In light of recent growth and falling costs of solar photovoltaic technology, this paper examines the barriers and opportunities facing off-grid development in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, four countries whose off-grid sectors vary in maturity. We compare and link the perspectives of nearly 200 private companies to the development of the sector in each country, and measure trade-offs among different institutional designs for regulating and supporting off-grid investment. The survey reveals a set of common challenges but also considerable variation within and across countries. Development of the market is constrained by a lack of market information and technical capacity, insufficiently comprehensive regulation, and in specific countries, informal sector competition (Tanzania), the cost of doing business (Ethiopia), poor tariff policy (Tanzania), and lack of funding (Uganda). Moreover, firm responses emphasize the need for several policy supports: subsidy, financing, access to foreign exchange, technical assistance for regulatory matters, and capacity building. A discrete choice experiment clarifies these policy preferences, but reveals tradeoffs as well as country differences. Though the off-grid sector is growing in all four countries, many policy and regulatory obstacles remain, and these will continue to challenge achievement of SDG7: Sustainable, modern energy for all.
Keywords: Off-grid market, barriers and opportunities, Discrete Choice Experiment, Eastern Africa