4 July 2023

Café Lumière, a solution for rural electrification

With particularly low rates of access to electricity in rural areas in some countries on the African continent, the development of electrification solutions represents a major challenge. Governments and their rural electrification agencies have continued the process of regulating the off-grid sector through reforms, and have defined ambitious rural electrification plans and targets.



Public, private and NGO players are looking at the issue of rural electrification with a view to developing new technological and commercial solutions as alternatives to extending the network, which is not economically viable in many contexts, particularly rural ones. Until now, these players have mainly focused on electrification solutions such as kiosks, mini-grids or the development of Electrified Business Zones (ZAE). However, the cost of connection and supply is often beyond the reach of the most vulnerable and of public services, whose energy budget is generally almost nil.

Faced with this situation, Electriciens sans frontières decided to develop the “Café Lumière” solution, the aim of which is to complement the traditional triptych of “grid extension / mini-grid / solar kits”, in order to improve the living conditions and economic development of all aspects of rural communities, including public services and the most disadvantaged households.

In practical terms, for the beneficiaries, Café Lumière takes the form of a shop powered by a solar photovoltaic plant secured by a generator (forming a “multiservice energy platform”) that provides access to energy services (recharging lamps and telephones, refrigeration, hire/sale of solar kits, etc.) and a space for productive activities wishing to benefit from electricity. It is also possible to get electricity directly from the Café Lumière, thanks to local connections, both for productive players and for community services.

The solution, based on a public-private partnership, is operated by a delegate supported on the ground by Electriciens sans frontières and by civil society organisations (local associations and NGOs), particularly in the areas of commercial prospecting, capacity-building for producers, awareness-raising among private individuals and relations with the authorities.


An initial pilot project in Madagascar, now completed, has brought electricity to 6 rural communities by installing Cafés Lumière. The operation of the power stations is based on a public-private partnership between ANKA Madagascar, which is in charge of the operation, ADER, which owns the facilities, and Electriciens sans frontières, which is providing the solution.

The final evaluation of the pilot project showed that the project had a very significant impact on the living conditions of the local population, particularly women, thanks to the comfort and security provided by reliable and affordable electricity, and had led to a change in practices in the villages. The project has significantly improved the quality of public services (education, access to health centres, public safety). The results of the focus groups highlight the support for economic dynamism and the development of income-generating activities.

Following an initial replication in Benin (4 Cafés Lumière), Electriciens sans frontières is now launching a programme in 22 rural African villages in Madagascar, Benin and Togo. 12 villages will be involved in the construction of new Cafés Lumière (2 in Benin, 4 in Madagascar and 6 in Togo). The 10 villages benefiting from existing Cafés Lumière or those in the final stages of construction will benefit from support activities (4 in Benin, 6 in Madagascar).

Electriciens sans frontières, as the contracting authority, is involved in all stages of the projects, supporting the various partners (from the private sector and civil society) in their respective areas of expertise, with the aim of gradually building their capacities so that they are in a position to replicate the Café Lumière model independently.


Rural electrification agencies (ABERME in Benin, ADER in Madagascar and AT2ER in Togo) and energy regulatory authorities (ARE in Benin, ORE in Madagascar and ARSE in Togo) play a central role in the implementation and sustainability of the Cafés Lumière.

They support the integration of Cafés Lumière into the country’s regulations and off-grid rural electrification plan at all levels, in particular for :

  • Choosing the localities in which the solution will be deployed: transmission of the remaining localities to be electrified, advice on the selection criteria and final agreement on implementation;
  • The operating companies selected as “delegatees”: co-drafting of the call for applications, technical and legal support in drawing up the operating application (authorisation or concession), validation of tariffs, signature of an operating contract;
  • Respect for the solution and its sustainability: signing of a partnership agreement with Electriciens sans frontières, regular exchanges with the programme’s stakeholders, granting of exemptions (if necessary).

The programme, which is currently being rolled out, is designed to fit seamlessly into the national energy access policies of the countries concerned, and involves the public players closely in a co-construction approach.

In fact, the innovative nature of the Café Lumière solution can sometimes come up against regulations and institutional frameworks, which are designed to adapt to ‘classic’ solutions intended to be deployed on a large scale in a standardised manner. In particular, the introduction of an innovative solution can lead to a redefinition of the roles and responsibilities of the various players involved, a need for technical and organisational adaptation, which can lead to confusion as to where everyone stands, and difficulties in working in synergy.

For example, a Café Lumière will have a lower installed capacity than most mini grids, and will offer a range of electricity-related services rather than simply supplying electricity (which is difficult to incorporate into conventional documents). In addition, some regulatory frameworks stipulate that the same organisation must deploy the infrastructure and also operate it, whereas the model adopted for the Café Lumière consists of separating these two roles.

This is why Electriciens sans frontières maintains close relations with the public authorities, especially the rural electrification agencies, and discusses the specific features of the Café Lumière model as far upstream as possible, to ensure that it fits in with the regulatory framework.

In Madagascar, the solution was deployed before the publication of the implementing decree on rural electrification. ADER and Electriciens sans frontières worked together to implement and perpetuate the solution while awaiting the decree.

In Benin, the regulations and the solution were rolled out simultaneously, which meant that both parties had to adapt to ensure that the Cafés Lumière fell within the legal scope of off-grid rural electrification. Regular discussions with ABERME are continuing to ensure the sustainability of the first four installations and the deployment of two future Cafés Lumière.

Finally, in Togo, where no Café Lumière has yet been deployed, in-depth discussions have already been held with AT2ER, ARSE and the Ministry of Energy, as the regulations applicable to the sector are not yet fully adapted. All the stakeholders have demonstrated their willingness to find effective solutions for rolling out the programme. For this reason, a Togolese delegation from the public authorities will be travelling to Benin in February 2023 to meet their namesake in order to understand the strategy put in place to ensure the implementation of the Café Lumière solution in Togo.

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