Rise Solar recently returned to East Africa to continue exploring the off-grid energy landscape, visiting communities across Kenya and Tanzania. One conclusion from the trip is particularly salient: rather than a household solar system, our technology may be best suited as a tool for off-grid entrepreneurs to bring electricity to their communities, directly powering mobile phones and rechargeable lights. This came into focus when we returned to Magesho, Tanzania, the 300-person village that is a two-hour walk from the grid, where we deployed our preliminary prototype in the autumn of 2009. In Magesho, we discovered that the local shopkeeper Paul (pictured above) used our system to reduce the cost of mobile phone charging from $0.33 per phone (via diesel generator) to $0.13 – a 60% reduction! This figure is significant not only in the context of off-grid Magesho, but more broadly as it also undercuts the cost of mobile phone charging on the grid in Karatu, the nearest city, where the going rate is a nearly universal $0.20. Learning first-hand how Paul deployed our preliminary prototype, we believe there are three key reasons to seriously consider this entrepreneurial application:
Distributing a capital investment across many users, micro-economies of scale significantly lower barriers to basic electricity. Paul achieved a 60% price reduction for mobile phone charging.
Entrepreneurs, incentivized to build awareness in their communities, are largely responsible for last-mile distribution/marketing to the end-user. Imagine that to reach thirty households, we need to convince only one entrepreneur to make a capital investment, not thirty households.
Direct income generation via entrepreneurship presents a very compelling value proposition when compared to cost savings and indirect income generation alone. This compresses the entrepreneur’s payback period to under 2 months, reducing their perceived risk and broadening access to our technology. Back from Africa with these insights, we are excited about the possibilities unlocked by off-grid entrepreneurs.