CrossBoundary, Rockefeller Foundation Launch the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab for Sub-Saharan Africa



CrossBoundary and the Rockefeller Foundation today unveiled the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab, the first in Sub-Saharan Africa that focuses exclusively on testing business model innovations in the mini-grid sector to help address over 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa who still lack access to electricity.

According to Gabriel Davies, Head of Energy Access, CrossBoundary, “The Lab takes a data-driven, iterative testing approach to put numbers to the questions that governments, donors, and investors need answers to. Do mini-grids deliver power to the standard of the main grid? Do mini-grid customers use energy to increase their income? How do mini-grids integrate with the main grid? By partnering with developers, who are closest to the daily challenges of providing power to rural customers, we can answer these questions with real world data.

An early finding of the Lab comes from analysis of millions of data points provided by developers from their customer smart meter data. Findings show rural mini-grids provide far more reliable power to their customers, with less than 1% downtime during evening hours, compared to the power some urban grid customers receive, which were found to have downtimes of 47% on average in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

 The Lab and the mini-grid developers are ready to work with governments, donors, academia, non-profits and other partners to support mini-grids to deliver affordable, reliable power to rural households and businesses.

Other near-term initiatives of the Lab include a closer look at how mini-grids can integrate with the main grid, and how household and business energy use on mini-grids change if they charge electricity tariffs on par with main grid tariffs.

The Lab conservatively estimates that at least 100 million of these people are most cost effectively served by mini-grids today,  and the investment required to connect them is USD 11 billion based on analysis published in Greentech Media on 20th April 2018. This number could be as high as 290 million people according to the International Energy Agency’s Africa Energy Outlook report, based on forecast cost reductions and extrapolating universal access in 2030.

However, mini-grid deployment in Africa has been low. Governments, policy makers and donors do not see mini-grids as a viable substitute to the main grid. This deters investors, who also struggle to understand the business case. 

Working with over 15 leading mini-grid developers across Africa, the African Mini-Grid Developers Association (AMDA), Energy4Impact, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Power For All, the Lab will test business solutions for mini-grids based in Africa so that they can provide more power, to more people, at less cost. In doing so, it aims to demonstrate to governments, policy makers, investors and donors that mini grids can play a key role in connecting 600 million people in Africa without power.

 “We are delighted to be partnering with the CrossBoundary Group. The ultimate goal of this effort is to equip governments, investors and developers to dramatically accelerate rural electrification in an integrated manner, unlocking new economic opportunities for millions of households,”said Ashvin Dayal, Associate Vice President and Managing Director (Smart Power), of The Rockefeller Foundation.

Matt Tilleard, Managing Partner, CrossBoundary Group, concluded the firm is launching the Mini-Grid Innovation Lab at a time where when momentum is building for the sector and achieving the Lab’s objectives could potentially accelerate the ability of mini-grids to provide power to millions of people in Africa and deliver on SDG7.

Pump manufacturer Wilo Group to set-up assembly facilities in Nairobi


Pump manufacturer Wilo Group has launched Wilo East Africa in Kenya to improve support, service and logistic for Kenya as well as for the East African countries.

Wilo Group is also planning to set-up assembly facilities for some product lines like booster sets, firefighting and control panels in Nairobi, which will allow Wilo East Africa to be closer to our customers, to better address their challenges and improve their responsiveness.

According to Wilo East Africa Managing Director Belete Matebe, “Establishing a subsidiary in Kenya strengthens our competitive position in the market and is also an important step forward for our future in East Africa. As a key regional player, Kenya is a major communications and logistics hub and offers logistically important accessibility to land borders like Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.”

As an international hub, Wilo East Africa will offer direct support concerning technical information, training as well as services for customers and decision makers. Due to the strategic position, it also offers the opportunity to support the other East African countries. It will shorten delivery times and the supply chain to the customers.

“With the opening in Kenya we state another clear signal regarding our commitment to permanently strengthen our international development”, said Thomas Kubbe, Sales Area Manager MEA in Wilo. “The effects of the climate change show that water is becoming a more and more valuable asset. Africa has a growing demand for efficient water infrastructure, industrial and building service solutions. WithWilo East Africa we will be closer to our customers and able to answer specific customer needs.” The opening of the subsidiary in Kenya is a further step to improve Wilo presence in Africa.

The question of how to use water as a resource efficiently is especially important for future generations. The association arche noVa e.V. is implementing a project for harvesting rainwater, using dams made from sand bags or small rocks or boulders. They help to store water and prevent the drying out of soil. In addition, the funds are used to support four tree nurseries, seed banks for cultivating drought-resistant seeds and extensive training measures. More than 14,000 inhabitants benefit from the project, which has been supported by the Wilo-Foundation since 2016.

Acacia Innovations’ Kuni Safi is a cheap and clean alternative to wood fuels

The Kuni Safi team
The Kuni Safi team

The high demand for wood fuels is rapidly destroying Kenya’s forests and fueling the impacts of climate change locally. In an attempt to curb the decimation of forests, earlier this year the government temporarily banned logging and timber harvesting in public forests. As a result, wood fuels have become difficult to access, in addition to their being environmentally unfriendly. Acacia Innovations has come up with a cost effective and clean fuel in the form of briquettes, Kuni Safi. Kuni Safi, aims to be an economical, reliable, high-quality, healthy and eco-friendly alternative to traditional wood fuels. Acacia Innovations say that every tonne of Kuni Safi used saves 25 trees.

TechMoran spoke to Acacia Innovations Founder Elana Laichena about the company.

Briefly tell us about yourselves, your educational background, team and how they came together to form Acacia Innovations
Founder & CEO Elana Laichena has a M.Sc. in City Planning from Pratt Institute in NYC and worked in renewable energy in New York for 5 years before moving to Kenya with her Kenyan husband. Shortly after moving to Kenya, she joined a social enterprise which made charcoal briquettes from sugarcane waste. From that experience, she learned about the huge opportunity of the sector but noticed a lot of gaps in the market. She decided to start her own company to tackle those gaps and provide a clean cooking fuel that was reliable, high-quality, and delivered on time to schools and small businesses. Her first hire was Danstan Otieno, who worked at the first social enterprise as Sales Team Coordinator. Danstan is now Sales Team Coordinator at Acacia Innovations and has 3 years of sales experience and is an expert on briquettes. Our other leadership includes Annastacia Nganga, Operations Coordinator, and Mark Laichena, Director (see bios at www.acaciainnovations.com/team). Currently, the team is 5 full-time employees and 6 sales representatives.

How would you describe your company; how does it work and make money?
We supply Kuni Safi briquettes, an eco-friendly alternative to charcoal and firewood as well as affordable energy saving jikos (cookstoves) to schools and small businesses. We are already the largest supplier of clean cooking fuels to schools in Kenya. Our Kuni Safi briquettes are made of 100% sugarcane waste and are nearly smokeless. This helps keep the kitchens clean with less soot and reduces indoor air pollution, which leads to over 14,000 premature deaths in Kenya every year. In addition, Kuni Safi helps schools and businesses save money. Our customers save an average of 35% compared to firewood and 60% compared to charcoal.

We have also introduced an affordable energy saving cookstove called Kuni Safi Jiko for restaurants, hotels, caterers and small schools who cook for 20-100 people per meal. We designed and locally manufactured this cookstove to be optimized for our sugarcane waste briquettes. Unlike other institutional cookstoves, it is portable and can be used with any ordinary sufuria which the customer already owns.

What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start the company?
There briquettes technology is not new in Kenya, but the average Kenyan still has never heard of briquettes! This pointed to a huge gap in effective branding, marketing, and sales. Additionally, our competitors either target large-scale industry or small-scale households, with schools and small businesses being totally left out. Over 95% of schools in Kenya cook with charcoal or firewood, but no one else has the distribution infrastructure to be able to reliably deliver to schools in the quantities that they need (between 1 sack to 10 tons). Likewise with energy saving cookstoves, the other models on the market are either designed for households or for schools with more than 200 students, so they are either too small or much too expensive for a small school or restaurant.

We started this company to build a national distribution system to get briquettes and affordable cookstoves out to schools and small businesses. We focus on modern and proactive customer education and on-time and reliable deliveries.

What are some of your products and How has uptake been like since you launched?
We have sold Kuni Safi to over 170 schools, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals in 15 counties across Kenya since we launched in October 2016. 90% of our school customers give us a second order. We recently launched a pilot project for Kuni Safi Jikos in February 2018, and we have 5 schools who have purchased them during the initial pilot. We offer an innovative financing model for our cookstoves, in which we sell the cookstove at 50% off, if the customer signs a contract to purchase our Kuni Safi briquettes at a minimum of 26 sacks over 26 weeks (6 months).

See www.acaciainnovations.com/kunisafi for more details.

Chandaria Primary cooks posing with Kuni Safi briquettes

Who is your major competition? What do you do different to distinguish yourself from them?
Our competitors include industrial briquette companies as well as household briquette companies. We distinguish ourselves by building a national brand with a guaranteed quality and reliability. We deliver on-time in quantities from 1 sack to 28 tons. And we provide top-notch after-sales support, including a practical training for every customer to ensure they use our briquettes economically and save money.

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced since the inception of the company?
Kenyans can be very resistant to change and skeptical of things they haven’t heard of before. It can take us over a year to convince some school cooks that our product can actually be an improvement on charcoal or firewood. Since almost no one has previously heard of briquettes, we are the ones building the market.

Additionally, transporting low-cost bulky goods across Kenya comes with a number of challenges like the roads being washed out due to rains, heavy traffic jams, and vehicle breakdowns.

What advice would you wish to share with aspiring African entrepreneurs?
Identify something that you think other companies are doing badly which you can improve upon. And to start, focus on gaining customers and making revenues to grow your business, rather than trying to fundraise right away. Many entrepreneurs get so focused on fundraising that they lose sight of their mission to serve customers. If a customer is willing to pay for a product, that is the best sign that you are doing something that is valuable for them and the world.

BBOXX to raise £2.5m via Energise Africa to provide affordable solar energy products in Rwanda, Togo & Nigeria


 Lendahand Ethex and BBOXX have announced a new Energise Africa partnership to raise £2.5m in total through a series of smaller investment offers, allowing BBOXX to extend its roll out of life changing solar systems across Rwanda, Togo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

The first offer, launched today, enables BBOXX to raise low cost inventory finance directly from Lendahand Ethex’s growing base of socially motivated impact UK based investors, with the goal of providing 2,500 rural Rwandan households with life changing solar systems.

Just recently, Azuri Technologies raised £1.7M via the Energise Africa platform. UK aid will be providing matched funding of 25% of the campaign value to boost the impact of UK social impact investors. Energise Africa was launched last year with financial support from UK aid and Virgin Unite with the objective to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the UN agreed Global Goal 7 – to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

Lack of energy access in sub-Saharan Africa is a significant problem, with more than 600 million people currently without mains electricity supply. In Rwanda, 9.5 million people or 81% of the population cannot access mains electricity, which has a negative impact on quality of life and limits people’s chances of achieving economic prosperity.

BBOXX provides off-grid communities in Rwanda and other sub-Saharan African countries with smart, affordable and clean energy solutions for around £3-5 per month on a Pay-As-You-Go basis.

To date BBOXX has installed more than 150,000 systems and provided around 750,000 people with access to energy. The company is driven by a vision to provide clean, reliable energy to 20 million people by 2020.

 “Working with Lendahand Ethex as crowdfunding via their Energise Africa campaign represents an exciting mechanism to help us access critical finance to achieve our objectives. This raise is part of the first credit facility of many, which is likely to result in up to £10 million of retail investment over the next few years, providing an estimated 100,000 households in Africa with access to clean and affordable energy,” said Mansoor Hamayun, CEO, BBOXX.

Energise Africa makes it simple and straight forward for eligible retail investors through to more experienced investors to invest in solar businesses that can deliver a clear social, environmental and financial return. The first Energise Africa project for BBOXX will focus on Rwanda and aims to raise £250,000 of investment in order to provide clean energy to 2,500 families.

Investors in this BBOXX bond offer will also generate a potential annual return of 5% over a 36-month period and these returns can also be held tax free within an Innovative Finance ISA. Capital is at risk and returns are not guaranteed.


Azuri Technologies Raises £1.7M via the Energise Africa platform for Electrifying Africa


Over the last 9 months, Azuri Technologies has raised £1.7M to deliver power to some 16,000 households via the Energise Africa platform, run by UK’s Lendahand Ethex.

Energise Africa provides information on a range of possible solar investments and allows lenders to keep an eye on the performance of their investment. Retail investors make a potential return of 5% per annum on their investment

The finance enables Azuri to supply PayGo solar home systems to off-grid households in Africa on a commercial basis. The cost of the solar home system is less than the cost of the kerosene lamps and mobile phone charging fees that it replaces and provides clean light and power for phones at the touch of a button.

According to Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies,“We are delighted to be associated with Energise Africa and work with the crowd to fund off-grid solar projects. Innovative financing is ensuring that we can solve the problem of energy access in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Off-grid solar energy is providing a way for the 600 million Africans to leap-frog over the traditional grid and obtain access to modern devices powered by clean energy.

With the advent of pay-as-you-go technology, consumers can access solar energy, which is as an affordable alternative to kerosene lanterns and phone charging fees. But in order to scale, providers of pay-as-you-go solar technology require commercial debt finance to build the solar equipment in the first place.

Cambridge-based Azuri Technologies provides pay-as-you-go solar products and services across sub-Saharan Africa from its regional bases in Kenya and Nigeria. Energise Africa is an initiative of two of Europe’s online impact investing platforms Ethex and Lendahand and supported by UK aid and Virgin Unite.

Energise Africa has already provided solar businesses with £2.68 million of critical investment needed to enable more than 24,000 rural families across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique to access to clean and affordable energy.



Energy 4 Impact to involve community members in the development and operation of mini-grids in Rwanda


Energy 4 Impact has said it will involve community members in the development and operation of mini-grids in Rwanda under its Sida-funded Scaling Off-Grid Energy in Rwanda (SOGER) programme,

These will see community-owned cooperatives join forces with mini-grid developers to construct pico-hydro grids at 10 sites across Rwanda, providing clean energy access to about 7,500 people.

According to Victor Hakuzwumuremyi, SOGER Programme Manager at Energy 4 Impact, “Energy 4 Impact has put in place the necessary mechanisms, including hiring of a legal firm to facilitate the establishment of the relationship between the community and the developers. We have ensured the agreements are legally binding and that the benefits generated by the grant-funded pico-hydro plants over their life cycle benefit the community.”

Community members, through cooperative societies, and mini-grid developers will therefore start to jointly design, finance, develop and operate mini-grids to deliver renewable energy in remote areas for household and productive use. Communities can buy-in a project and help raise the required funding.

Some of the community cooperatives working with E4I include Umucyo Cooperative in Mudasomwa, Nyaruguru District and Kodukaru Cooperative in Mpanga Sector (Nyankorogoma Site) Kirehe District. Kodukaru Cooperative holds 44.3% shares in the SPV whilst Nyankorogoma Hydropower Ltd, the developer, holds the remaining 55.7%. In Mudasomwa, Umucyo Cooperative has a 35.4% stake while the developer, Hobuka Ltd, holds 64.6% of the shares in the mini-grid.

Mudasomwa is a 34kW pico-hydro with a cost of around $107,000. The community and the developer in Mudasomwa will raise 10% and 25% of the capital expenditure respectively. The community members will offer their contribution in cash or by working on the project during construction. Energy 4 Impact will offer part of funding through a grant provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The remaining 15% will be raised through debt raised by the developer.

Construction of the pico-hydro plant in Nyankorogoma will cost around $86,000. Again, Energy 4 Impact will provide part of the funding as a grant through the SOGER programme. The developer will raise 10% of the cost, while community members will raise 7% through a cash contribution or by working on the project during construction. The outstanding 13% will be raised through debt by the developer.

Upon completion, the 11kW pico-hydro power in Nyankorogoma will connect 141 households, 17 commercial centres, three churches and one grain milling machine. Since the community exports unprocessed maize, sorghum and cassava only to import back in processed form, it is expected the newly available power will create a platform for value added processing activities, as well as attracting new businesses to the area.

Energy 4 Impact will advice on markets and supply chains, on the economics of their business case and accessing capital to acquire electrically powered equipment.

The SOGER programme has a strong focus on gender and is implementing gender sensitisation activities across the productive use and pico-hydro sectors. The SOGER project is aligned with the Rwandan government’s vision to achieve 100% electricity coverage by 2020 through blending both on-grid and off grid solutions across the country.

As part of these efforts, Energy 4 Impact is supporting 30 pico-hydro developers in total in Rwanda to set up power plants through grant financing, linkages with other investors or financial institutions and technical support.

BBOXX raises €1 million via crowdfunding platform TRINE to expand its operations in Kenya & reach a further 10,000 households


BBOXX, an off-grid solar systems firm operating across Africa has raised €1 million to expand its operations in Kenya to deliver the on-grid experience to a further 10,000 households.

The €1 million target was hit on 9 March, making it the fastest fundraise of debt finance ever in the industry over crowdfunding platform TRINE, a crowdfunding site for energy projects. BBOX raised €1 million in less than a month after the two launched their first of six crowdfunding rounds on 10 February.

The loan will be disbursed at the beginning of April and enable BBOXX to scale up its operations in Kenya.

In a statement, Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and co-founder of BBOXX, said, “The speed at which these funds were raised shows the enormous interest in tackling energy poverty. There are over 1 billion people without access to reliable electricity; it is a truly global challenge.

”Our smart solar systems provide reliable energy access, delivering power for lights, home appliances and smartphones, which make a huge impact to economic development among the world’s poorest communities.

Crowd-investors can invest as little as €25 on TRINE’s platform to bring clean energy where it is needed the most.1,500 individuals across Europe have already invested via TRINE and it is expected this number will grow as new fundraising activity commences over the coming months.

The targeted €6 million investment will be the largest crowd sourced capital raise in this history of off-grid solar energy.

Off-grid solar energy is a sector where access to finance is key and the partnership between TRINE and BBOXX enables channeling of unlocked finance from private individuals while solar companies like BBOXX get access to much needed capital to continue providing thousands of people in rural communities with clean energy.

According to Sam Manaberi, CEO and co-founder of TRINE, “We’ve tripled our funding capacity on the platform – it’s an increase of 300% in a month, which is fantastic. It shows a very large demand for sustainable investments and that TRINE’s product solves a large problem.”

M-KOPA raises $10m from CDC & FinDev Canada to double down its off-grid efforts in East Africa


Kenya-based M-KOPA has raised its first ever investment of US$10million FinDev Canada in its latest funding round led by CDC and follow on investments by existing shareholders Generation Investment Management and LGT Venture Philanthropy.

As part of this investment, Dave Easton from CDC has officially joined M-KOPA’s Board of Directors.

According to Nick O’Donohoe, CEO, CDC says, “CDC is committed to supporting the off-grid solar industry in Africa and we’re demonstrating that commitment today by increasing our investment in M-KOPA by a further US$7m. M-KOPA is changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of low-income families in East Africa by bringing affordable and clean energy, financial services and essential appliances to their homes.”

The raise comes just after the Kenya-based M-KOPA has connected 600,000 homes across Africa, providing 75 million hours of kerosene-free lighting each month. Its battery-powered systems come with lights, phone charging, and a solar powered radio – with daily mobile money payments being less than the cost of traditional fuels. Customers can now also opt for a more powerful system with digital solar TV.

Most of the three million people living in M-KOPA connected homes are classified as low-income with per capita income of less than US$2 per day.  Access to power is a major issue in Africa. According to the International Energy Agency, more than two-thirds of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa live off the electricity grid.

Jesse Moore, Co-Founder and CEO, M-KOPA says M-KOPA is about upgrading lives of its customers with high-quality and affordable energy solutions and the investment will help it bring power to another one million households over the next five years.

Women stand to gain the most from this off-grid solution and availability of electricity will have a transformative impact on family life. M-KOPA also offers good-quality jobs for women, with 52% of 800-plus East African work force of permanent employees and 44% of its commissioned sales agents being female.

After completing their payment plan the customer owns the system outright, or is able to get more cost-effective financing for a range of productive assets. M-KOPA has sold over 250,000 of these upgrade assets including more lights, televisions, energy-efficient cooking stoves, water tanks and internet-enabled smartphones.

“Our investment will allow M-KOPA to reach more households across East Africa, providing access to power, improving the environment, creating significant levels of employment and helping customers save money and build a credit history,” said Paul Lamontagne, Managing Director of FinDev Canada.


BBOXX raises $4m in debt financing to expand its off-grid operations in Togo

From left to right: Joe Segal (BBOXX), Mansoor Hamayun (CEO, BBOXX), H.E. President Faure Gnassingbé, Thomas Chevilotte (BBOXX advisor), Honorable Minister Cina Lawson, ICT Minister, and Honorable Minister Marc Bidamon, Minister of Energy. (PRNewsfoto/BBOXX)

BBOXX, a renewable energy and software firm has received $4m in debt financing from Union Togolaise de Banque to provide electricity access to people in Togo and across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The deal will help unlock BBOXX and Togolese Government’s ‘Cizo’ initiative which aim to provide access to reliable and sustainable energy such as solar for communities across the country.

Apart from the deal from Union Togolaise de Banque, Africa Guarantee Fund, a firm that helps assists financial institutions increase their financing to African SMEs, provided a 50 per cent pro rata credit enhancement, giving further weight to the deal.

In a statement, Mansoor Hamayun, CEO of BBOXX, said, “The deal with Union Togolaise de Banque will also make financial matters much more straightforward for us and will help drive our expansion across Togo. We are already providing our services and the on-grid experience they bring to customers in Togo and are looking forward to continuing to work in collaboration with the Government through 2018 and beyond.”

New in Togo, BBOXX has operations in Rwanda, Kenya Nigeria and Cameroon in Africa and has so far deployed over 150,000 helping change lives of more than half a million people in 35 countries by giving them access to smart energy for lights, smart phones and home appliances.

In July 2017, BBOXX was awarded a contract by the Togo government to roll out 300,000 solar home systems in the country by 2022 to create more than 1,000 direct jobs in the next five years. The latest funding will help BBOXX and the Togo government to improve access to electricity for people in off-grid communities.

BBOXX aims to bring electricity to more than 2 million citizens by 2022 through pay-as-you options via mobile payments and create jobs in rural areas for Togolese people.

TRINE partners BBOXX to launch a €6 million crowd-investment initiative for off-grid solar solutions in Kenya

Photo source: umaizi.com

TRINE has joined forces with BBOXX, a UK-based solar-powerhouse to launch a €6 million investment initiative for off-grid solar solutions.

The initiative will allow crowd-inves-tors to invest as little as €25 making it possible for anyone to bring clean energy where it’s needed the most.

According to Sam Manaberi, CEO and co-founder of TRINE, “This partnership is an important milestone in accelerating electrification in rural Africa whilst offering people here the chance to invest sustainably. Anyone can invest as our mini-mum is only €25 but many people go between €500-€1000 as they see it as a compliment to their investment portfolio, whilst providing social and environmental impact.”

With over 500,000 customers worldwide and 100,000 products in service since they were founded in 2010, BOXX is leading the solar revolution with their innovative products and unique business model.

The two firms say the first campaign is open for investment and will finance 3,500 solar systems, providing reliable and affordable electricity to over 50,000 people in Kenya and Rwanda.

To celebrate this huge milestone TRINE is offering one investor the opportunity to travel to Kenya and see their investment in action. Once the first million euro campaign is fully funded, an investor will be selected to travel with a friend to meet BBOXX and their customers. This is a once in a lifetime chance to see the real impact of energy access.

Sierra Leone’s Easy Solar raises undisclosed funding from Acumen Fund & Gaia Impact Fund


Sierra Leone’s Azimuth trading as Easy Solar, a pay-as-you-go solar distribution company has raised funding from Acumen’s Pioneer Energy Investment Initiative, an effort to bridge the funding gap in off-grid energy and accelerate access across the developing world to make clean energy affordable to those underserved by the grid.

According to Leslie Labruto, Global Energy Lead at Acumen,  “We invested in Easy Solar because of the audacity of the team to impact one of the world’s poorest markets. Easy Solar’s founding team has the right recipe of grit, local knowledge, and intuition to become a top employer in the country and make an off-grid energy company work in Sierra Leone.”

More than 87 percent of Sierra Leone’s 6.4 million people live without electricity and, in the country’s rural communities, only one percent have access. To serve these populations, the company tapped into the Sierra Leone Energy Revolution following the government’s commitment to nationwide energy access by 2025.

Easy Solar offers solar-powered devices on a rent-to-own financing structure. Easy Solar’s online platform allows the company to track where payments stand at all times while empowering its agents to serve their customers. Easy Solar is building a brand based on trust, enabling it to overcome many of the hurdles in delivering energy solutions in a challenging market.

Founded in 2016 by Alexandre Tourre, Nthabiseng Mosia and Eric Silverman, Easy Solar has grown from under 500 customers in early 2017 to more than 7,000 today. The company is quickly building a nationally trusted brand by providing best-in-class customer service to deliver pico-lantern and solar home system products to their customers.

“We see our investment in Easy Solar as an opportunity to help scale an energy company serving low-income customers and building a new clean economy in Sierra Leone,” said Guilhem Dupuy, Investment Manager at Gaia Impact Fund. “We are excited to partner with Acumen in supporting entrepreneurs and companies committed to bring an end to energy poverty.”

Sierra Leone is a new market for Acumen, which now works in 13 countries across East and West Africa as well as Latin America, South Asia and the United States. While the country has faced a number of challenges—from its 11-year civil war to the Ebola crisis in 2014 to a rash of mudslides in 2017—Acumen and Gaia Impact Fund see Sierra Leone as a frontier market prime for entrepreneurs to develop affordable, sustainable solutions across multiple sectors that serve the poor.

“Sierra Leone presents a complex environment, but one where we know we can excel,” said Eric Silverman, co-founder of Easy Solar. “We are thrilled Acumen and Gaia Impact Fund took a bet to invest capital not only in us but in our team as whole and ultimately in the country.”


BBOXX & Bamboo Capital Partners launch BEAM, a $50m fund to invest into off-grid energy firms in Africa


Bamboo Capital Partners, a private equity firm delivering positive social and financial value, and BBOXX, a next generation utility have launched BEAM to initially deploy USD$50 million in equity for distributed energy service companies (DESCOs) and will unlock further debt capital in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

BEAM starts with a first equity investment in BBOXX and its data-driven DESCOs, providing off-grid energy to consumers in Africa and Asia, to scale and generate greater impact in their respective markets. In addition to the equity capital from BEAM, the investment platform will catalyse further capital through debt, joint ventures and co-investments.

According to Jean-Philippe de Schrevel, Founder at Bamboo Capital Partners, “BEAM will catalyse substantial investment into off-grid energy access initiatives across the developing world. By drawing in and encouraging further capital via joint ventures, debt and co-investments, we have a bold and ambitious vision of providing millions more with access to energy to improve their everyday lives.

With some 1.1 billion people across the world without access to reliable energy, BEAM aims to play an instrumental role in delivering energy services to transform lives in the developing world. BEAM aims to aid the growth of an array of off-grid energy service companies, spanning solar home systems, large solar, and metering applications such as pumps and mini-grids.

BEAM will initially focus on ten countries then scale across continents. Partnering through BEAM will enable distributed energy service companies to benefit from BBOXX’s data-driven smart technology to improve operational efficiency and enhance customer service.

This includes Pulse, a cloud-based task management platform, which enables distributed businesses to improve efficiency. Pulse digitalises a business’ entire sales and service management, automating tasks for sales agents, technicians, call centres and its supply chain. For example, Pulse uses product monitoring to predict failure and allow the operational team to proactively support customers, automatically schedules field staff tasks, and understands what type of customer is most likely to default.

Mansoor Hamayun, Chief Executive Officer of BBOXX said, “BEAM solves two key market failures to scale DESCOs across the developing world – firstly, access to equity before debt becomes viable, and secondly it allows to drive disaggregation in what has been a vertical integrated model – both essential to scale.

BBOX says BEAM will allow it to take its successful model in Rwanda and Kenya and expand it across Africa and Asia by solving a key financial challenge.

Renewables crowdfunding can assist “unplugged” Africa


By Simon Collings

Crowdfunding is playing a critical role in energising the African continent and it’s been a subject of increasing interest in recent years. Crowdfunding for energy access initiatives is still at an early stage, and is often poorly understood. The amounts of money being raised currently are small compared to the overall financing needs of the sector. However, the crowd can potentially play an important role alongside other types of financing.

Over the last three years, Energy 4 Impact has been researching crowdfunding by energy access ventures, with funding from UKaid. According to our analysis, in 2016, energy access focused projects and businesses globally raised $8.7 million through crowdfunding. Although this was an impressive 156% increase from the previous year, the amount is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of euros the UN estimates Africa alone needs to achieve universal access to modern energy. Yet, Energy 4 Impact’s Crowd Power programme’s reports reveal the crowd can play a catalytic role in bringing sustainable energy to all.

Despite small numbers, crowdfunding can and is helping to solve Africa’s energy access challenge, mainly through supporting start-ups and early stage energy access firms. The crowd provides vital capital needed by these ventures to grow to a point where they can begin to access more conventional sources of funding. This is where the crowd plays a catalytic role. The M-Kopa story is well known in our sector, but we need many more ‘M-Kopas’. The crowd is helping to support the emergence of a broader array off market actors, a critical development needed to address energy access demand.

In two reports entitled “Mapping the market for energy access” and “Can the crowd close the financing gap?”, available on Energy 4 Impact’s publications page, Crowd Power explores the role that energy access crowdfunding plays in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia while providing advice for social enterprises and non-profits looking to raise funds. The reports analyse crowdfunding trends through different platforms and illustrate that energy access crowdfunding is best suited in assisting start-ups and smaller energy access firms.

Crowd Power has already been doing some important work in these areas. So far the initiative has supported 100 campaigns on ten different platforms – including Kiva, Bettervest, Trine and Lendahand. These campaigns are all supported by UKaid match funding and have so far provided 240,000 beneficiaries with access to clean energy. The businesses and non-profits raising funds through these platforms work in 28 countries including Eritrea, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Energy 4 Impact has also helped set up the first UK crowdfunding platform where UK investors can lend to businesses providing off-grid energy access in Africa. Again this is with UKaid support, and the backing of Virgin Unite Foundation. Launched by two of Europe’s leading crowdfunding platforms, Lendahand and Ethex, Energise Africa is now enabling UK citizens to invest in businesses that install solar systems in homes in sub-Sahara Africa. The platform aims to raise GBP 20 million in the next three years, providing renewable energy solutions to more than 110,000 families and small businesses. In just 5 months, the platform has raised over GBP 1 million from UK investors.

Some of the initiatives supported under Crowd Power have been focused on an important aspect of energy access – productive use of energy to support economic development. Energise Africa will over the coming year diversify into offers which go beyond solar home systems to include productive use applications of solar PV in activities such as solar irrigation and food processing among others.

Energy 4 Impact is currently in the process of finalising its third Crowd Power report entitled “Crowd Power, Success & Failure – The Key to a Winning Campaign”. The report will offer crucial advice on how to develop a successful crowdfunding campaign. Two further reports are planned, one looking at the characteristics and motives of crowd investors in the energy access space, and a final report mapping changes in the sector over the three years of the project. These reports will be available in the next few months, so watch this space.

Simon Collings is Director of Learning and Innovation at Energy 4 Impact (www.energy4impact.org).

Kenya’s SolarFreeze wins $50K in cash & services for its solar-powered cold storage units


SolarFreeze, a Nairobi-based firm has been recognized as the best energy access startup at the just concluded RES-EXPO conference “Renewable Energy in East-Africa: New Frontiers” organised by RES4Africa in Nairobi.

Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa (RES4Africa) is an association that promotes the deployment of large scale and decentralised renewable energy in Sub-Saharan African countries to meet local energy needs for growth.

SolarFreeze was selected for its solar-powered cold storage unit systems that provide refrigeration services to smallholder farmers and traders with no need for grid connection.

“Almost 600 million people are lacking access to electricity in Africa. Solving energy issues through entrepreneurship and technology is therefore a critical agenda point at Seedstars where we aim to find real solutions to real problems. Seedstars is glad to have Enel onboard to help support some of the greatest entrepreneurs, disruptors and innovators in this space.” said Alisee de Tonnac, CEO at Seedstars.

Following the award, SolarFreeze will enter a three-month programme worth approximately 50,000 US dollars in acceleration services and cash funded by Seedstars.

Enel and Seedstars engaged the small-scale entrepreneurs who are providing innovative energy solutions focused on electric mobility, storage, distributed generation and energy efficiency, thereby tackling UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG7 – ensuring affordable and clean energy for all.

The agreement established the Africa Energy Track challenge aimed at identifying innovative startups in the field of electricity access in Africa within the framework of the Seedstars World startup competition.


BBOXX launches Pulse, a predictive task management platform for distributed energy businesses


BBOXX, a next generation utility, has today launched Pulse, a cloud-based task management platform to help distributed businesses to improve efficiency and enhance their customer service.

The firm says Pulse will help distributed energy businesses in developing countries manage customers, products and employees dispersed across a range of remote locations in a  move that will see them prioritise resources and scale effectively.

According to Mansoor Hamayun, Chief Executive Officer of BBOXX, “Pulse is the heartbeat of distributed businesses and combines our years of market expertise into a single platform.

“The rapid growth of our business highlighted the need for efficient task management. Distributed businesses often struggle with monitoring customers’ products and needs, along with the activity of its workforce. This hampers efficiency and forms a barrier to business expansion. We need to manage products within a distribution mix; Pulse supports a range of energy products and is already being used by BBOXX partners in Nigeria and Pakistan.

Pulse gamifies and digitalises a business’ entire sales and service management, automating tasks for sales agents, technicians, call centres and its supply chain. Through its cloud-based infrastructure, Pulse embraces big data, allowing a business to have an accurate picture of performance quickly and uses machine learning to enable predictive analytics. For example, Pulse uses product monitoring to predict failure and allow the operational team to proactively support customers, automatically schedules field staff tasks, and understands what type of customer is most likely to default.

Pulse is already making an impact within BBOXX itself. In 2017 alone, Pulse automated 14,000 actions daily for the BBOXX staff in Kenya and Rwanda, managing sales leads, supply chain deliveries, call centre and repair actions.

Pulse has further processed over one million payments in 2017, and enabled management of $50 million in customer contract value.

“In addition to the solar home system sector, Pulse allows distributed energy service companies (DESCOs) operating across the distribution mix to optimise their businesses, automate their processes and scale quickly and effectively,” said Marcus Heal, Chief Executive Officer of PAS BBOXX.

BBOXX aims to extend the functionality of Pulse in 2018 and sign up other distributors to Pulse to support their operations.

Pawame named semi-finalist for M.I.Ts Innovate for Refugees Competition


Off-grid solar company Pawame has been selected as a semi-finalist for the Innovate for Refugees Competition organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum – Pan-Arab Region for generating affordable, clean and safe energy to the residents of Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya.

According to Majd Chaaya, Pawame’s Chief Technology Officer, “The plight of refugees is one of the world’s most urgent humanitarian challenges, particularly in Africa. At Pawame we have assembled a strong team of skilled and knowledgeable innovators who are deploying technology that meaningfully improves and even transforms life for refugees in Kakuma.”

The MIT-sponsored competition attracts the best tech-driven solutions addressing the refugee crisis and rewards innovative concepts from across the globe that alleviate life-threatening challenges faced by displaced millions.

Pawame is working in partnership with non-profit REFUNITE which unites family members separated in conflict situations, to enable a free and offline Bluetooth enabled mesh communication network throughout the refugee camp.

The firm is also seeking to raise $250,000, create 50 jobs and better the lives of over 5000 people by the end of 2018 to drive electrification and connectivity in Kakuma through the distribution of its solar home system on an 18 month pay-as-you-go/rent-to-own model with affordable daily payments of $0.50.

In addition to being a charging solution that supports the use of smartphones, the solar home systems will also provide the conventional benefits of nighttime lighting (up to four lights), as well as appliances such as radio and TV.

“We are proud to be leading this effort in Kenya to provide mobile penetration and clean and affordable energy to such underserved markets,” said Pawame CEO Maurice Parets adding that this model of decentralized energy and communication can be easily replicated in refugee camps the world over.

Pawame will also showcase innovation across business models for connecting refugees, humanitarian cash transfers and the potential for mobile-enabled utility solutions to expand into disaster-affected areas at the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress set to hold in Barcelona in March this year.

Off Grid Electric Secures $55 Million Series D Funding Led by Helios to Expand Footprint in Africa


Off Grid Electric – a leading rooftop solar provider in Africa has secured $55 million in Series D funding led by Helios with support from GE Ventures and existing investors to expand across Africa.

Off Grid Electric and EDF will expand their partnership in West Africa by offering off-grid solar solutions to households in Ghana and support its continued expansion and new product development. The firm currently provides power to more than 150,000 homes and businesses across Tanzania, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana under its consumer brand Zola.

According to Bill Lenihan, President, Off Grid Electric.,“We are excited to work closely with Helios and GE Ventures to accelerate our next stage of growth. They join a roster of strategic and capital partners that is already the strongest in the industry, including Tesla, Total, EDF, DBL Partners, Zouk Capital, Vulcan Capital, and Omidyar Network.” 

Off Grid Electric and EDF first partnered for a joint venture in Côte d’Ivoire in November 2016. The two aims to expand their market leadership in Côte d’Ivoire and create thousands of new jobs ranging from call-center employees to sales managers to technicians.

Building on their success in Côte d’Ivoire, where the company already has over 10,000 customers, Off Grid Electric and EDF are expanding their partnership to Ghana. Both companies will operate and share financial risks.

The Ghanaian company CH Group will join Off Grid Electric and EDF, and hold a 20% share in the partnership.

“For us, the sale of 10,000 off-grid kits in Côte d’Ivoire within the space of just a few months is living proof of the appeal and efficiency offered by off-grid solutions. We are delighted to be entering the Ghana market with Off Grid Electric and are already putting together innovative new off-grid solutions to support the energy transition in Africa,” said Marianne Laigneau, Group Senior Executive Vice-President at EDF in charge of the International Division.

Off Grid Electric’s investors include: Tesla, Vulcan Capital, DBL Partners, Helios Investment Partners, EDF, Total, and GE Ventures. Off Grid Electric is the recipient of the 2016 UN Momentum for Change Award, Zayed Future Energy Prize, and the 2015 Global Cleantech 100.

The investment aim to help the two firms reach the more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity, and those who do have electricity are often plagued by an unreliable grid.

ENGIE acquires Afric Power & Tieri to accelerate its expansion in energy services in West & Central Africa


ENGIE has acquired Afric Power and Tieri, two companies specialising in energy services in West Africa to quickly expand and become one of the leaders in energy services in West and Central Africa.

The two firms specialize in the design, installation and maintenance of electrical systems and automated control mechanisms in West Africa and are based in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

According to Philippe Miquel, Regional Manager of ENGIE West and Central Africa,“Afric Power and Tieri have both made their mark in the region and built up a diverse customer portfolio by focusing on quality, proximity and innovation. We fully share these values and are convinced that this solid foundation combined with ENGIE’s expertise, financial clout and international credentials will enable us to quickly establish the integrated energy service provider the region needs.”

Afric Power and Tieri are complementary companies offering a comprehensive service including system design, the assembly of electrical cabinets and automated control mechanisms, and the installation, maintenance and warranty coverage of equipment. The companies have forged strong partnerships with customers operating in many sectors, such as agro-industry, agri-food, mines, large-scale services and data centres.

ENGIE’s activities in West and Central Africa are focused on centralised energy generation, mini-grids and individual solar kits. The firm recently commissioned the 30 MW Santhiou Mekhe solar photovoltaic plant in Senegal, was awarded the energy and systems component of the Dakar Regional Express Train (TER) project and commissioned the Soubré hydroelectric dam (275 MW) in Côte d’Ivoire.

ENGIE will capitalise on this acquisition to set up a regional platform with a view to offering energy services (installation and maintenance) to commercial and industrial customers, both private and public.

Mobisol Tanzania partners Phenix Recycling to tackle the e-waste problem in the off-grid industry


Mobisol is partnering with Tanzania’s Phenix Recycling to safely dispose of expired electronic parts in over 75,000 Mobisol solar systems distributed in Tanzania to date.

According to Phenix Recycling’s founder, Athina Kyriakopoulou, “Responsible e-waste management is not only an environmental issue but also a business challenge to ensure the security of the industry and its continued growth. Companies like Mobisol are leading the pack by incorporating sustainable waste management as a core part of their strategy. We are excited to be able to enable companies like Mobisol to easily and reliably benefit from our network of responsible recyclers.”

Both companies will be present at the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo in Hong Kong this month, sharing their insights and aiming to engage further industry players to join their movement. It is estimated that, due to rapid sector growth, the volumes of off-grid solar products put on the market are expected to pass 10,000 tons by 2020.

Phenix Recycling is based was founded in 2016.

Last year, Mobisol launched its flagship store in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, aiming to bring affordable large high-quality solar systems to the country’s commercial capital. Mobisol has also already electrified over 500,000 people in East Africa through its sustainable solar solutions.

Mobisol launched in Tanzania in 2012 and has covered nearly all parts of mainland Tanzania with its services to date. Mobisol aims to complement the Government’s efforts to provide reliable energy access to all citizens by offering affordable solar solutions for households, businesses and institutions.

Husk Power Systems raises $20m from Shell, Swedfund, ENGIE to scale renewable mini-grid business in Africa and Asia


Husk Power Systems, a rural distributed utility company operating mini-grids in Asia and Africa has raised $20 million equity investment led by Shell Technology Ventures with participation of Swedfund International and ENGIE Rassembleurs d’Energies to accelerate its growth to develop what the International Energy Agency estimates as a $190 billion mini-grid market leading up to 2030.

“Together with our strategic partners, we are now confident of achieving our vision of becoming the world’s largest rural utility company providing 24/7, 100 percent renewable and affordable power to drive inclusive and sustainable development in growth markets.“, said Manoj Sinha, CEO and co-founder of Husk Power Systems. “We believe that mini-grids are the most capital efficient way to help reach 100 percent national electrification goals“.

Established in 2008, Husk runs the world’s first hybrid powered mini-grid system that provides grid compatible 24/7 and highly reliable power to customers. The systems are scalable, grid compatible, and secure against theft from power generation to delivery.

The firm also designs, builds, owns and operates one of the world’s lowest-cost hybrid power plant and distribution network in India and Tanzania and developed a proprietary system by combining and synchronizing solar PV, biomass gasification system and batteries to deliver highly reliable, 24×7 power.

It offers customers a flexible “pay-as-you-go” energy service, using a mobile-enabled smart metering system. The funds will help it add over 300 mini-grids in India and Tanzania and deploy 15 MW of 100 percent renewable power plant assets that would eliminate 150,000 tons of CO2 per year (equivalent to eliminating 56 million liters of diesel per year). These mini-grids will serve over 100,000 customers.