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MCC’s Off-Grid Clean Energy Grant Facility Brings Energy Security to Women in Benin

April 26, 2023

By Christopher S. Davis , Deputy Resident Country Director, Benin

Jeanne Afia Hessou beside her roadside kiosk in Dassa, Benin. Thanks to the Benin Power Compact, Jeanne can now illuminate her business at night which helps increase revenue.

As the sun drops below the majestic Dassa hills in central Benin, Jeanne Afia Hessou stands proudly in front of her roadside kiosk where she sells cassava flour, tapioca, palm oil, and peanut cakes to travelers passing between the cities of Dassa and Parakou.

With support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Off-Grid Clean Energy Grant Facility, Jeanne purchased a solar lighting system from the Beninese company Bahaau, which keeps her home and business brightly lit throughout the night. 

“Thanks to the solar kit, I can sell all night long without worry. Before, I had to stop at a certain time. Now, cars are not afraid to stop so I can sell whenever, day or night,” says Jeanne. “Before, I was using an oil lantern and battery-powered lamps. The new kit provides a lot of light, even better than some of my neighbors who are connected to the grid,” she adds. 

Jeanne is among the many Beninese women who have benefited from the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Benin Power Compact, a $391 million grant program aimed at reforming and modernizing the country’s power sector. 

The compact, which started implementation on June 22, 2017, and closes on June 22 of this year, has successfully strengthened power sector regulation, improved utility management, attracted private sector investment into renewable power generation, and advanced energy efficiency throughout the country. In addition, the compact funded a major expansion and modernization of Benin’s electricity grid and brought electrical power to rural and underserved communities through off-grid electrification systems.

With increased access to reliable, renewable, and affordable sources of electricity, female entrepreneurs like Jeanne can expand their businesses, serve more customers, and improve their livelihoods and profits.  

Altogether, it is estimated that 11 million people will benefit from MCC’s investments to modernize and expand Benin’s electricity sector.

Off-Grid Electricity Access Project

The Benin Power Compact is considered the largest U.S. investment in solar off-grid electrification in a single country to date. 

Through the compact, MCC has invested $33 million in off-grid electrification to close the gap in access to electricity in Benin, where two-thirds of the population still does not have access to power. This investment supported policy reforms, infrastructure financing, public-private partnerships, and a regulatory framework for off-grid electrification. 

Thanks to the compact’s Off-Grid Electricity Access Project, Benin has created its first-ever policy and institutional framework for off-grid electrification, including a clear regulatory guidance to support private investment. To date, the private sector has made investment commitments exceeding $30 million. 

Already, MCC’s public-private partnerships have delivered clean energy access to approximately 185,000 people through  the sale of nearly 37,000 solar home systems. For many households, this is their first time using renewable energy systems.  

In addition, MCC and private companies are co-financing the construction of 55 solar mini-grids across rural Benin, which are estimated to benefit another 110,000 people. 

Solar home customer Jeanne Afia Hessou prepares gari (a type of grain from cassava root) for sale.

A mother to nine children, Jeanne also believes that gaining access to solar power has improved her family’s economic security. “Thanks to the extra money I have earned, we eat better at home, and I can continue sending my children to school,” she says. “What has changed is that thanks to the solar kits, my children can study at night with good light.”  

Although over the last two decades only 2% of global investments in renewable energy were made in Africa, MCC’s program in Benin shows the promise that African markets such as Benin hold for the future of renewable energy.   

For Jeanne, gaining access to solar power has been life-changing. Not only does this power harnessed by the sun allow her to keep her store illuminated throughout the night, but it brings her and her family the economic security they need to prosper.