It takes Habiba Ali at least a three-hour drive to get to her customers – what energy experts would call ‘the last mile’. When she sets off from her base in Kaduna, northwest Nigeria, it’s usually without knowing where to find the places and people most in need of solar power.

But despite the constant back-and-forth, Ali is clear that this is where her business, Sosai Renewable Energies, needs to be.

She says most renewable energy efforts push technology development, but forget that crucial last step: how to reach people who need it. “We’re more interested in what the customer wanted, and how that satisfied the need that they wanted to meet,” she adds.

Ali’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Next month she’ll be joining other women leaders in Washington DC to receive an award from the Vital Voices Global Partnership, founded by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Her business is also backed by the Nigeria Off-grid Market Acceleration Program (NoMAP), supported by the Shell Foundation and USAID. This will help expand Sosai into the rural off-grid market by getting around logistical hurdles such as collecting fees. “They’re also helping us to find communities easily”, says Ali, “so that when you set out of your office…you go with a plan”.

Reaching that ‘last mile’ is notoriously difficult, and one reason why roll-out of renewable energy in developing countries has been slow.

Globally, the energy transition is an uphill struggle: fossil fuel systems are entrenched, with governments slow to put in place incentives and tariffs that make renewables viable.

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