Swiss Re Foundation: Scaling up solar energy

The Swiss Re Foundation empowers communities to become more resilient. The initiatives we support address both the causes and the effects of risks in our focus areas of climate, society, natural hazards and water. In 2018, the Swiss Re Foundation expanded its fruitful collaborations with academia, business partners as well as its support of entrepreneurial approaches to building resilience.

Building resilient societies is a challenge too vast for any sector to tackle alone. Our 2018 Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award focussed on supporting young enterprises that support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by putting renewables to work in low-income communities. The safest, most efficient way for communities to power businesses, schools and hospitals and for individuals to earn income and feed their families is through electricity. More than 1 billion people worldwide lack reliable power grid access, and they often rely on kerosene, charcoal and firewood to power their homes. Procuring these expensive, dirty and often dangerous fuels often requires significant time and money, leaving less of both to invest in education, healthcare or earning a living.

The founders of Altech Group grew up in low-income areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo – where over 90% of people aren’t connected to the power grid – and as a result, they have direct experience with these problems. After just five years of operation, Altech is now the country’s largest distributor of solar solutions. Its core product, a high-quality certified solar kit, is available through three pay-as-you-go payment plans targeted at different customer segments. It also employs local youths as “solar ambassadors” to handle sales, payment collection and servicing.

The Swiss Re Foundation spent 18 months identifying and getting to know a variety of promising ventures that are striving to bring sustainable energy to low-income communities. Swiss Re experts and the Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award jury – composed of Swiss Re senior executives, Swiss Re clients and an academic representative – helped us select this as the 2018 award theme and Altech as the winner. The award ceremony was held in Accra, Ghana in May to coincide with the annual meeting of the African Insurance Organisation, an NGO that promotes inter-African cooperation and the development of a healthy insurance and reinsurance industry in Africa.

Along with coaching and technical advice from Swiss Re experts, the award grant will enable Altech to increase its product range, inventory capacity and sales and develop new tools for collecting payments and activating solar kits. To date, the company has already sold about 27 000 solar kits, 120 000 solar lanterns, 1000 solar home systems and 1 000 clean cookstoves, improving the lives of more than half a million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.