One of the success stories in Africa in the last decade has been the rise of solar power.
Around 600 million people, over half the population of sub-Saharan Africa, have no access to grid electricity. In fact, across sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phones are more common than access to electricity. So you have a smartphone generation that still uses kerosene lamps to light homes, has to travel often many miles to the market to charge their phones and have no power for things like television or other modern devices.
And the challenge is made worse as the continent’s population grows on average annually by more than 30 million people, that’s roughly half the population of the UK every year.
In the last decade, low-cost solar power has developed from small solar lamps with roughly the brightness of a torch, to full home solar systems, paid for in small affordable instalments using mobile money. Today, a solar-powered 24-inch television with 60 channels of satellite content combined with home lighting, solar radio and torch are routinely available.
Today, over 2 million households in sub-Saharan Africa have installed pay-as-you-go solar power, bringing modern services to some 10 million people. It is still not matching the rate of population growth, but the off-grid solar industry is growing rapidly, so it’s easy to see how solar power can help deliver the vision of affordable energy access for everyone in Africa.
Solar innovation driving social and economic change in Africa
Azuri Technologies, a British company, is one of the leading providers of pay-as-you-go solar power in Africa, working in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Nigeria.
Solar power has many obvious lifestyle and economic benefits, and data has now emerged of the tangible advantages of providing power.
The recent industry study shows that households increased their income USD35 month with the addition of solar power. This is a substantial figure for families where an income of USD100 per month is often considered to be financially better off. The study also points to the social benefits, with children in solar-powered homes able to study for up to 90 minutes longer in the evenings, compared to households with conventional fuel lamps. In a recent study, some 94% of respondents report an improvement in the quality of life with solar.
Local partnerships key to growth
Azuri is both a British and an African success story. Azuri’s leading technology, developed in Cambridge in the United Kingdom, has been combined with Azuri’s larger local teams in Africa to deliver the right products and services in some of the most challenging markets.
Many of Azuri’s customers are located as much as 20 miles from the nearest road and at certain times of the year are further isolated and cut off because of flooding. Through mobile payment and solar power, Azuri households have power all year round.
Azuri works in close collaboration with local partner companies to deliver, support and maintain its solar products and has created some 5,000 jobs across markets in Africa as a result of the pay-as-you-go solar home systems. Local partner companies bring a long history of local knowledge and expertise as well as existing infrastructure such as shops, transportation and training.
It is by working with these expert local partner companies, that Azuri is able to expand its reach without having to reinvent existing infrastructure.
Unilever and Azuri partner to take off-grid solar into the next phase
The partnering approach was taken to a new level this week with the announcement that Azuri has signed an agreement with consumer goods giant Unilever to expand the reach of pay-as-you-go solar power.
With some 67,000 smallholder retailers in Kenya alone, the deal will see Azuri’s solar home lighting system co-branded with Unilever’s famous Sunlight washing brand in Kenya and solar home products available from Unilever’s network of small shopkeepers throughout the country.
The partnership is believed to be the first example of a leading consumer goods company embracing solar technology as a consumer pay-as-you-go product. It is an example of genuine collaboration where the solar power and essential consumer products such as washing powder combine to bring economic, social and health benefits to the new generation of up-and-coming consumers who have historically been limited by a lack of power.
It is also an important example of how solar power in Africa is going mainstream. Off-grid solar is no longer the realm of innovative start-ups and social businesses alone, the combination of expertise, technology and payment systems developed by companies such as Azuri combines well with the distribution reach and maturity of major companies such as Unilever, which has over 100 years’ experience of operating in major African markets.
The UK has a long history of doing business successfully in many African countries. Now a new generation of business is growing up, where British companies are working closely with their counterparts across the continent to help address some of the most pressing issues of economic development and social inclusion.
By combining the very latest technology with local expertise, these businesses are helping consumers leapfrog many of the developmental stages in Western countries and embrace the digital economy.
Africa is already at the leading edge of global mobile banking adoption and the continent stands on the threshold of adopting clean solar power at scale, enabling a wide range of next-generation services from e-health to e-education and new financial technologies.