Energizing a Continent

Off-grid provides lighting for families using a subscription service.
Off-grid provides lighting for families through a solar panel subscription service.

In my last post I mentioned non-profit and for-profit business ventures around the world with a mission to improve society and the environment. It would be naïve to say that the driving force in business is to benefit others. So what is driving entrepreneurs to Africa? An article recently featured in The New Yorker called “The Race to Solar-Power Africa” says it all.

The movers and shakers of the business world have finally realized the potential for solar start-ups in Africa. Electricity in regions such as rural Ghana and Tanzania have scant electricity sources, leading to neighborhoods rife with power blackouts. In the late 1990s Chinese and UK companies began mass producing solar panels for Africa. The low quality materials soon broke down. People were sabotaged by their plans to upgrade. This is why potential customers are timorous when it comes to leaving thirty-dollar-a-month kerosene for eight-dollar a month solar panels, for three years. Nevertheless, employees of Off-Grid are not stymied. In fact, they are rather sedulous when it comes to product promotion- they explain to villagers how to use the product, offer free repairs or product replacements when necessary, even set up demonstrations where crowds will gather to see the product at work.

“This is what an emerging economy looks like. This is young people, this is entrepreneurialism, this is where growth will be.” -Xavier Helgesen, C.E.O. of Off-Grid Electric

The setup includes a solar panel, a few lights, a small yet efficient television, and a phone charger. The phone charger enables customers to use their phones to pay for the monthly expense. Issues with money transfer on mobile devices are a big issue for Off-Grid, as smart phones are rare and people often utilize flip phones with tremendously small buttons and frequently cracked screens. Even still, citizens of Tanzania and Rwanda are willing to take the risks in order to have better light. This allows their children to study late at night and do better in school. The television, though small, entertains entire communities. There is but one thing Off-Grid is supplicated for by their customers: Please, please, add a fan. Executives at the company are wary of the energy usage of a fan that would not be supported by single solar panel but are driven to find a solution.

26542622352_687c368411_b
A steady electricity supply also creates safety and more business opportunities.

In closing, let me return to my original question: What is bringing entrepreneurs to Africa? Companies like Off-Grid aren’t reigning in the cash right now. But they can see into the future. They are investing in infrastructure. They are making connections, getting familiar with the community and culture, and creating literal road maps that could put them above any other companies who try to capitalize on this market. Executives like Xavier Helgesen probably wonder if this is in fact a growing market, or if solar demand in Africa has reached its zenith. Things could completely reverse if the price of raw materials drastically increases in the next few years. But people want change. And the risks? It’s the cost of doing business.

I hope you learned something. If you want to learn more, explore below! From, Jess 🙂

Read more: Off-Grid Website, Article by CNN, MIT Technology Review

Advertisements

Author: Jess T.

I blog too much for my own good.

13 thoughts on “Energizing a Continent”

  1. Oh, for sure I learned something – thank you very much! It’s refreshing to read well thought out opinions about life in Africa – it’s very far away from where I live. I don’t have a good way of verifying what I read, so it’s nice to feel like the writer knows what they’re talking about, and I think you do. And thanks for the follow! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Also – just remembered – this reminds me of when my son was visiting a family in Costa Rica. They were farmers and didn’t have electricity. They went outdoors at night to use the bathroom (an outhouse). It was very dark there, and my son wanted to give them his headlamp. It was a touching thought, but we also had to think about how that headlamp might change things for the family – they will need another battery sometime, their friends might get jealous and think they’re benefiting unfairly by befriending foreigners, etc. In the end, my son gave them his headlamp, and hopefully, it saved them from a fall or a scrape.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a wonderful blog! We live with all the luxuries of electric, power and plenty of food that we sometimes forgot not everyone else does! I hope this becomes a reality so nobody in Africa has to live off the grid ever. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I live in a place were its normal to have unscheduled load shedding outside of the regular scheduled load shedding…. which basically means that you cant trust the electricity utility company to always provide electricity not to mention the shocking bill payments….
    I see a market ripe for sustainable power solutions……. and as you point while some companies might make themselves look good in energizing Africa it also makes perfect business sense…. I wont buy a power hungry smart phone with a battery that needs to be charged every so often, I wont even consider getting the limited edition glitter accessories, I wont go on the internet I wont know about you and I wont know about anything else you have to offer and just like that a business loses out on an untapped market….
    My only problem is this whole trying to make yourself seem all benevolent and all good and all caring and the way some politicians end up hijacking such enterprises to make themselves look good and get votes…. Vote for me and get electricity or stay in the dark
    ~B

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ………but while we figuring out, who is good and who is not…… I still would pick NOT Living in dark…… ^_^ Not when the sun is shining big round and free….. Sustainable Power Solutions here we come
        ~B

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s