Solar energy is the fastest-growing renewable energy source in Africa. Between 2011 and 2020, solar capacity in Africa grew at an average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 54%. Africa possesses some of the world’s most significant solar power generation potential. The continent receives annual average solar irradiation of 2,119 kilowatt hours per square meter (kWh/m2), and the continent’s solar potential is around 7,900 GW (assuming a 1% land-utilization factor), indicating the vast potential for the generation of solar power. Despite that potential, Africa accounts for less than 3% of the world’s installed renewables-based electricity generation capacity. The utility-scale solar power has been systematically deployed in just a few countries. Moreover, on the investment front, solar PV only attracted USD 18 billion in Africa between 2010 and 2020, which is significantly less than the required capital to meet the continent’s growing energy demand. The huge gap between the present and potential can be abridged by enhanced accessibility for regional innovation, recognition of local innovators, and capacity building across the entire solar value chain.

The SolarX Grand Challenge aims to accelerate investments in solar by creating a pool of entrepreneurs and start-ups in the solar energy sector of ISA member countries. The first edition is focused on the African region, aiming to promote innovation, discover local solutions, and enable entrepreneurs with the over-arching objective of building human and institutional capacity to sustain and grow solar businesses. The SolarX Grand Challenge will enable three-fold benefits in technology, finance, innovation, thereby building on the start-up ecosystem of the solar energy sector.

The SolarX Challenge will be a leading force in driving the world’s transformation to a renewable energy economy that promotes innovation in the solar energy space and accelerates a responsible energy transition. The challenge is expected to bring together more than 100+ start-ups from across the African solar segments in year 1. Upto 20 new and innovative startups would be shortlisted and given technical and financial assistance under this initiative.


Committee for Evaluation

The applications for SolarX Challenge will be critically assessed. As part of the next steps, a Steering Committee and an Operational Committee have been constituted for reviewing, selecting, and evaluating the applications under this challenge. The High-level Steering Committee will be chaired by H.E. Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General of ISA, and will convene regularly, possibly every month. The Operational Committee will convene frequently, possibly fortnightly, and will constitute one senior member and one associate from each- Invest India, AfIDA, AMDA, WAIPA, GOGLA, and any additional experts that are thought necessary.

Announcements and Launches

ISA, in collaboration with Invest India, jointly launched the ‘SolarX Grand Challenge’ at CoP27 on November 10, 2022, with the goal of accelerating investments, promoting innovation & start-up ecosystems, and discovering local solutions in the African solar energy sector. The event featured high-level discussions on the ‘Need for Enhancing Entrepreneurial Capabilities, Innovations, and solutions in the solar energy markets’. The panel included representatives from- The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (which has provided financing for the challenge), Climate Investment Coalition (CIC), Invest India, Africa Infrastructure Development Association (AfIDA), Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), Africa Minigrid Developers Association (AMDA), World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (WAIPA), and various Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs). The event also witnessed the launch of the webpage for ‘Call for Applications’ for the challenge that has been initiated digitally through the ISA and Invest India websites.

Next Steps and Expected Outcomes

The applicants are invited to apply by March 31, 2023. The evaluation and shortlisting of the applications are expected to be completed by June 2023. This will be followed by the declaration of the winners in July 2023. A cash grant of USD 15,000 each for 20 startups will be offered as a winning prize. The winners will also be featured in the award program planned for the mid of 2023.

Furthermore, the innovations identified from the program will be supported by the ISA, Invest India, and other support partners for wider implementation through Mentorship support programs, Investor connect programs, and Market Access programs that will enable buyer-seller meets in collaboration with the ecosystem, private players, and enablers. The acceleration program will be delivered virtually and physically to ensure outreach to all finalists across the continent.

The Grand Challenge will be socialized at various events across Africa and India and the winners will be showcased during India’s Presidency of the G20 Summit.