Yemen was already one of the world’s most energy insecure and water poor countries, with most of the country having lacked sustainable access to energy. The ongoing war has made the situation worse. Energy supply in Yemen for many years has been very limited due weak generation capacity, limited access, high electricity losses from the grid, and increasing demand. The Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen (ERRY) project intervention has addressed the above challenges by taking pathways from service delivery to livelihood improvement.
The objective of the intervention was to support displaced marginalized, youths and women to establish decentralized solar energy systems to improve access, employability skills, stable income and self-confidence. The distinguish feature of the intervention is to make solar energy accessible and affordable to all.
The intervention targeted women, youth and marginalized. Abbs and Bani Qais districts (Hajjah Governorate) and Al Feyoush district (Lahj Governorate) in the northern and southern provinces were respectively targeted. The non-governmental organization (I/NGO) were the implementing partners for the above intervention while working closely with target beneficiaries. The micro-grid stations run by women and youth have attracted private sector to engage and scale-up. Micro-finance institutions are also willing to participate in the best practice to support the initiatives in expansion.
The intervention was in three folds (3x6 approach); provision of emergency employment opportunities, capacity building for employability skillset and support in the establishment of solar microbusinesses. In terms of emergency employment, target beneficiaries were provided income through short term cash-for-work ($6/day for 30 days) activities while rehabilitating community and productive assets such as roads leading to market, health facilities and school as well as improvement of market centers. Subsequently, target beneficiaries received basic and advance solar micro businesses training. The capacity building activities were done in close collaboration with ILO. The graduated beneficiaries from training developed two types of business proposals. First, community shops for the provision of affordable solar items such as lantern, charging equipment, operational and maintenance toolkits. Second, building SOLAR MICRO GRID to provide electricity to poor households and private sector. The first proposal was developed by individual where more than 50% are women and the second business plan was by group of women and youth. Selected individuals were also trained by vocational training institute in the target location and certified as solar technicians to support the solar micro businesses and solar micro grid for operational and maintenance services. Individuals and group were linked to the bank and seed grant ($900) was transferred to establish their business. The community based solar technicians made feasibility and consumption needs assessment to provide valuable information to micro businesses in terms of demand and supply needs. The individual solar micro businesses were to linked with micro finance network and district market center to promote selling and expand businesses. Group of women and youth for Solar Micro GRID were provided training on group management, finance and accounting, leadership as well as how to implement the business plan in phase wise manner to meet the demand and supply needs. The solar micro business and solar micro grid initiatives are unique and for the first time implemented in Yemen as income generation opportunities. Major suppliers and traders are mostly Sana’a based, has appreciated the interventions and willing to support micro businesses as their entry points to enhance access and affordability of solar services at district, sub-district and village levels.
The micro-grid stations are fully run independently by the women and youth and has made the model sustainable.
There are 160 individuals (50% women) who have established solar micro businesses were earlier unemployed and host more than 2-3 families (22 members). Similarly, the group of women and youths (40 individuals) who has managed to establish solar micro grid had faced huge challenge to earn income specially group of women. Solar micro businesses have recovered 50% of the seed grant in addition to $100/month stable income since the establishment of business. It is expected that in few months, the input cost (seed grant) would be completely recovered and monthly income would increase too. For solar micro grid, as this was for the first time implemented in Yemen, the diesel service providers saw this as their competitors. In the northern province where group of women initiated the business, has managed to break the barriers of cultural and social sanctions by taking lead role in managing their business. Due to business uniqueness, the neighbors, market center, petty shops and local restaurants have requested for solar energy connection. The solar micro grid provides electricity for 14 hours with a rate of less than a $/day whereas the diesel cost almost a dollar/hour and available for limited time. Since the establishment of solar micro grid, the group of women and youths in northern and southern provinces have been receiving request for 10-15 new connections. The group of women and youth are being able to earn $10/day ($300/month). The acceptance of group of women is very high in the community as they were unemployed initially and now have regular income and are proving employment to others as well. The diesel suppliers and service providers though initially saw this as their road block and feared losing clients to solar micro grid, women members have reached out to suppliers to explain the benefits of solar micro grid both from environment perspective and income generation opportunities. The community and tribal leaders, head of village, private suppliers and other key power holders have also influenced the diesel suppliers to allow the solar micro grid stations to benefit of whole communities. Seeing trained women as solar technicians, the perception has also changed in the community that women can be engaged in economic activities to support their families and neighbors. The barriers that the crisis has broken specially in terms of gender division of labor, the group of women were able to capitalize on it and managed to get wider acceptance. The solar micro grid and individual businesses have provided women and youths a dignified income opportunity to feed and support their families. The women and youths have become a role model in their community while promoting access of solar energy as stable income generation activities. The initiative has come in time where humanitarian responses through multiple cash grants to support households/individuals have seen limitation and challenges to graduate beneficiaries from the vicious cycle of food insecurity and protracted crisis needs.
The Micro-grid station has been recently awarded by Ashden under Humanitarian Energy Category: https://www.ashden.org/winners/united-nations-development-programme-yemen#continue
The solar demand and supply increased manifold soon after the crisis. The dependency on diesel and scarcity aggravated the situation across the country. People’s acceptance and attitudinal response to solar energy was the biggest enabling factor to pilot the good practice. The opportunity to earn money from the proposed businesses were also the key factor to convince the beneficiaries as it was unheard off in Yemen. As the intervention focused on women and youth, the biggest challenge or constrained that needed to overcome was the perception of communities and associated risks due to high exposure. However, due to the engagement of women and youth since the beginning of the emergency employment activities helped to build the perception that the proposed activities support households and community. Community engagement conducted by women and youth themselves were also needed to liaise with power holders which managed to safeguard the beneficiaries from potential protection of violence risks due to income threat to diesel suppliers.The idea came from the ongoing livelihood activities under ERRY project where beneficiaries has established micro businesses and they are successful. Considering the solar market; both at supply and demand ends, micro business idea was conceptualized. For solar micro grid, the idea emerged from the ongoing support of solar systems to school, health center, irrigation and water facilities. The lack of grid in the northern region provided the idea to generate electricity through solar. After the successful implementation of micro business and micro grid, the next step would be to engage more private sector to scale up for small and medium enterprises. Consumption items such as solar lantern, charging equipment and solar refrigerator for hospitals could be picked up by the private sector to produce local technology affordable for Yemen. The micro business and micro grid would also be linked with the suppliers and traders to strengthen the value chain in coming years. 80% suppliers are situated in the Sana’a (capital city of Yemen) and this makes the cost unaffordable for many people due to high cost of basic solar items. The effort is to influence the big suppliers and traders to decentralize the market and make solar items affordable and accessible for all. For this reason, two business associations have been created in south and north regions. The association represents solar micro business owner, Yemen Micro Finance Network, Chamber of Commerce, Banks, Suppliers and Traders. The association is legally registered under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the purpose is to support micro businesses in transitioning to small and medium enterprises as well as have a strong voice to decentralize solar services.
The community acceptance for solar micro-grid has been the major enabling factor in addition to the response from the market. The stations have received encouragement as well as an appreciation. There is an increasing demand to register for access to energy. The project team is working on to improve the access to financial institutions and the private sector, the bottleneck and constraints for MSMEs in Yemen.
The heavily dependent services on diesel has seen wider problem in Yemen due to blockade and price rise. There is no doubt that, the continuous motorized system has polluted the environment due to over exploitation of services. The solar micro business and micro grid is an initiative to promote pollution free environment. The project has also supported solar systems for schools, health centers, productive assets, drinking water and irrigation facilities. The above interventions have managed to save high expenditure cost, prolonged business hours, helped the beneficiaries or targeted facilities to utilize the saving in meeting other daily needs in the crisis situation. The income generated by solar micro business and micro grid is helping women to spend on buying food, visiting health center and supporting their children to continue education. The youths who are at risk of violent extremism, are now engaged in establishing the livelihood activities to support their families. The micro business set up cost $900 for each individual and the rate of return is quite high. The solar micro grid has cost ($9000) as it is a group business represented by 10 members and there are four groups running the business. Based on the evidence from the grid stations, the women and youth groups are able to earn $300/month and the earning would increase as the grid station has capacity of 65 kw/day where current consumption is 11 kw/day. The interventions have been shared widely with aid agencies in Yemen. UNDP has also established a solar working group to promote the replication of such practice. The intervention more importantly has supported the household to earn money which is a huge challenge in current context of Yemen. Majority of humanitarian responses support short terms cash grant without any exit strategy. The solar intervention has looked into building the nexus between humanitarian and development through meeting immediate needs as well as supporting beneficiaries for stable income and self-reliant. The ERRY project has also reached out to other UNDP interventions to promote solar livelihood improvement, an unexplored sector which has huge potential to overcome the risk of food insecurity, famine, unemployment and epidemic.
Despite the COVID-19 impact, the micro-grid stations continue to make a profit and run with full capacity. The success of the micro-grid has let to scale up the intervention from 3 stations to 100 in the coming months in Yemen and linking them with public services as well.
The solar livelihood interventions managed to break the barriers of gender division of labor and proved that women can be engaged in skill based economic activities than only to unskilled and in-kind paid jobs in Yemen. The intervention has brought the recognition for both women and youths in the target areas that through solar livelihood activities could support communities to overcome shocks and stress of socio-economic instability. The livelihood interventions need to be built on inclusive approach by engaging women, men and youth and should not be limited to only those who have asset. Making solar intervention under ERRY project to respond to crisis and build humanitarian and development nexus is a ground-breaking practice. In terms of lessons learned, it is important to have solar market assessment at local and national level to understand the market opportunities, supply, demand and gaps in the value chain. The market assessment provides an understanding on the consumption needs and availability of solar equipment.
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The micro-grid approach has now been considered for the application of an alternative source of energy such as waste and water. The success has motivated the project team to take up the Waste to Energy and Salt to Sweet Water initiatives using the solar micro-grid model.