Azuri Technologies, an off-grid solar energy company that provides life-changing technology designed for rural Africa has ventured into Agriculture with pay-as-you-go Solar irrigation pumps. 

TechMoran met up with Paul Foster: VP Market Development, Azuri Technologies on plans the firm has for Africa and how the firm is improving access to clean and affordable energy in East Africa.

Foster brings over 15 years’ experience of go-to-market activities in developing countries and spent much of his career with the Western Union Company where he had overall responsibility for growing the brand across Africa and supported its extensive network of local distribution partners.

Most recently he was Global Chief Marketing Officer of Western Union Business Solutions.

With a track record of leading customer-focused growth strategies in both consumer and business segments in over 100 countries, Foster has a passion for Corporate Social Responsibility having served for 5 years on the Board of the Western Union Foundation.

Foster is responsible for developing Azuri’s distribution and new markets strategy, with particular focus on a range of new products such as the AzuriTV product launched in December 2016. These efforts will be coordinated with Azuri’s sales teams and key partners across the 12 countries in sub Saharan Africa which the company has a presence.

Foster told TechMoran that Azuri Tech has the widest geographical reach of any solar-as-a-service provider in sub-Saharan Africa and is deepening its efforts to address the problem of energy access that affects over 600 million people Africans. See below our conversation.

Briefly tell is what Azuri Technologies is all about?

Azuri’s headquarters is based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The firm combines solar and mobile technology to allow customers to access electricity as a PayGo service, providing a safe and affordable alternative to fossil fuels.

As a pioneer of PayGo solar, Azuri first entered the Kenyan market in 2012, and since then has expanded its reach to 12 African countries. AzurI has sold over 130,000 systems to-date, which have the potential to impact more than half a million people.

Azuri works with a range of Partners, each of which brings a complimentary area of expertise. This Distribution Partner approach has been a key driver of Azuri’s growth. Azuri works with Raj Ushanga House and Mobicom to reach even the remotest off-grid consumer.

The company has increased its reach from 16 counties last year to now being present in all 47 counties nationwide, including in Mobicom’s extensive network of 93 retail outlets.

With each Partner focusing on what they do best, Azuri has been able to scale up its Kenyan operations more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. Azuri’s Distribution Partners manage an extensive network of in-field agents.

Kenya has made strides in generating power to Kenyans. Why is Solar and Mobile Power Technology at the heart of your operations?

At Azuri, we believe that everyone should have access to clean, affordable, and reliable solar energy wherever you are. Globally, 1.2 billion people live without access to mains electricity, and of these 600 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. Many sub-Saharan Africans rely on kerosene and candles for lighting, which can represent as much as 30% of the net income for poor households, and provides poor light and emits poisonous fumes.

It is Azuri’s mission to address these challenges. Given the high penetration rate of mobile technology in sub-Saharan Africa, Azuri pioneered a pay-as-you go business model that allows us to provide a reliable service alternative to the grid for rural households, delivering lighting, phone-charging, radio and TV in affordable packages by paying via mobile money.

The installation of home solar power system to an off-grid household creates a significant impact, which can be divided into the following categories: lifestyle flexibility, health and safety, and economic. Over the years, Azuri’s own customers have told us how our solar home systems had benefited them.

How much investment has Azuri Technologies put in the market thus far? 

With over KSH 2.5 Billion invested to date, including KSH 500 million from Azuri’s partners, the company has sold over 130,000 solar home systems in total.

Not only are Azuri’s products improving the lives of off-grid consumers, the partners are also creating significant high quality rural employment with their growing networks of in-field agents, sales, marketing, logistics, customer care and technical staff.

Over 2,000 new staff have been trained so far, with half being women. And recently Azuri has started to build its brand in the market, investing significant sums in a range of marketing campaigns designed to build brand awareness and inform people how they can acquire our products.

How do you raise your funds? Crowdfunding? How much have you raised for this market?

Azuri is fortunate to work with, partners, investors and financial institutions that are committed to supporting the development of the business and to transform the lives of families and communities in the developing world. We fund our business growth via a range of sources, including receivables debt financing, our distribution partners’ own borrowing, crowd financing and occasional DFI or government grants.

Crowdfunding has been very successful for us, with our partner Raj Ushanga house having raised over EUR 1 million from impact investors in Europe.

What makes Azuri stand out from its competitors?

Azuri’s partnership distribution model allows rapid growth and reach to remote parts of rural Kenya.

Product Quality: designed in Cambridge, UK, with award-winning technology including HomeSmart™ which brings artificial intelligence for the first time to small domestic solar home systems to ensure there is light at night, even following cloudy days. The system learns how each customer is using the system and automatically adapts to each customer’s individual needs to guarantee light in the evening.

Azuri was the first company to introduce a fully integrated solar TV system with 58 Zuku SMART+ satellite channels included in the price. This provides rural families with guaranteed access to high-quality TV channels, including education programs, focusing on improving agriculture practices and family life.

Free home installation by trained agents.

No deposit on Quad lighting products.

Service Quality: on-going customer troubleshooting and repayments support via a dedicated agent for the duration of the contract period.  

Describe your pay-as- you-go solar innovations in the market and milestones for each.

Azuri is bringing modern conveniences to millions of rural consumers for the very first time. Azuri’s PayGo model makes the best new technology affordable to as many customers as possible. Azuri offers solar home systems on a pay-as-you-go basis, delivering leading solar power at an affordable price. With no up front deposit for Azuri Quad lighting system, customers repay KSH 49 per day for 18 months to use the product, after which time the product becomes unlocked and free to use thereafter.

Azuri’s products can be installed immediately and have an impact from day one. There is no need for any additional infrastructure, nor is any upfront collateral needed. Azuri essentially provides customers with their very own mini home power station that is theirs to own when they have paid off their contract.

Azuri’s technology is transformational, with immediate impacts on health, wealth, security and quality of life. In addition to immediate financial savings compared to expensive kerosene and batteries, benefits of solar light include better environmental and physical health, children can study longer, increased security, time enrichment and shopkeepers can open longer. And there are significant longer-term benefits that come from being connected via solar powered radio, TVs and mobile phones: delivering access to the knowledge economy, local job creation and increased income.

Describe your affordable product payment model at the rural level. How have Kenyans taken up the innovations at rural level especially leveraging your affordable payment model.

For the Azuri PayGo Quad

There is no deposit for the Azuri Quad and customers pay as low as KES 49 per day. Azuri offers 3 flexible payment options;

  • 82 week contract: costing KES 340 per week
  • 51 week contract: costing KES 520 per week
  • 25 week contract: costing KES 1,020 per week

Customers can top-up either weekly or monthly using their normal mobile phone payments platform.

Azuri PayGo Solar Satellite TV

Customers pay a one-time, non-refundable down-payment of KES 4,999, then pay KES 99 per day over the lifetime of a 130-week contract. Customers can top-up either weekly or monthly using their normal mobile phone payments platform.  The price includes full access to the 58 TV and 21 radio channels via a 24’’ TV, 4 powerful solar lights, a powerful radio, a torch and reliable mobile phone charging. At the end of the contract period the whole Azuri solar system belongs to the customer forever. There is no additional cost for installation.

How your distribution level In Kenya is and what impact has it created on the value chain? 

 Azuri has a touchpoint once a week with customers when they add credit to their Azuri unit. A sophisticated cloud-based distribution management system not only allows technicians to monitor in real-time customer status information, but also provides access to training and systems information in real time from a computer or phone.

Azuri works with an ecosystem of distributors, service agents, installers and local entrepreneurs comprising an end-to-end value chain that incentivizes all actors to ensure the systems work for the customers.

In this way, Azuri delivers local employment in the community, allowing local partners and entrepreneurs to be able to grow a profitable and sustainable business within their community.

How has been the success rate of the innovations/products? How many Kenyans are benefitting and are you able to illustrate overarching impact to their lives? 

Solar home systems, such as the Quad system, have been shown to have a significant impact on customers and the environment. This has been confirmed by Azuri’s own research over the years.

The installation of home solar power systems to off-grid households has significant impacts that can be divided into the following lifestyle flexibility, health and safety, and economic. Over the years, Azuri’s own customers have told us how their solar home systems had benefited them:

The installation of home solar power systems to off-grid households has significant impacts that can be divided into the following categories: lifestyle flexibility, health and safety, and economic. Over the years, Azuri’s own customers have told us how their solar home systems had benefited them:

Azuri has ventured into Agriculture. Solar irrigation to be precise. Unpackage this development. When does it start? How much investment has been put in place? What are its milestones thus far? Plans to expand?

Azuri is always looking at new products that can help improve the lives of our customers, this includes agriculture and irrigation, particularly as most of our customers are farmers.  However at the moment we are in the development stages and not yet ready to make any announcements.