“Africa is at the forefront of an energy revolution,” Azuri Technologies CEO, Simon Bransfield-Garth told TechMoran adding that Africa is leading in the adoption of solar energy just as it did with mobile money.
“Africa is leading in the adoption of solar, in the West, people already have the grid, just in the same way if we didn’t have petrol, we would be driving electric cars,” he said. “Africans don’t know they are technology pioneers but they really are.”
Though Simon might be more opportunistic as a solar entrepreneur, Africa really needs an energy revolution. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 600 million people have no access to electricity and the electrification rate in rural areas is as low as 14% according to the World Bank. Expanding the dark continent’s access to electricity through grid, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions is a key element to not only governments but innovative firms such as Bransfield-Garth’s Azuri Technologies.
Age of free energy
Bransfield-Garth’s firm has so far connected over 260,000 households in Kenya and PAYGO technology, in general, is reaching 10 million people across Africa. These customers have fully paid for their systems and are now enjoying free energy. the real revolution, Azuri sees happening when paygo reaches 20 million people with free energy by 2022. The bulk of these free energy customers will be on Azuri’s 10W & 50W solar systems.
Azuri Technology’s entry-level product features a 10 watt solar panel and long life Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries, with LED technology to light a whole rural household for 8 hours per night and a USB port for phone mobile charging. The 10W package worth $230 and comes with four LED solar lights, a torch, a phone charging unit and an FM radio.
The second package is a 50W package with a 50W solar panel, a solar TV, 4 LED solar lights, mobile phone charger, a portable FM radio and a rechargeable solar torch.
Kenya is Azuri’s largest market since launch in 2012, but the firm has since expanded into Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Nigeria. Azuri sees potential in almost all countries on the continent with an unlimited potential of solar capacity (10 TW) according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
To catalyse the transition to renewable energy, the African Development Bank recently launched the New Deal on Energy for Africa with an overarching goal of universal energy access in Africa by 2025. in the Deal, the Bank aims to connect 75 million people to off-grid systems and provide 150 million households with access to clean cooking energy.
Azuri is moving fast and leaving no home in the dark using an agent network across its markets and appointing agents from among the villages who know the people’s energy needs and their buying power.
Replacing the functionality of the grid
“When we started in 2012, essentially you had a small light and the role of that light was to replace the kerosene lamp but now we’ve got a 32 inch TV running on 12 hours a night, so essentially you have a full day of power just as you would have on the grid,” said Bransfield-Garth.
The firm has moved from the functionality of the torchlight to replacing the functionality of the grid and has been adding more capability to support more household equipment using solar power such as TVs, phone charging, fans, fridges, shaving kits etc. Azuri Technologies is moving to a place where customers can power all their day-to-day items using solar power.
With an estimated 10 million people who have fully paid their solar PAYGO systems and are not paying for solar energy anymore, Azuri expects to see the number double by 2022.
In Western economies, the grid is popular than solar because people had the grid before solar technology existed and the grid has rolled out to more people there than in Africa due to cost.
The cost of connecting people to the grid is way more than connecting to solar and even governments are supporting solar technologies to connect as many people as possible instead of waiting for the grid unlike five years ago when governments thought solar was a kind of an alternative before they connected people to the grid.
With its recent funding round, Azuri says half of the money it raised will be going into Tech as it’s a very tech-centric business and there’s a lot of tech going on in the company.
“Azuri is one of the foremost companies using AI, we are the only company with AI in our yellow boxes, to make sure the customer gets energy all the time,” said the chief executive. “One of the things that make Azuri unique is because we have been able to manage to make progress without having to raise as much money as our counterparts. One of the ways of doing this working partners so that we don’t reinvent the way we do business again.”
AI is important in two ways
For Azuri, AI is important in two ways. IA in the box means it can deliver affordable products and energy to the customers reliably. AI is used for its customer management such as customer payment behavior to see if a customer can move to a bigger system.
AI also helps Azuri monitor when there is no light in their systems to provide better energy management and lighting experience. AI is also being used in Azuri water pumps, crop insurance among others.
Using AI, Azuri is able to know a customer’s usage patterns, the variation of sunlight depending on region, season and cloud cover among others. Also using AI, Azuri gets to “learn” the customer’s power usage patterns and optimizes light brightness, battery charging, and load conditions to ensure the system delivers the best possible match to the customer’s typical daily requirement for a given level of available sunlight.
Azuri’s patented HomeSmart technology allows it to distribute its energy to appliances depending on usage. For example, if a customer typically uses the system in the morning as well as the evening, the system will automatically slightly dim the lights in the evening on days when there is less sunshine to ensure there is still power available in the morning.
Moving beyond solar
Azuri also works with microfinance institutions to provide finances for seeds. Azuri is also working with the government, through its recent-issued energy-efficient policy to make solar affordable and available to more people in the country. The firm also aims to push for a better tax environment, especially on imported solar devices and solar-powered equipment like TVs, fans, and fridges.