered with support from the Carbon Trust and Energy 4 Impact, saw more than 300 fish and frozen food traders in Nigeria – two thirds of them women, including Kehinde – gain access to solar-powered refrigerators through a credit plan without which the product would have been unaffordable. The PREO grant helped Koolboks to identify target customers, develop payment plans and provide backup funds to be able to offer credit. The success of the project has since encouraged commercial investors to get involved and Koolboks has raised $2.5 million in funding. This has allowed the company to expand in Nigeria from a pilot to a full-service business, reaching thousands of customers. Koolboks currently employs more than 100 people in Nigeria and there are plans to expand to other markets in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Back in Ikorodu, Kehinde called the Koolboks number. Her husband was initially nervous about the upfront cost. But with his wife’s savvy calculations, and the potential savings on offer, he must have been won over. Thanks to Koolboks integrating PAYGO technology to make the freezers more affordable, customers like Kehinde have been able to pay in monthly, weekly or daily installments to eventually own their unit.

Eighteen months later, Kehinde hasn’t looked back. Thanks to the powerful African sun, there are no electricity bills to pay for the freezer, and Kehinde charges her phone in one of the appliance’s USB ports. Having paid for the first freezer in monthly installments, Kehinde was able to buy a second outright, and thanks to both freezers the family has since seen profits soar by around 90%. There’s less food wastage and worry, too.

New and repeat customers are tempted by the freshness of the fish, chicken and sausage Kehinde stocks. “It brings more customers to my doorstep. Even if I’m not around, they would wait for me,” she explains, adding that one day she returned home to find a crowd of people outside her shop. “I can sell my goods at the price I want. I don’t have to sell it at a lower price for fear of spoilage.”

Koolboks’ technology – coupled with Kehinde’s strong will to succeed – has boosted her confidence in her own abilities. “I am a very self-determined person, though Koolboks made it easier,” she says. “Yes, I feel more confident doing my business, I enjoy doing it and see how it is doing well.”

Kehinde also feels more respected in her community. “Customers used to look down on my produce and price the goods low because it is defrosted,” she adds. She has now become an advocate for the freezers, recommending Koolboks to others, with positive results. “I have other traders hug and thank me for introducing them.”

Despite her success, Kehinde’s ambition is anything but on ice. She would like to get more freezers, go completely off-grid, expand her business, help her parents with financial support and perhaps open another shop. “With the freezer, I have advanced in our business and increased my pride and respect for being a self-determined person.” With such a cool head for business, she sounds unstoppable.



Autumn 2023 Newsletter

Made in Africa: Impact of local manufacturing on profits, people and products. Insights from the off-grid energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Spring 2023 Newsletter

The latest report from PREO outlines the market opportunity for e-motorcycles in the African e-mobility sector.

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Ribbon-cutting-at-Heifer-International-Uganda-construction-of-solar-power-for-chilling-facilities PREO

Winter 2022 Newsletter

Heifer International Uganda kicks off construction of solar power for chilling facilities to replace the use of fossil fuels..

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Autumn 2022 Newsletter

4R Digital to receive PREO funding to launch affordable solar water pumps and irrigation kits in Kenya.

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Spring 2022 Newsletter

PREO’s blended finance strategy sets tone for private capital investment for early-stage companies in Africa.

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Summer 2022 Newsletter

Zembo launches the first African intercity e-corridor for e-motorcycles along the Kampala-Masaka highway in Uganda.

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Autumn 2021 Newsletter

New reports size the value and market opportunity for productive use of energy in rural sub-Saharan Africa.

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Summer 2021 Newsletter

Latest PREO funding to boost incomes for mini-grid operators and farmers in Ugandan communities.

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Grants Announcement

Growing rural sub-Saharan economies through accelerating clean energy uptake.

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Helping farmers grow more and earn more
Good Nature Agro Phiri-brothers-Farmers-receiving-equipment

Good Nature Agro (GNA) aims to introduce solar-powered borehole and irrigation systems to allow farmers to take on new crops and grow their earnings.

Zambia has 3,800,000 hectares of arable land. This presents an immense opportunity for agricultural enterprises. However, land is usually expanded by clearing forests, which is something that GNA intends to limit through sustainable intensification – making the land that is already under cultivation more efficient. GNA plans to introduce solar-powered borehole and irrigation systems that will shield farmers from erratic rainfall and increase the number of farming seasons from one to two (and sometimes three) per year. This, combined with the higher-value horticultural markets that can be unlocked during dry season production, has the potential to dramatically increase grower incomes.

GNA is a for profit social enterprise that began operations in 2014. The majority of farmers in the parts of Zambia in which GNA operates are typically subsistence farmers that focus on growing maize. GNA’s aim is to improve the livelihoods of these farmers by enabling them to produce high-value legume seeds, initially produced at Good Nature Foundation Farm and then multiplied through smallholder seed farmers (of which 40% are women) contracted to GNA. Farmers can then grow higher value crops such as soya bean and groundnuts, which GNA purchases directly at centralised buying points within the farming communities, reducing their transport costs and adding to their bottom line.

However, in most areas of Zambia, it doesn’t rain between the period of mid-May and mid-October. This means that the land cultivated by each of the 26,000 farmers GNA engages is idle for six months out of the year. With support from PREO, GNA plans to create a complementary irrigation-based contract farming programme that can enable farmers to earn more than double their annual income without expanding their hectarage. Irrigation can create an additional season (or seasons) that can be used either for legumes or diversification into high-value horticultural crops such as onion.

GNA would provide direction on which crops to grow and how to maximize yield and maintain soil health, and would continue to provide the farmers with off-take market for select crops. GNA could also utilise its ‘grower rating’ system to help improve farmers’ productivity. A grower rating is a score given to each farmer based on data such as quality of crop and adoption of best practices. This score then determines the farmer’s credit limit for the next season. There is potential to translate these grower ratings into financing opportunities on CapEx equipment that unlocks the productive capacity of the six-month dry period.

For more information on Good Nature Agro, visit:


Capital required to maximise the productive use of energy in rural Sub-Saharan Africa

New analysis examining the scale of investment opportunity in the productive use of energy (PUE)

PUE market opportunity in rural sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is estimated to be $864 billion over the next ten years, $86 billion per year. The report highlights the economic and social benefits of investing in revenue and income generating equipment and appliances and the associated business case for investment into reliable renewable energy infrastructure to help business and industries reach their full potential across sub-Saharan Africa. 

Download the report

Capital required to maximise the productive use of energy in rural Sub-Saharan Africa


The Power of the Productive Use of Energy – an impact investment frontier

The latest results from the PREO programme: demonstrating the business and impact case for investment in the productive use of energy (PUE)

Stimulating demand for off-grid renewable energy through PUE applications is a critical way to support sustainable business opportunities, grow local economies and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The report outlines the first key findings emerging from the PREO programme, exploring examples from funded projects in the e-mobility, healthcare and off-grid cooling for food sectors.

Six projects supported by PREO are showcased in the report – highlighting the value of investment in productive equipment and appliances to strengthen the investment case for sustainable energy infrastructure in Africa. 


Practical Action Consulting

In Malawi, agriculture is mostly rain-fed. This reliance on one growing season and erratic rainfall results in unreliable yields and quality of produce.

This is compounded by limited options for post-harvest storage due, in part, to low rural electrification rates, resulting in losses of at least 30% of produce.

The project seeks to address these challenges by demonstrating the viability of an off-grid full value chain business model for the benefit of women smallholder farmers. PAC (Practical Action Consulting), in partnership with African Mini Grids (“AMG”) and Modern Farming Technologies (“MFT”), plan to develop a sustainable, vertically integrated, full value chain business model for agriculture.

The approach includes two main components: support to women farmers in the form of capacity development and access to affordable greenhouses with solar drip irrigation systems; and the development of a solar powered chill plant that increases the quantity and quality of produce available to be sold and opens up access to formal markets. As well as increasing productivity and quality of produce, the project aims to empower women, assisting them overcome constraints to land access (because greenhouses require little land), gain access to productive assets and develop new skills and confidence.

Lastly, the project aims to use renewable energy to unlock new local markets for horticultural produce that provide rural communities with new opportunities for income and livelihoods. MFT have executed a similar model in the urban setting of Mzuzu, and now want to demonstrate it in an off-grid environment within rural Northern Malawi. They will work with the Ujazi Cultural Conservation Group, ad women’s co-operative located at Chintheche in Nhkata Bay District.


Equatorial Power
Boat on a river

Equatorial Power, Mobilizing Electricity for Productive End Uses and Fishermen eMobility in Lake Victoria.

The project focuses on mobilizing electricity for productive use through the promotion of electric mobility for fishing in Lolwe Island of Lake Victoria. The plan is to pilot approximately 20 electric boats for fishing with charging hubs that will be connected to the solar mini-grid installed on the island.

The intended outcomes are

  1. Eliminating the use of petrol and reduced operating costs for fishing,
  2. Demonstrate a viable anchor load for the mini-grid on the island, and
  3. Creating local employment opportunities through a productive use charging hub on the island.

The expected impacts are

  1. Improving economic livelihoods among those who directly or indirectly depend upon fishing, through improved fishing value proposition and job creation.
  2. Strengthening the business case for a sustainable mini-grid in this community through increased productive energy uptake (and securing the indirect benefits of clean, reliable, and plentiful electricity),
  3. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the vital economic activity of fishing. 


New funding available to help stimulate clean energy generation in sub-Saharan Africa

Energy 4 Impact and the Carbon Trust are pleased to announce the launch of the Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities (PREO) Programme, which aims to promote renewable energy in sub-Saharan Africa to boost long-term job creation and reduce poverty through economic growth and empowerment of women.

Co-funded by IKEA Foundation and UK aid and delivered by the Carbon Trust and Energy 4 Impact, PREO will support energy projects and partnerships that use a market-led approach to promoting productive use of energy (PUE), and support revenue growth in the companies involved.

While a reliable and affordable energy supply is vital for people living in rural sub-Saharan Africa to power their homes and businesses, energy access alone is not enough to transform economies. To be effective rural energy programmes need to consider the social and economic context for each local area to ensure the right enabling environment exists to build partnerships that give access to finance, technology and markets.

PREO promotes direct collaboration between energy users and power suppliers to realise the potential of energy access to improve livelihoods and boost economic growth. It therefore supports locally-relevant productive use of energy initiatives through:

  • grant funding to stimulate investment and income-generating activities;
  • partnership building support to bring various actors together for specific projects and programmes;
  • offering advisory services to companies involved in PUE, including market intelligence, partnering and financing advice.

In addition, PREO aims to create a globally significant centre of PUE expertise in the sector, by developing a platform to support, direct and communicate market and project learnings, which will be key to achieve wider impact.

PREO is expected to create 3,500 jobs, empower 1,000 women and benefit more than 11,000 rural households.

By supporting PREO, the IKEA Foundation can effectively work together with other partners and investors to make renewable energy accessible to many communities more quickly, reducing carbon emissions and enabling people living in poverty to afford a better life,

says Jolanda van Ginkel, Programme Manager for Renewable Energy ,the IKEA Foundation.


Mobile Power

Battery technology rental for electric vehicles in Sierra Leone.

Mobile Power’s battery platform allows 3-wheeled electric vehicle owners to rent a battery pack for transportation and freighting, thereby utilising mini-grid electricity for sustainable transportation. Electrifying mobility improves the productivity through access to new markets and reduced transport times (versus manual transportation) while providing synchronised electricity demand for mini-grid developers.