“Off Grid Electric” explains that it delivers 50 times more light for less money than the norm in the markets it serves. The people it supplies are often using kerosene lamps to light their homes.
Furthermore, it is more than light that these people need. Pre-pay solar energy from Off Grid Electric gives them electricity to charge their phones and run other electronics, such as computers — something a kerosene lamp certainly cannot do.
Off Grid Electric has raised $16 million thanks to investors such as the similarly pioneering SolarCity. Off Grid Electric founder Xavier Helgesen has hope that the company will eventually “light a billion people’s lives.” The $16 million is to help grow Off Grid Solar’s pre-pay solar in Africa (starting at $6) from its existing customer base of 25,000 to 100,000. Considering these people average $700 (income) a year, this is a much better option than traveling long distances to be charged too much money to charge their phones while also paying for expensive and harmful fuel for kerosene lamps.
The investment from SolarCity and other investors is Off Grid Electric’s second round of funding, following a first-round investment of $7 million in March of this year. Xavier Helgesen and Erica Mackey founded Off Grid Electric with the aim of “lighting up Africa” within a decade. Other investors in the second round include Zouk Capital and Vulcan Capital. The first-round of investors are Vulcan Capital and Omidyar Network, and also included the US solar leasing giant SolarCity.
Along with the first round investments, the company also received loans and grants from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund and the Energy and Environment Partnership for Southern and Eastern Africa.
Although light is one issue, it is communication that often brings people to sign up — charging cell phones is a difficult problem, one that Off Grid Electric solves. Xavier Helgesen, with “Light Africa” written in black marker on his forearms, is one of the founders of Off Grid Electric as well as founder of Better World Books and Indaba Systems.
TechCrunch quotes Xavier: “We’re a pioneer of micro-solar leasing,” says Helgesen. TechCrunch adds that faster population than technological progress around the world has resulted in more people being without electricity now “than when Thomas Edison lit the first lightbulb.”
Off Grid Solar customers pay an initial $6 installation fee for a self-sustaining solar system on their houses — panels, lithium batteries, super-efficient lights, and meters. The panels collect energy and store it in the batteries. To use the system, the customer sends Off Grid a mobile payment and gets a passcode. They can then enter the code on their meter and unlock their energy. Off Grid considers their customers’ to be long-term partners.
Off Grid, of course, positively affects the local economies of the countries where it operates. Tens of thousands of small businesses and local entrepreneurs get rolling and continue doing business as they join with Off Grid to bring solar to their communities.
Back in 2012, Forbes reported: “Yet a new generation of enterprises are overcoming these barriers by taking inspiration from the mobile telephone industry’s dramatic rise in Africa. Using pre-payment and mobile money (e.g. M-PESA in Kenya), they are making high quality solar systems accessible and affordable to the mass market. Pre-payment allows customers with variable and unpredictable incomes to pay what they can, when they can, for an essential service. It can also remove a risk from the customer: if the system stops working, and nobody fixes it, they don’t have to keep paying.”
SolarCity is a natural investor joining up with a company like Off Grid Electricity. SolarCity helped pioneer the solar services model in the U.S. in a similar style. Supplying services to homeowners who could not pay upfront for a system. Now as an investor and board members for Off Grid Electric they intend to offer the same solar in developing countries.
Reporting another positive change for Africa, Glenn Meyers notes a project related to Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy. In a recent Cleantechnica post, “Electricity in many parts of rural Africa isn’t spoken about much because it doesn’t exist. That will soon change in Ethiopia, following AORA Solar’s agreement with the Ethiopian government to provide Africa’s first solar-biogas hybrid power solution for off-grid communities.”
Image Credit: Off Grid Electric
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