The $7 a month plan bringing solar energy to rural Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, over 600 million people do not have access to electricity — that’s 68 percent of the population, according to the International Energy Agency.
Key Points:
  • Off Grid Electric provides solar energy to homes in Tanzania and Rwanda
  • Plans are financed through microtransactions starting at about $7/month
  • Problem - the power distribution infrastructure — plants and the grid — is severely underdeveloped, requires large investments to improve and ultimately can’t keep up with the growth in demand.
  • One solution to the problem is to go “off the grid,” mimicking the rapid distribution of mobile phones: over 90 percent of Africans have access to cell phone service — more than have access to clean water — but only a fraction of them owns a landline.
    • In the energy sector, the cellphone equivalent is the solar panel, which is easily installed and can provide power to a household or small business.
  • The company is backed by Elon Musk’s SolarCity, one of the largest solar energy providers in the US, and Helios, Africa’s largest private equity firm.
  • In November, at the UN’s climate change conference in Marrakech, it won the 2016 Momentum for Change Award, which focused on projects that are addressing climate change in innovative ways.
  • It already powers 125,000 households and employs around 1,000 people — about a third as salesmen who offer the energy packages door to door.
    • “Most of these families were burning kerosene to make light, with a negative impact on their health and wellbeing,” Bill Lenihan, Off Grid Electric’s President, told CNN.
    • Kerosene produces smoke and can’t power anything but a lantern: “Now they have access to clean energy that can also power radios and TVs.”
    • The system includes a solar panel, installed on a roof, and lithium-ion battery which provides electricity around the clock: “Kids can study at night, entrepreneurs can increase their income because their phones work all day and farmers can better protect their cattle — it’s like night and day,” said Kim Schreiber, the company’s chief of staff