Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will require massive investment in developing countries.
Blended finance has grown in the past decade. In 2021 it represented an aggregated financing of over $160 billion, with annual capital flows averaging approximately $9 billion since 2015. With this small infusion of concessional funding, pioneering investments become attractive to private investors.
Private investment can be unlocked with blended finance
In emerging markets, the flow of private capital is constrained by investors’ perceptions of high risks and low returns. When investors perceive a high risk, either because of the pioneering nature of a project or a challenging environment, they tend to expect commensurately high returns. The desire for high returns can result in products or services being priced too high for consumers.
Successful projects include the right combination of debt, equity or grant financing, the right seniority of investors in terms of absorbing losses and earning returns, and appropriate risk-mitigation products.
Blended finance has achieved notable success in Sub-Saharan Africa, attracting 61% of global concessional financing in 2020. Most of this financing supported climate-smart agribusiness and energy investments.
Blended finance is a tool for scaling up African energy infrastructure investments
Africa urgently needs to increase investment in electricity infrastructure. About 570 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity. Existing infrastructure cannot meet demand. Yet, the region currently accounts for just 4% of global power sector investments. Achieving universal access to electricity by 2030 will require tripling annual customer increases.
The construction of off-grid solar-powered electric facilities can expand African access to affordable clean energy. In Nigeria, a large off-grid market has developed to cope with chronic electricity reliability issues and currently provides about 80% of energy demand. Nigeria plans to develop 13GW of off-grid solar PV capacity by 2030. Other countries will follow suit. The Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) projects that by 2030, nearly half a billion people could be using electricity from mini-grids.
Unlike grid electrification, where large utilities typically operate under robust regulatory frameworks, off-grid systems must often operate under incomplete or ill-designed regulations. Off-grid developers serve a fragmented customer base. Risk mitigation measures, such as long-term power purchase agreements, are generally lacking.
In Nigeria and elsewhere, off-grid solar energy providers face competition from a well-established diesel generator industry. Diesel suppliers typically enjoy longstanding customer relationships and easy access to capital. In contrast, off-grid solar projects often experience financing gaps, even in sun-rich locations. Financing barriers for pioneering solar projects can range from lack of credit history to investors’ unfamiliarity with solar and battery solutions.
Daybreak, a pioneer provider of off-grid and distributed solar and battery solutions to commercial and industrial customers in Nigeria, offers lessons on how to achieve a bankable financing structure and competitive tariffs for customers.
Daybreak’s financing plan sought to leverage long-term subordinated debt, a portion of which was provided at concessional terms, to de-risk the investment and crowd-in commercial senior debt at more competitive terms. A cost-effective financing structure ensured the project’s competitiveness as an alternative to diesel. A successful pioneering of the model will provide comfort to commercial lenders supporting the market’s scaling phase. Market projections show that the off-grid and distributed solar market in Nigeria could grow tenfold by 2025.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to the world’s second-largest population in need of electricity access, is launching an ambitious mini-grid expansion. DRC is pioneering implementation of the World Bank Group’s new Scaling Mini-Grid initiative. IFC expects the blended finance guarantee provided to mitigate demand risk to help mobilize $400 million in capital investment into mini-grids. The investment will develop 180 MW of installed solar PV capacity in DRC, providing renewable energy for more than 1.5 million new users.
Like Scaling Solar, the initiative provides a semi-standardized set of project preparation activities, transaction documents, risk mitigation instruments, as well as a financing package offer to scale up the deployment of mini-grids. Blended finance can be leveraged in pioneering investments to de-risk commercial investments and improve power affordability.
Mobilization is key to achieving sustainable investment at scale
Despite its potential, blended finance remains volatile and has not yet reached its full potential. Scaling Mini-Grid and similar initiatives can catalyze increased investment in renewable energy in low-income countries.. Each stakeholder must prioritize scalable and replicable approaches. By employing blended finance through a platform approach, IFC’s
The original version of this blog appeared on the Global Infrastructure (GI) Hub.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Bank Group, its Board of Executive Directors, staff or the governments it represents. The World Bank Group does not guarantee the accuracy of the data, findings, or analysis in this post.
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