Off Grid Electric, African startup is lighting up rural regions of Tanzania and Rwanda capitulating both commercial success and life-transforming outcome for the beneficiaries.
The company is supported by Elon Musk’s SolarCity, one of the major solar energy suppliers in the US, and Helios, Africa’s biggest private equity firm.
In November, at the UN’s climate change conference in Marrakech, it won the 2016 Momentum for Change Award, which focused on schemes that are addressing climate change in ground-breaking ways.
It already powers 125,000 homes and provides work for about 1,000 people — about a third as salesmen who present the energy packages door to door.
“Majority of these people were using kerosene to make light, with a harmful impact on their health and welfare,” said Bill Lenihan, Off Grid Electric’s President.
Kerosene produces smoke and can’t power anything other than a lantern: “They now have clean energy that also power TVs and radios.”
The system comprises a solar panel, installed on a roof, and lithium-ion battery which conveys electricity throughout: “Children are able learn at night, businesses are able to advance their earnings and farmers can enhance protection of their cattle” said Kim Schreiber, the company’s chief of staff.
There are three different sizes of photovoltaic panels, the smallest can power four lights and charge one mobile phone.
“We also offer all the energy proficient accessories that go with these, from lights to chargers, to TVs and radios,” said Lenihan.
Clients pay 10 percent of their package upfront; the rest is done through monthly installments.
The costs are cutthroat, according to Off Grid Electric: “Linking to the grid costs about $300 to $400, while our scheme is $7 a month and in three years you own it and never have to pay again,” said Schreiber.
Larger packages cost extra: for eight lights, a radio and a 24-inch TV, the monthly fee is about $20. In contrast, a month’s supply of kerosene normally costs $4 to $5.
The payments are collected through mobile phone transactions, a trendy method in the continent, and a five-year service plan is incorporated if something breaks. The battery can last seven years, and the panel itself up to 20.
In case a client can’t maintain up with the plan, Off Grid Electric says it provides “room for flexibility,” and eventually the system will be detached after several months of missed installments. But most clients stay on board, according to Lenihan: “The uptake has been great, people continue to pay, and the growth has been really excellent.”