As parts of rural Africa are not connected to a central power grid, business innovators are finding new ways to provide people with energy: and the main source is solar power.
African states are turning into promising markets for new solar businesses and investments. So far, in many rural villages throughout Africa there is no central grid to plug into. Areas may have access to an electric grid, for instance in Nigeria, but there is often not enough power to supply everybody. Yet, people have mobile phones that they want to charge. In order to do so, they might even go on a three-hour bus-ride to re-charge their phones in the next town, says Simon Bransfield-Garth, engineer and CEO of Azuri Technologies, at a TED-talk in London.
With a PhD in engineering, Bransfield-Garth has always been interested in new emerging markets and all places where a new generation of solar panels could have a strong effect. He found that the cost of electricity in Africa was far higher than in the US. There, electricity costs about 15 US cents per kilowatt hour, whereas in Africa the equivalent for a kerosene lamp is 8 dollars per kilowatt hour. Bransfield-Garth figured that with such high price levels for electricity, and plenty of sunlight in African states, the African solar market should have been booming. But this wasn’t the case.
Making solar power affordable in Africa
Bransfield-Garth realised that it was a question of capital. Seeing as building your own power station can be an expensive endeavour and African wages are withering at 5 dollars a day, they needed to find a way to make solar power affordable. “So we came up with the idea of combining mobile phone and solar technology so people could pay for their solar power as they used it, rather than paying all up front,” said the Azuri CEO. The English company provides rural off-grid communities with Pay as you go- solar systems.
Similar to Bransfield-Garth, Mahama Nyankamawu came up with a business idea that would make solar power the next great source of sustainable energy in African off-grid areas. In 2014, he found himself confronted with a lack of electricity at a hospital in Ghana. During his stay, he witnessed several blackouts and even long periods of no electricity supply whatsoever. Operations could not be conducted and medication went bad. Through this, Nyankamawu became inspired to found Volta. The company builds solar power projects for health clinics, farms and schools across Ghana. Their model lets customers pay for 25% of the capital costs upfront. The rest they can pay via monthly payments over the course of two years. A model that seems to pay-off as none of Volta’s customers have ever missed a payment, according to Nyankamawu. “Customers are even saving up to 45% on their costs by switching to solar”, he said.