Expanding LPG access in Ghana: do innovation prizes have a role?

By: Ideas to Impact Team On: Jun 23, 2015

Energy Access Theme Leader, Simon Collings, introduces the LPG access prize concept...

It's the end of April and Accra is hot and humid, the roads clogged with traffic. I'm here with a GVEP colleague for a few days of meetings with officials at the Ministry of Energy about the prizes we're designing around increasing access to LPG for cooking.

The government wants to expand access from the current 20% of households using gas, to 50%. This is an initiative of the President.

The country is in the midst of a protracted power crisis with frequent blackouts affecting industry and domestic customers. Solving the electricity supply problem is clearly on everyone's minds at the Ministry, and the top priority.

One cause of the current power outages appears to be a shortage of LPG for thermal generating plants.

Despite these challenges there is high level engagement with the issue of LPG for cooking and considerable interest in how the innovation prizes might help achieve the government target. New policies, which aim to create an environment favourable to private sector investment in the LPG sector, are currently under discussion.

Ghana has large gas reserves which are slowly coming on stream. If fuel supply can be secured, distribution can be expanded. The government is being supported by experts from the LPG industry in designing the new policies, but there is a lot of work still to.

How can innovation prizes support the Ghana scenario?

The literature on innovation prizes says that design is complex and takes time. That is certainly true of what we are experiencing in Ghana. The government officials and other stakeholders we are working with are all very positive and engaged.

But the concept of innovation prizes is new to them, and trying to use prizes as part of a policy implementation is a learning curve for all of us.

Innovation prizes work best when they are part of a wider programme of activity, and in Ghana our prizes need to fully align with the new LPG policies to be effective. Potentially we could contribute to some big impacts, but finalising detailed design is contingent on some of the details of the proposed changes and the timescales over which these will take effect.

None of this is yet agreed, and therefore not public, which means we cannot talk to some stakeholders. We have to wait for the policies to be approved and for the government staff to conduct stakeholder briefings, expected to happen over the summer, before we can test our prize ideas on some of the people we expect to be our solvers.

We will work through this, and the details of how the innovation prizes will contribute become clearer with each step, but it's a lengthy process involving much discussion with a range of parties.

We're focusing on three specific areas where we believe an innovation prize can deliver a solution to a problem linked with implementing the new policies. Because the policy changes are still under discussion and have not yet been agreed by the government in Ghana we cannot at this stage disclose details of what exactly we're planning to do. We have to respect the confidentiality of the conversations currently in progress.

What we can say is that one prize will probably aim to incentivise the private sector to develop new distribution models, and another will engage with the public.

If we've learned anything in the past year it is that prize design is indeed complex and requires a considerable investment of time to get the focus right. Aligning with wider processes of change is complex, and a political process not just a technical one.

Ultimately we believe that, by working closely with the various stakeholders, the impact will be greater.

We're fortunate in having a funder – DfID – which is understanding of this complexity and supportive of the process.