Pay-as-you-go programs continue to revolutionize the world through solar lighting and cell phone charging systems that open up the opportunities that come with electricity, and Fenix International is leading that charge in Africa.
CleanTechnica sat down with Jit Bhattacharya, CTO of Fenix International, at CES this week to talk about how pay-as-you-go solar systems have scaled up to power the entire home and how the acquisition by ENGIE has helped Fenix International take its business to the next level.
The model at Fenix is that it provides a variety of sizes of solar systems and appliances to customers through a network of local distributors. “In Uganda, which is our home market, our most mature market, we have over 2,000 commission-based agents spread throughout the country,” Jit said. Payment is processed with the popular Mobile Money system, so a cellphone is required, but there are already 270 million Mobile Money accounts in sub-saharan Africa. For perspective, that’s more Mobile Money accounts than there are bank accounts.
“We have 350,000 solar home systems that we’ve sold to customers, all using pay-as-you-go,” Jit said. Systems range in size, with the starter system helping residents take steps to save money and make their homes safer. “Small 10-watt, 25 watt-hour systems which really are meant to serve customers who are using kerosene and having to pay somebody to charge their phone. This is really meant to get them clean, safe lighting and a solar home system that they can ultimately own.”
Giving people around the world a viable alternative to kerosene means removing flammables from the home and disconnecting their lives from an energy resource that requires fuel on a daily basis to continue providing light. Eliminating a source of pollution from the home is also a meaningful benefit to homeowners moving to a solar lighting system.
Fenix has expanded its pay-as-you-go solar offerings to meet a growing customer base and customers who are looking for more from their system than just light. “Now what you are seeing is customers moving from small solar lanterns to larger pay-as-you-go solar home systems,” Jit said. “With the pay-as-you-go mechanism, customers build a credit history with us, which we can then use to offer them new products and services such as cookstoves or school fee loans.”
— @ENGIEInnov (@ENGIEInnov) January 8, 2019
“We also design and develop LED lights, so these are high efficiency DC LED lights, designed by us. We offer radios, hair clippers, larger speakers. The product line is steadily growing.” They also have a new TV and satellite receiver package that allows customers to add more features to their systems over time.
Fenix International was the first exit from the venture-backed pay-as-you-go solar industry when it was acquired by ENGIE in 2017, which opened up a host of new opportunities to Fenix. “This has been a venture-backed industry from a long time, we were the first exit, the first acquisition in the space. With a brand like ENGIE, with the resources of ENGIE, we have been able to go from 1 country to 5 countries within a year, from Uganda to Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin and Zambia.”
“It’s been remarkable how effectively we have been able to scale using their expertise in how you bring energy services to retail customer. It’s been a phenomenal partnership for us,” Jit said. Looking to the future, Jit and the team at Fenix are looking at helping to leverage its partnership with ENGIE to bridge the gap between those with grid access and those who are off-grid with no access to electricity.
Having been acquired by Engine, Fenix is now able to connect customers and communities that would benefit from larger systems with ENGIE’s experts in micro-grid and mini-grids, thus providing affordable renewable solutions to millions across Africa.
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