On October 4, Acumen held its second Energy Summit, bringing together more than 100 entrepreneurs, investors and key players to accelerate progress in the sector. Held in London, the event focused on the journey of early stage entrepreneurs, the voice of the customer they are serving, and how this unique mix of players can achieve more together across the field. The summit is part of Acumen’s Pioneer Energy Investment Initiative (PEII), a $20 million effort to address the funding gap in early stage equity for off-grid energy enterprises. The aim of the initiative is to impact 8 million people by 2026.
The summit was keynoted by Per Heggenes, CEO of IKEA Foundation, “Renewable energy is at the nexus of lifting people out of poverty,” Per said. “We believe collaboration and innovation is key in driving the energy access agenda.” The IKEA Foundation and IKEA group committed $1 billion collectively to climate change in 2015, and became an anchor partner of Acumen’s PEII with a $5 million commitment in 2016.
The theme of collaboration continued with the “Global Perspectives” panel where Acumen representatives from India, East Africa, West Africa and Pakistan discussed trends in each region and insights across Acumen’s portfolio. Festus Amoyaw, Acumen’s West Africa Portfolio Manager stressed the importance of focusing on local needs while learning from progress in other regions. “We’re seeing the growth of an exciting second wave of solar home system-focused companies in West Africa that are leveraging the lessons of their East Africa contemporaries,” he said.
The summit included a preview of the results of Acumen’s Energy Lean Data work and Energy Impact series. The Lean Data project is Acumen’s first deep-dive into the impact of a specific sector. The results include data from nearly 5,000 customers of 20 energy companies working across 10 countries, generating the sector’s largest set of data across comparable indicators. The data gathered provides insight on the performance of energy companies, allowing a benchmark of absolute and relative performance for the first time. Tom Adams, Acumen’s Director of Lean Data and Kat Harrison, Associate Director of Impact & Lean Data shared some highlights, such as how solar has led to a 75 percent reduction in exposure to household air pollution for children when substituted for kerosene. They also provided insight on how subtle differences in context, product and business model can often lead to large swings in the perceived and actual impacts of energy access. A more in-depth look at these insights will be available in Acumen’s Energy Impact Report, out in early 2018.
What was perhaps even more compelling than the insights was hearing the value entrepreneurs’ see in Lean Data. “Hearing direct feedback from our customers has changed the way we do business and how we think about our work,” said Willem Nolens, CEO of SolarNow. “I know now that we are putting our customers first.” This lesson was echoed again during a later panel featuring entrepreneurs across the energy sector, including BioLite, Azimuth, Devergy and PEG. The entrepreneurs talked about what motivates them to work in these markets, and the type of capital required for scale.
The summit saw some of its most lively discussions in a round of mini-debates, where industry leaders such as Russell Sturm of the IFC and Koen Peters of GOGLA among others debated the viability of mini-grids and the role that product finance plays in creating over-indebtedness. In addition, the summit included chat room sessions on the topics of impact, investing, new business models, and new technologies in energy access.
As the day came to a close, it was clear that those in the room felt the urgency of the challenge at hand and the need collaborate in new ways. Stay tuned for more news from the summit, and please reach out with any questions or if you’d like to get more involved.
Over the next month, we will share more of the topics covered at the Energy Summit in a series of blogs. Read our first installment “The Next Wave of Energy Enterprises: Innovation through Business Evolution.”