With all of its energy challenges, for most of the year, Sub-Saharan Africa has an abundance of sunlight, which has unparalleled potential for clean energy. In rural Kenya, where according to the World Bank, three-quarters of our population resides: yet only a fraction are connected to the national electricity grid. Most of us have probably heard the phrase rural electrification being thrown around but few have really put much thought into it. At least I know I haven’t.
When famous entrepreneur Jack Ma was in Kenya, he is quoted saying “Most of the time when the government doesn’t know what is going on, then it is your opportunity. If people around you keep complaining that’s your opportunity.” Well, there are companies like M-Kopa and Mobisol who have long seen these opportunities and have been making major strides towards lighting up villages.
This is, however, not to say the government has done nothing towards rural electrification. There is the Mwangaza Mitaani project where all primary schools in the country are to be connected to the national grid. In relation to this, is the Last Mile project where all households within 600 meters of a transformer are connected to the grid. These initiatives are implemented by the Rural Electrification Authority in conjunction with Kenya Power and Lighting Corporation.
The rise of off-grid power systems
Entrepreneurs, Nick Hughes, Chad Larson and Jesse Moore started M-Kopa in 2011 with a vision of solving a point of pain for many Kenyans -lack of access to electricity. M-Kopa distributes-mostly to rural households, Solar powered systems that come with several bulbs, a radio and recently a T.V. To get connected, for instance on one of the packages, you pay a one-off fee of Ksh. 2,999 and a daily fee of Ksh. 50 for 400 days.
The system comes with a device containing a mobile data chip that communicates with the company and whenever one fails to pay their daily instalment, it is disconnected. According to M-Kopa they have so far connected 500,000 homes with solar power and keep on connecting 500 new homes daily.
More than sales
M-Kopa is not a public company but it is estimated to gross over $35 million annually, according to community-based business insight platform, Owler. Apart from direct sales, M-Kopa is looking at collecting vital data through its installed devices. Solar devices can already measure the rate of exposure to sunlight and the company is looking into using them to measure weather patterns, pressure, humidity etc.
Furthermore, through the radios and televisions distributed, M-Kopa can also gather data regarding the viewership and listenership of the respective stations. This data could be useful to media houses in understanding their customers better.
A Berlin-based firm established in 2010, but just recently entered the Kenyan marketspace in 2016 and is fast gaining ground. Mobisol is already a big player in the Tanzanian market for off-grid solar systems and their entry into Kenya brings competition for M-Kopa. Some of their unique products include a powerful solar system-up to 200 watts, targeting entrepreneurs that can even be used to run businesses such as barbershops and salons, therefore, providing a better livelihood for people.
It is no secret that off-grid solar-powered systems have existed for a while: but it is innovative business models like Mobisol’s and M-Kopa that are using the sun to light up villages in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa that will make a difference in the solar energy sector.
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Featured image via www.techweez.com.