Emal Barekzai, Zularistan – solar entrepreneur

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Emal Barekzai, CEO, Zularistan

Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

“We worked in areas which were 100% Taliban”

Emal Barekhzai came to Jalalabad in 2002. He was living in Kassel, Germany, and he found a two-month role working as an IT technician at a girl’s school there. Only 3% of girls were going to school in the country – a worthy cause. He was born in the eastern Afghan city, which was still home to his parents at the time. Barekhzai had always wanted to go back and make a difference in his country.

So, how to get the computer class up and running? Step one was find a generator to power the class. There were no renewable energy solutions around at the time; entire villages were lit with kerosene lamps, and wood-burning stoves were used to heat water and cook. 30% of Afghans are connected to the grid, whilst over two-thirds live in rural areas .  Step two was to build a small room for the generator. The class became a problem. Not only was there not enough room for the other children, who were now taking classes under trees in the gardens, but the computer classes were proving expensive for the parents to pay for. Plus, the generator was too noisy. The headteacher was forced to close the computer class down. Barekhzai went back to Germany.

Zularistan Afghans with solar panels (1)

In Germany a solar company approached Dr. Reinhard Erös, who runs Kinderhilfe Afghanistan, with whom Barekhzai had worked. Erös was publicising his NGO’s efforts to help children in eastern Afghanistan across Germany, speaking at various universities, schools and businesses. Thanks to this, Barekhzai returned to Jalalabad the following year with two engineers, and they got the computer class functioning again – this time on clean energy, with no noisy generator in earshot. Thus begins the story of how the Afghan German Solar company, later known as Zularistan, came into being in 2004. Zularistan sells solar pumps, lights, water purification systems and more in over 18 provinces in Afghanistan, mainly in the east and south. To date, it has helped over 50,000 families buy solar home systems, and also works on LED street light projects. It also continues its work enabling clean power systems for schools.

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Barekhzai, then a 25-year-old, remembers being laughed out of the Afghan electronics stores he would bring German solar panels into. “People wanted to know who was going to pay for this, so I went back to the drawing board and did some marketing,” he says. The strategy paid off; richer Afghans were soon asking whether they could buy solar panels to power everything from running their refrigerators to their air conditioning units. “This time I was laughing, telling them to slow down. Solar panels could only really be used to power lights and fans,” says Barekhzai. “Now everything is DC-powered, except for air conditioning. It was not just richer Afghans – villagers wanted to buy the panels too, but they couldn’t afford it.” There were sticky moments along the way; Barekhzai remembers feeling “young and stupid” when a container filled with solar equipment for the first village they were to work on came in empty from Germany, having been pulled back at customs. He managed to recover some of the stock, but as his grandfather said to him – when you’re learning to walk in a straight line, you will swagger to the left or right at times.

Zularistan panels

Donor-funded projects meant that Zularistan was able to turn a profit with two and a half years. A World Bank programme encouraged Afghans to buy solar energy at a discount – people could pay 10% for a simple system with a battery, solar panel and 3 lights. “It was a bit expensive, but this was the politics of bringing renewable energy to Afghanistan,” says Barkehzai. “It was a revolution for people.” At the time, there was a lot of construction work in Afghanistan, with the input of institutions such as USAID and ASEAN. Barekhzai speaks about how ASEAN has funded a contentious transmission line to neighbouring countries. Afghanistan is heavily reliant on 77% of its power from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which is essentially their surplus, according to World Bank data in 2016. Barekhzai does not view it in sustainable terms for the future, and believes having younger, educated leaders who have studied abroad will help put in place a change to energy policies.

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Whilst solar energy has become much cheaper than it was in the early days of Zularistan, the high prices that are still paid at customs do not reflect topical advantages. Plus, appealing to a local community has not become easier. “I see cheaper solar panels from China being sold on the backs of donkeys in the villages,” laughs Barekhzai. “There is a lack of education, a lack of technical skills here – it does not help the image of solar,” he says. “Some Chinese solar panels are of very good quality, but we shouldn’t let the poorly made panels into our country. It kills our image – they should be checked at the border.”

Zularistan workers

Barekhzai remembers how the first suicide bomber struck in 2007. “If the whole of Afghanistan had five solar companies, we were the only ones with an office in Kandahar,” says Berakhzai. “We worked in areas which were 100% Taliban.” The key was to trust in a local, who negotiated with the Taliban, making it clear that Zularistan was working for the good of the country. In general, says Barekhzai, foreign companies would stay away from the south, which includes Helmand Province, and focus on the north and the west. Zularistan maintains its headquarters in Kabul, and also another office in Jalalabad. With 35 employees, just one member of the team might be responsible for feeding 20 people in his village. Its impetus for Barekhzai to keep fighting for renewable energy, the jobs it creates, and the impact it has, even if some villages in Afghanistan “look like they could still fit into villages from 300 years ago”.

-Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee

 

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-emal-barekzai-tecnosol/

Vladimir Delagneau Barquero, Tecnosol – solar entrepreneur

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Vladimir Delagneau Barquero, President and Managing Director, Tecnosol

Location: Managua, Nicaragua

“20 years ago, some Nicaraguans thought renewable energy was the work of the devil”

When Vladimir Delagneau Barquero explains why he launched Tecnosol he brings the story back to an experience he had over a decade in the mid-eighties, during his military service in a remote area of Nicaragua. He had first experimented with a solar panel that had been put together, and used it to fix a radio he was setting up to open a communications line. Come 1998, when he founded his company, he was also holding down two other jobs at the same time, as a university lecturer and employee of an electricity company; he soon moved to teaching evening classes, and left the other job, hauling in his brother, wife and friends to help him go around the country and drum up recognition for an industry which, in the late nineties, did not exist.

In contrast, renewables were booming in Germany, which is where Delagneau lived for three months. He won a scholarship from the German government and moved to the village of Rosenwinkel, north-west of Berlin, to study solar energy. Within two years of his return, seeing how German homes were being heated, he knew what he had to do. “I wanted to solve the energy problem,” says Delagneau, an electrical engineer by trade.

Nicaragua is often referred to in international literature as a ‘paradise’ for renewables, and it aims to reach 91% of clean energy output by 2020. Yet 45% of the population still lives off the grid. Tecnosol was born out of a philosophy very much driven by its founder’s passion; that everybody needed to see the potential of renewable energy, and employ it to improve their lives. Delagneau has thus effectively helped to pioneer off-grid in Nicaragua; today, 17 offices stand dotted around the country, with subsidiaries opened in other countries in Central America too.

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Promoting solar energy in remote communities was a vital step. Delagneau, at the time still working two other jobs, was essentially running his own company in his free time. “I needed to find the time to go to the mountains or to the rural areas and speak to people who were using kerosene and candles to cook by night. No bank would lend to me. What little staff I could find needed to be trained from zero about the technology, and then it was about keeping them motivated on a low salary.” Working on the ground to promote the technology was an “incredible challenge” in itself. “Many people didn’t believe in it – some people even thought it was the devil’s work. They said it wasn’t possible to get light in their houses or switch fans on or power televisions in this way.” The problem persisted: in the Nicaraguan countryside, more than half a million homes (viviendas) did not have access to energy.

For the first four years, the company made losses, with Delagneau’s salary going to pay a secretary and for advertising, such as via radio adverts, to spread the word about what wind, solar or hydroelectric technology could do. Delagneau attended trade fairs and made other media appearances. “Slowly, slowly,” he recalls, the gamble paid off; the company edged forwards. Siemen solar panels were soon being imported from Germany, batteries from the US, with the inventory stored in Managua and sent out with local dealers to the remote areas of the country. Tecnosol was in charge of installing solar panels on roofs, buying and cutting into place the necessary cables.

Once word spread, the ball was rolling. 400 systems were sold a year, moving up to 700 a year. “Solar energy was simply not a given then,” he emphasises. “It’s so much easier today, where people just walk into our shops and ask for specific wattages for their solar systems.”

The fifth year brought the company working capital, as reported in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C. K. Prahalad. In 2003 the US company E+Co invested 100,000 dollars, enabling Tecnosol to save in areas such as shipping costs, and to open offices in such locations nationwide such as Nueva Guinea or Rio Blanco, where there are some 1,500 off-grid homes. With this development, finally, a national bank was interested in working with the company.

Delagneau holding the polluting 'candile', lanterns with wicks which used to be lit with kerosene

Delagneau holding the polluting ‘candile’, lanterns with wicks which used to be lit with kerosene

“Another important step was promoting renewable energy in institutions such as the health ministry,” says Delagneau. “Officials could see the benefits too. We showed how vaccines could stay refrigerated in 80 health clinics, and we worked with 80 schools – we started to promote solar more heavily after this.” To date, Tecnosol has installed solar home systems in over 150,000 homes, the majority of which are paid for by customers in cash or with credit. Other options include taking out a loan, using microfinance, or the eventual government subsidies which came in, although he believes that the latter is a system which can sometimes be exploited by a customer.

Expansion began in 2010, to replicate the business model in other countries nearby – Delagneau said this was to introduce the technology abroad, where there was weaker competition, but also to ensure stability in countries which could sometimes be unstable. “It was a good idea to be everywhere, and provide employment to people, some anchors in their communities. We get people to understand what solar is – and after all, it’s more attractive now.”

The original Tecnosol team, in 1999

The original Tecnosol team, in 1999

In El Salvador, there is a small team of 4 people to work on 500 viviendas. Panama, where Tecnosol launched in 2011, was easier because of tenders won, for example to electrify more than almost 2000 viviendas, and a second office was opened with 6 people in total. The largest team opened in Honduras one year later, with 20 people and 5 offices, thanks to work on a Prosol project with the World Bank, reaching over 3000 homes, 10 schools and 2 health centres. In the same year, an official training programme was launched with the NTR Foundation, the philanthropic arm of an Irish international renewable energy group, to provide certificates in installation and maintenance.

That’s not to say that the work is done in Nicaragua; with 95 employees of the company, Delagneau remains committed to providing energy to the very poor in rural areas. “There are still 170,000 viviendas off-grid, and we will keep on promoting solar technology, and productive uses such as solar water, for example, to reduce poverty for those at the base of pyramid, through funding like microfinance with the organisations we have connected with.”

For Delagneau, the rural market continues to grow, even as solar prices have dropped – where a 50 watt solar panel cost 500 dollars (at 10 dollars a watt), today it costs 70 dollars. “Economically it’s a bit difficult to maintain the company, so we’re now looking at the urban market and on-grid too – this on-grid did not exist before, selling electricity to the grid.” If Tecnosol could start again now, Delagneau is sure he would be more aggressive about reaching a rural market with smaller, easier solutions. “We started with systems which were expensive and poor people couldn’t access them or buy them. We stayed in a middle market, which is not big. Today, we would roll out a campaign for the base of the pyramid and have a bigger capacity for funding it.” Whilst the rural market continues to grow, the problem remains that people seem to be getting poorer, not richer – Delagneau, the former professor, electrical engineer and foreign exchange student in booming nineties renewables Germany, still has their backs, two decades on.

-Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-vladimir-delagneau-barquero-tecnosol/

Abdul-W. Raaj, Suka Energy West Africa – renewable energy entrepreneur

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Abdul-W. Raaj, CEO, Suka Energy West Africa

Location: Tamale, Ghana

“People often ask me why we do everything – in, Africa there is no niche in solar energy”

In Ghana in the eighties, around 40 schoolchildren in one class would burn kerosene lanterns, to be able to keep on studying after dark. Lanterns, some burning oil since kerosene was not in constant supply in rural areas, were checked in individually every day. The oil caused pillars of smoke, remembers Abdul Raaj of his boarding school days. This remains the case today, particularly considering the severe power outages of the last few years, which led to a bailout from the International Monetary Fund in 2015. Although around 30% of Ghanaians are off-grid, Ghana’s reputation as a prospering Western African country is belied by energy debt and drought, most likely caused by climate change.

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Years later, as a student in Jena, East Germany, Raaj is swept along by the popularity of the green movement. With reunification, renewable energy passed into law; solar panels were strewn across the roof in an old block of flats Raaj used to live in, and biomass heating the whole flat from the cellar. In the UK, where Raaj’s family moved when he was a child, the energy system was not as decentralised as in Germany, the gas pipes running directly into homes. It was here that Raaj knew what he wanted to do with his career, “in a system which encourages you to go it on your own. Germany was so cold, with long winter days,” he remembers, “and yet Germany had enough solar energy to power Ghana five times over. I just kept asking why. I’m from Sub-Saharan Africa, I’ve worked in Germany with its very efficient engineering, I’ve worked in the UK where they know how to do the best with design and creativity, how to take the best from other people’s failures.” By 2005, he was working at Suka UK, a company inspired by Suka Germany; four years later, he launched Suka Ghana, with his experience across three different countries informing his interest in an alternative way of finding solutions.

It was important to have a support system in place – a home from his childhood days, and a car, although living in a city of 5 million with end-to-end traffic does pose its challenges, he says.. Despite his education in the sector, he does not think that a degree in the field is necessary. “You need to be prepared to take a risk, because it is not easy to run a business in Africa.” Raaj spent three of four years learning about how the market worked, specifically with smaller solar home systems; he saw that the rural population loved the products, whilst those in urban areas had bigger demands – although sometimes, the demand was reversed. “People often ask me, why are you doing everything,” he says. “In Africa, there is no niche in solar energy.” Today, Suka tailors solutions for different market segments, be it for a school with polluting lanterns, clinics, or street stalls selling bread or confectionery. Raaj has a team of 15 working out of his childhood state of Tamale (covering the north of Ghana) and an office in Accra (covering the south). Whilst Suka aims at being all-encompassing and collaborative, the company also sustains partnerships with other solution providers. If Suka doesn’t have a solution for their customers, “then at least we know where to go to get one”.

The pragmatism in Raaj’s philosophy led to educating customers directly about not wanting too much from their product. “Solar lights are modular;” he says. “The first question I get confronted with is that solar is expensive, but of course it is if you want it to do too many things for you. I draw a pyramid for my customers – we’re sitting in this room, I tell them  – if your TV goes off, or your phone goes off, what are you going to be interested in getting back first? The answer is always light, so I tell them, leave the rest out.” Suka works with microcredit companies who offer microfinance possibilities to traders, farmers or local artisans in rural areas.

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Suka Ghana has always imported products, driven from a key understanding from researching the market being that higher quality products were in demand. “Those we were buying from had to be willing to do OEM (‘Original Equipment Manufacturer’) – to stamp our name on their product.” This strategy of labelling solar paraphernalia, from batteries to charge controllers was essential in reinforcing the brand’s image, says Raaj. A two-year import contract with a company in Germany, which in turn manufactured in Thailand, was not renewed. Raaj points to the challenges of taxes on renewable energy equipment in Ghana, as well as rising exchange rates. By the times the products would reach a warehouse in Ghana, any idea of profit was thrown to the wind, and everything was sold at cost. “The products were still very expensive, and so we ended up giving more products away, to get the feedback.” One solution was to look at alternative government opportunities.

As for the wider region, Raaj hears from potential agents in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso. “There is a very rural community there, but they do not have the capital and we don’t deliver – the credit issue is very difficult in West Africa in general. The political context would also not help you were issues to come to court.” As for impact, Raaj relies for the moment on guesstimates – he believes around 50,000 people in families could have benefited from solar lamps, whilst another 50,000 women who would traditionally move to the south to work as head porters – carrying heavy shopping on their head – could have been lifted out of poverty. Suka could effectively be curbing the migration trend for a sector of society which is uneducated and forced to move to work, instead being able to work in the fields at home. “In northern Ghana, we installed a solar irrigation system with a farmer who employs people, so down the value chain so many other people benefit too, with the mobile solar irrigation systems moving from farm to farm. We’d say our products could have reached no less than a million people by way of impact.”

Suka has just put a bid to the US, applying for funding for a rural project for businesses using grinding mills for wheat and grains. “The machines are powered on diesel, which is expensive, and the oil comes from garages where dirty oil is drained from cars and then reused to power the grinding mill machines. The oil can mix in the flour, and the machines regularly break down. It leads to women, who are generally responsible for the food, having to walk far distances to grind their foodstuffs. Some of these mills are so low energy, that we can use solar to power them.” So far, so good, says Raaj – “but we can and want to still do more”. In the future, the company would like to manufacture their own components, rather than importing them and selling them.

Raaj speaks a lot about cultural expectations, especially in a country where a name has been coined for the crippling power cuts – dumsor (‘dum-soor’). “My aunt in a very remote community in rural Ghana will not expect a Nokia 318 from me but a smartphone,” he says. “Many people can’t read or write, but seeing pictures and sending voice messages is important to them. To the extent that they can afford it, people in the rural community want better quality items too. Cheap Chinese products no longer work, and they are aware of it.” The government meanwhile has recently announced that it will install 200,000 solar systems in Ghana, in response.

Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee 

 

 

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-abdul-w-raaj-suka-energy-west-africa/

Raghu Chandrasekaran, E-Hands Energy – rural energy entrepreneur

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Raghuraman (Raghu) Chandrasekaran, Founder E-Hands Energy

Location: Chennai, India

“Who cares for the poor anyway?”

Along the Himalayan border of India, site of the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict, lie rural villages which Raghuraman Chandrasekaran has ventured into many times. The founder of E-Hands Energy, which brings hybrid solar and wind energy to rural Indian villages, worked in the inner Himalayas during his first entrepreneurial venture, providing wireless telecoms. “The villages remain generally disconnected, from Afghanistan to Tajikistan all the way down to Myanmar,” says Raghu, as he is known as, blaming revenue interest to be in more densely populated areas of India. “We still need to provide for rural operators,” he says, adding wryly: “Who cares for the poor anyway?”

Kalaap - 1 (1)

After working in the corporate world, Raghu realised his true calling lay in being an entrepreneur. Plus, his conscience was bothering him. “I wanted to help the poor, it was haunting me. So I jumped into it – this time in energy access and energy poverty; 1 billion people worldwide don’t have access to proper electricity, and over 300 million people are affected in India.” Why go back to the Himalayas? “I chose an area where we could have the most impact, compared to other companies which were setting up in different parts of India,” he says. E-Hands Energy has impacted around 12 villages in total; almost 70% of people live in rural India. Since 2009, the company has installed its own micro wind turbines and provided renewable energy solutions to schools, households and in agriculture.  “Everything is off grid. It takes 10 or 12 kilometres to reach the villages. We’ve been quite successful in bringing these communities into civilisation.”

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A 10-kilometre trek past a river leads to Kalap, the first village where E-Hands Energy launched. Solar electricity can benefit an entire belt on the Indo-Tibet border into forming small self-sustaining economies, such as in tourism. “A trekking package is already on offer in Kalap, and we have sent solar lanterns there. Now we’re looking at solar-powered tents to keep tourists heated in the colder months, since it doesn’t snow here. There are so many European tourists, teachers, civil servants or the like who want affordability and, of course, access to electricity. If solar energy can power a washing machine or a drier, even more funding agencies would be interested in talking to us.”

When it comes to competition, Raghu quotes Muhammad Yunus, who once chaired a meeting of energy access companies locally. “He told us to stop competing!” laughs Raghu. “I’d say there are about two dozen other pure off-grid companies around, and I agree with Yunus – we have to work together, in this spirit.” Nonetheless, Raghu would like to expand into Uttarakhand and Nepal, where E-Hands Energy sent around 600 home lighting systems after the devastating earthquakes of 2016.

Kalaap - 3

An important thing to think about is what poor people should do once they have access to energy, asks Raghu. “Everyone talks about it,” says Raghu, “but we don’t just want people to sit down and watch a Shahrukh Khan movie. Children study more, women are healthier and have more time, but can’t it also lead to income generation? We want to investigate how electricity can help people in every village we go to.” 30% of villagers in the E-Hands portfolio cannot afford their electricity usage, despite their initial enthusiasm in the early months of solar electricification. “Other companies tend not to talk too much about this issue. Even 200-300 rupees (3-4 dollars) is hard for someone who has never had to spend on light. That’s why I am looking at an income generation scheme. More donors and investors need to know about this next level of amplifying energy for people’s livelihoods.” To continue on this path of affordable, sustainable business, Raghu would like to start integrating economic activity with energy access. “It’s an exciting path, and we want to take a stake in village-level enterprises, bakeries, with solar ovens, and so on.”

Initial challenges with the technology came with the quality and cost of imports from countries including the UK, Germany and South Africa, which India has a trade agreement deal with. Most of the products came for a more ‘sophisticated’ customer, being dust or moisture-free, and thus not suitable for a Himalayan climate. Raghu now works with Bangladesh-based company Solaric; the transport is more direct, the duty is almost zero, and the product is more robust. “Plus, when Thomas Edison discovered electricity, it was the direct current (DC), which is what Bangladesh supplies. Most of our TVs, computers, phones and modems only require this DC power, which is what solar supplies.” Raghu is proud to see that one village in the Himalayas is now running on DC power. In conjunction with Henkel in India, E-Hands Energy brought solar grids to over 1600 students at schools in the smart villages of Guraad and Zari, and 150 villages living in households at Kochesapada.

Gorad, MH

If there is one thing Raghu would go back and change about E-Hands Energy, which is one of the few enterprises on the Ashden Award 2017 longlist. it would have been to raise more money earlier. “We’re in this situation of perpetual bootstrapping, so I probably would not jump straight into action if I could do it again. Funding is the real problem – applying for soft loans is not easy, the amount of time spent on applications and grants.” Raghu has created a business model where rural energy electrification is subsidised by providing solar services to rural banks or micro finance institutions. “They all have problems with energy availability in rural parts of India, and there is unreliable power, so they use diesel generators.” Raghu advises banks not to open new branches with diesel generators, since solar is a no-brainer. “Solar beats diesel hands down, and a lot more people are listening.” We’ve reached around 400 branches of cooperatives and banks who have made the switch, so it’s a triple bottom line; they would otherwise have invested in diesel. We save carbon footprint, it’s cheaper and more reliable.” Raghu says that as the banking business is growing, the company will be profitable soon. “Investors can bet on us, and the money we put for smart villages will come back over a longer period of time.”

Raghu also needs to be convinced that pay-as-you-go technology will be useful in villages, since it is costly to install per household, despite its obvious advantage of scalability of usage. He is looking forward to finding out more about an affordable demo which is being created by students at Stanford University’s SRI research institute. E-Hands Energy aims to reach 10,000 families by 2019 through an affordable solutions. This year we will actually deliver energy to 400 households in 16 villages through the business.–Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-raghuraman-raghu-chandrasekaran-e-hands-energy/

Yonas Workie, Suntransfer Tech PLC – solar home system entrepreneur

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Yonas Workie, Managing Director, Suntransfer Tech PLC

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

“You have to really find quality products in a market which can be unfair”

Doing business in Ethiopia, which has a population of 100 million, has its challenges. 80% live in rural areas, and hydropower is the most popular energy source. Yonas Workie has spent eight years working in solar, a fledgling alternative industry in Ethiopia; however, materials have to be imported, there is a lack of access to finance and hard currency , not to mention significant issues with the market. “There are some unfair situations, with substandard illegal and contraband products coming in,” says the founder and managing director of Suntransfer Tech. Currently, 1.5 million homes are without electricity in rural Ethiopia.  “You have to constantly find quality products and services. This also affects the competition – we all struggle with the same demands.”

SAM_3604

In his previous role with the German NGO Solar Energy Foundation, Workie distributed solar home systems; working with rural people, doing after sales services, providing credit facilities amongst others. The industrial engineer was inspired to apply this experience to a business setting with two other colleagues. Having spent eight years in the growing solar industry, mainly with private companies, launching a social business was a logical next step.

Suntransfer Tech started with selling small solar lanterns in 2012, and has graduated to servicing home systems. The most popular of the six main items items are lanterns with a four-light system, with a phone charging element, and small solar televisions. The team also partner on projects for NGOs, working on portfolios such as solar water pumps. “If a company wants to design a kilowatt system, we design and install it.” Water pumping is a big issue, says Workie. “People are more aware of this now because the government is more involved in renewable energy, but there are some bottlenecks in different channels – corruption and bureaucracy. They remain expensive. We are not promoting them individually, but reaching out to local NGOs or smaller companies.” Workie is also hoping for a wider solar association, an equal platform for people in the market, to also hold the government to account.

SAM_3592

After almost five years, the team has doubled in size, with a network of technicians who join the team on a freelance basis. Thanks to a 2014 grant from USAID, the team were able to distribute solar home systems in the populous Southern region. “We’re trying to distribute in Oromia and Amhara now. We are trying to replicate the funding situation at the moment, and get loans from small banks which is not easy, since they request collateral, which we don’t have as a young company.” Working with the Solar Energy Foundation in Germany means that the team at least has a partner who can help with applying for loans and try to expand the business.

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Workie’s team has been promoting solar in more villages, through micro finance institutions whose customers include farmers. “We teach people how the products and technology work. People have been using kerosene lamps and wood for fire, so it’s life changing for them – I mean, to see light from solar, or see a TV running on solar. They’re happy, but the affordability of buying such products in cash is limited. This is why micro finance plays such a big role, since they provide credit. These are the end users we are trying to reach.” Workie joined the sector by chance, he says, and sees hope for the future, despite the testing market his team operates in. “Ethiopia has huge potential; just look at any map, or international rankings – we are north of the equator, and can do a lot with our sun.”

 

–Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee[:]

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-yonas-workie-suntransfer-tech-plc/

Luis Pazos and Robins Ocheng Odiyo – solar cooking entrepreneurs in Kenya

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Luis Pazos and Robins Ocheng Odiyo, Co-founders, SV Graduate Research Forum – solar cooking in Kenya

Location: Berkeley, California and Kilgiros/ Kericho, Kenya

“Some people are still coming up to me, not believing that you can cook without fire”

In Kenya, the famous staple ugali is made by steadily stirring cornflour into boiling water. The team behind SV Graduate Research Forum, headed on the ground by Robins Ocheng Odiyo in Kenya, have come up with an alternative recipe to make the dish with a solar cookstove. “With solar cooking, nothing gets hot enough to allow the ugali to burn,” explains Luis Pazos in California, who co-founded the project. “We add cold water and the cornflour instantly, leaving it in the solar cookstove where it will remain warm. It’s convenient, such as for those who have to work on the farms and come home and feed their children very quickly after school.”

Odiyo is tweaking traditional recipes on different prototypes of solar cookstoves with a helping hand from his wife, From boiling eggs to cooking sweet potatoes, the goal is to first prove that the method actually works. “People have to believe in the ‘idea’ of what we are trying to set out to do,” he explains. “When the foods are familiar, using them with a solar cookstove becomes a self-marketing tool. Some people are still coming up to me, not believing that you can cook without fire.” For Odiyo, the word-of-mouth method works better with a group-based approach, rather than open-air sessions explaining how to use a solar cookstove.

solar t3

There is a variety of cookstove models tested so far. One might be lined with aluminium foil on the bottom, designed at an angle which then means moving the pot to get the best sunlight; another will be a pot placed with foam in between two boxes to retain the heat. According to Odiyo, the best design to achieve high temperatures would be one whose shape and design would not need it to be repositioned to get the best of the sun.

The SV Graduate Research Forum team, based between California and Kenya, are working from a £3000 funding round from a Smart Villages programme. The original idea between a group of students at Cambridge University in the UK, says Pazos, was around bio-gas, but was ditched quickly since it would be too complicated and expensive to run. “The solar cooking project was a more adequate approach on a smaller budget,” says Pazos. With team member José Antonio Navarro Álvarez’s background as an electrical engineer, Pazos’ solar energy experience (dealing with elements such as the physics of how to control light in solar energy), and Odiyo’s day job as a social worker, the team was ready to go.

Odiyo’s work in local communities on HIV prevention programmes has produced another challenge when it comes to devoting more time to the solar cooker project – taking time off.

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Nonetheless, it explains his desire to help the lives of other Kenyans around him. He is a natural when it comes to talking to people; and solar cooking, he again emphasises, is not the easiest concept to sell, especially since people are used to their cookstoves being fired by burning charcoal or kerosene. “People initially cannot easily accept a new idea, such as using the sun which is all around them meaningfully, but with time, they get used to the idea. Using more sustainable materials will ensure a good substitute for charcoal and the wood people are used to.” Another major challenge for the moment is supplies, says Pazos. “We need material with the proper reflective coatings.” Odiyo says it is harder to find aluminium foil in the villages, and so a trip to Nairobi is on the cards to source reflective material at an affordable rate, to then start producing solar cookers.

The team currently work out of Kericho and Kilgoris in Kenya, where Odiyo both works at the local health centre, and lives. Kericho, nicknamed ‘the bath of God’, is the rainiest Kenyan city, explains Pazos, whilst Kilgiros has the traditional savannah climate. “If we can show that our solar cooker works in both places, then it will work anywhere in Kenya.” Odiyo has higher hopes for making impact in the future. “Once the solar cookers are established, there is a higher chance of leading to more employment creation opportunities for the community – in selling the stoves, or the foodstuff.” There have been signs of this already; Odiyo mentions one member of the community, who works in county government, who is interested in partnering with the team, “which could be another opportunity to travel to more villages”. Pazos agrees. “People were very excited and were happy to pay more than we projected. One person we met sent us to a house in the countryside where we met his neighbours who were also excited about it; he wanted to work for us as a distributor across the village, and buy in bulk.”

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The team plan to continue working despite the limiting lack of access to suppliers in Kenya. “The typical university startup creates enough investment to create a factory, top-down approach,” explains Pazos. “Here, the lean startup concept works better, especially in developing countries, with a minimal viable product. You use that profit to build your company. You need a good idea, which we have, but we need the suppliers. We were offered support from Nicholas Murero of the Masai Mara Serengeti ecosystem, a very big fish in Kenya, who was happy to start a government programme.”

Whilst solar cooking is a slow process, says Pazos, its inception comes at a critical step for Kenya, what with the rising price of charcoal and environmental damage. “The Kenyan government is concerned about deforestation. It’s a good time to get our project implemented – and we have consistent, reliable people on the ground, in Robins. Although, in general,” reflects Pazos, “this is hard to find.”

-Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-luis-pazos-robins-ocheng-odiyo-solar-cooking-kenya/

Vishnu Raghunathan, Lytyfy – solar entrepreneur

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Vishnu Raghunathan, CEO & Co-Founder, Lytyfy

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

“You have to really find quality products in a market which can be unfair.”

After college, Vishnu Raghunathan and S. Deepak Kumar spent more than two years working for the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, a government programme in India’s rural Bihar province. The experience taught them much about the lives of the region’s poor villagers, who often have no access to electricity and rely on kerosene for lighting. It also taught them the basics of microfinance, which was a focus of the programme they worked on.

Saddened by the sight of local families struggling to cook and study without electric lights, Raghunathan and Kumar looked for a way to help. Solar technology seemed the most appropriate solution, Raghunathan says, and in 2015 the two began experimenting with ways to implement their vision. The resulting company, Lytyfy, began operations in March 2016.

Left to right: Lytyfy co-founders S. Deepak Kumar, Vishnu Raghunathan, and Dilip Kumar

Left to right: Lytyfy co-founders S. Deepak Kumar, Vishnu Raghunathan, and Dilip Kumar

In its first year, Lytyfy tried two main types of solutions. The first involved simple solar lamps that villagers charged at a community charging station. That model ran into problems. Customers tended to blame any problems with the system on the owner of the charging station, and the dense social relationships that exist within villages got in the way.

The second model eschewed community-level services and sold technology to individual households instead. Each household got its own solar panel, two lights, and a charging station. “When we expanded the household system, everybody was willing to adopt it,” Raghunathan recalls.

The next problem was collecting payments. Not only were Lytyfy’s rural customers not used to paying for electricity; their agricultural professions meant that they earned far more in some months than in others. “The villagers clearly understood the need for electricity because their children needed light to study,” Raghunathan says. “But they were not willing to pay all at once. That’s when we decided to launch a microfinance project, with the option to pay monthly. Then the base expanded exponentially.”

Today, Lytyfy has eight employees—including separate teams for installation, customer service, and technology. The company currently brings in about US$50,000 a year in revenue from interest on loans and markup on product. Its loan portfolio is about US$20,000.

Lytyfy team members conducting due diligence

Lytyfy team members conduct due diligence with customers in rural Bihar province.

Lytyfy has installed about 500 solar systems so far, most of which cost between US$70 to US$80. That can be a lot of money for the company’s rural customer base to pay upfront, but Raghunathan says that the savings they earn from not purchasing kerosene makes up for the most of the cost of monthly installments.

In terms of impact, Raghunathan points to significant improvements in the lives of its customers, especially women and children. Each child with access to a Lytyfy system enjoys about three to four hours of electric light  each night. And Lytyfy team members noticed that most families installed one of their two lights in the outdoor veranda where the cooking is done, allowing rural women to prepare food more quickly, precisely, and easily.

Lytyfy’s staff meets its customers where they are, visiting villages in person to install systems and to collect payments. “We understand that the customer—even if they only need to bring the product to a local town—it involves opportunity costs,” Raghunathan says. “It can take them two or three hours, which will waste their whole day. So we go there instead.”

Collecting payments in person has some advantages. It allows Lytyfy to make sure the customer is using the system properly, and to make any necessary repairs. It has also allowed the company to cultivate the expectation of high-quality service, which then helps to distinguish Lytyfy from its competitors.

A collage of images showing Lytyfy staff and customers.

A collage of images showing Lytyfy staff and customers.

However, repairs are necessary in only one out of every four cases, so an in-person visit is not always necessary. Raghunathan sees an opportunity to lower the cost per customer through mobile payments, especially as Lytyfy continues to scale up its business. While all payments are still being made in person today, Raghunathan says his team is currently being trained in the use of mobile payments and he expects to provide this option to customers soon.

When it comes to providing services to those who live in remote villages, Raghunathan says, distance is one of the main problems. “But with IT all these things can be provided at the doorstep. We need to develop systems that reduce the impact of distance.”

Lytyfy is already on its way to doing that in the area where it operates and is poised to scale up significantly in the years to come. In five to 10 years, Raghunathan says he’d like to see his company have more than one million customers.

 

–James Trimarco, Writer and Researcher, @jamestrimarco

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-vishnu-raghunathan-lytyfy/

Smart Villages “Pocket Guide” to rural energy & development

We’re pleased to share with you the new Smart Villages “pocket guide” to rural energy and development!

This pocket guide is intended as a quick reference to off-grid technologies, policies, and impacts – including stories of successful village energy projects from across the global south.

For remote off-grid villages, local solutions are often both more realistic and cheaper than national grid extension.

Together, energy and entrepreneurship underpin lasting development in smart villages, alongside the many services they can propel: health, education, WASH, livelihoods and productive uses of energy… and beyond.

View the pocket guide as a flip book:

 

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/new-smart-villages-pocket-guide-rural-energy-development/

Webinar: Perspectives on energy justice

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On 11-12 September, the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network (LCEDN) held its annual conference on the topic of “Equity and Energy Justice” at Durham University, UK. As a follow-up to this conference, we’ll be holding two webinars (September and October 2017) to share highlights from the conference.

This month, we’ll be joined by the conference’s first Keynote Speaker, Dr Rosie Day, who will reflect on the broader theme of energy justice given her extensive experience in this burgeoning field. We’ll also be joined by Shikha Lakhanpal, who spoke in the panel ‘Governance, Power, and Resistance’, and will share examples from India. Lastly, Dipti Vaghela, who spoke on the panel ‘Market Solutions? Entrepreneurialism, Productive Uses, and Equity’ will speak about her experience with community-focused renewable energy entrepreneurs in Myanmar.

Join us for this exciting and important webinar, where we’ll be joined by the following speakers:

  • Dr Rosie Day, Senior Lecturer of Environment and Society in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham
  • Dr Shikha Lakhanpal, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), India
  • Ms Dipti Vaghela, Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, Myanmar

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/september-2017-webinar-perspectives-energy-justice/

Jacqueline Pronet, SUJA – clean cooking entrepreneur

[:en]Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Jacqueline Proneth.  I am a 24 year old woman from Tanzania studying for a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting at the University of Dar es Salaam.  Meanwhile, I am in the process of registering a business with my partner Suleiman Mzungu which involved charcoal briquettes.

What inspired you to work in off-grid energy? are there key people who inspired you to work in this area?

One of my close friends inspired me to work in off-grid energy and apply to the Smart Villages off-grid energy competition, with business training run by the Cambridge Development Initiative.  The issue of energy access came up in one of our conversations about entrepreneurship and we were specifically the impact of alternative sources of energy on our society.

Tell us a bit about SUJA Eco Energy.

Suleiman and I started SUJA Eco Energy as an alternative energy source for Tanzania. The growing demand for biomass energy sources in Tanzania is a huge problem. Tanzania burns one million tonnes of charcoal each year, with many households in both rural and urban areas relying on it, mainly for cooking.

Due to such high demand, a tremendous number of trees are cut down each year, causing significant damage to the environment. SUJA’s solution is to produce charcoal from alternative sources including sugar cane, coconut husks and shells, and charcoal dust. In combining these materials to produce a new form of charcoal, not only will the business be protecting the environment, it will also offer lower income households charcoal at a more affordable cost, and in a reliable and easily accessible manner.

Where do you hope to be, 3 years from now?

I hope to see the business a people’s brand in the energy sector, supplying clean cooking source of energy with good technology to meet our customers’ energy demands.[:]

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-jacqueline-pronet-suja-east-africa/

Profile: Suleiman Mzungu, SUJA – East Africa

What is your off-grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?

My off-grid business deals with production of charcoal briquettes with a brand name “Mukala”. We focus on production of clean cooking energy using agricultural waste materials like coconut husks, sugarcane husks, wood pieces, charcoal dust and others. The main focus of the business is reducing high rates of deforestation by having creative energy solutions that are environmental and user friendly. its 8 months since we started the business and so far, we have sold 70 bags; 20 for prototype and 50 for consumption.

What inspired you to work in off-grid energy? Are there key people who inspired you to work in this area?

As an environmentalist, I have participated in making the environment safe since my primary school level. I feel bad when I see a tree that has taken years to grow then it is cut down in just 5-10 minutes for energy reasons. I thought I have a role to play to change this. With the fact that I have seen charcoal being used since I was born and this depicts how much trees have been lost. This fact is what inspired me to work in off-grid energy at least to save trees to reduce climate change as well as provide people with a more reliable, efficient and clean source of cooking energy – carbonated charcoal briquettes. Actually, there is no one who inspired me at the first, but as I switched on into this, I have created enough friends to encourage me through the whole business endeavor.

Have you lived in an off-grid community? What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid energy?

At my tender age, yes. The experience sounds normal for people living in such places but sincerely, it’s horrible. Life without a reliable source of energy be it for cooking, or other uses, is not enjoyable at all. Darkness implies lots of risks for the community and when we come to cooking, the firewood and kerosene stoves don’t create efficient cooking endangering their health for a lifetime. Development is very slow in such communities and the word quality is missing in almost every part of their lives.

What I want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid energy is, off-grid energy community, are the bottom of the pyramid class of people who are so many in Tanzanian context. If we want to achieve a sustainable economic development, then this lies in the off- grid community. It is unless we make strategic energy interventions in these areas, we cannot achieve a sustainable economic development.

What are main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?

Every day I take in off-grid business, is my learning opportunity. I have learnt to be persistent with regard that charcoal briquettes are new in my community and Shifting people’s mindsets from using normal charcoal is tough. This makes me to be very creative in boosting quality of briquettes and developing good marketing strategies to win minds of the customers and shift their perceptions. My biggest success is the time I was able to prove the worthiness of the business in front of judges and won 3000 USD as seed capital. I have not experienced sort of failure, it’s too early for that.

What has been most difficult or most rewarding?

Most difficult is the need to change our customer’s perceptions from using normal charcoal and getting them to embrace our briquettes and change their consumption behavior.

If you could share some wisdom if three years ago, what would it be?

Entrepreneurship is an endless journey, when anybody starts, should never stop.

Where do you hope to be, 3 years from now?

I hope to see the business a people’s brand in the energy sector, supplying clean cooking source of energy with good technology to meet our customers’ energy demands.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-suleiman-mzungu-suja-east-africa/

Neema, Tacode – Energy Entrepreneur

What are you currently working on? For how long? Can you give a brief overview?

  • Still working on it but up to right now there isn’t much progress – limited scope with UTT . Have recent undergone an exhibition in January at UDEC – worked on their prototype to refine their idea. Still in close contact with the rest of her colleagues.

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

  • Something she was just interested in. Nyarandu – made an application known as Shulex – provide materials for primary and secondary students – for free all you do is sign up – paperless systems.

Have you lived in an off-grid community?  What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

  • Few years back, at home when they were still building – there was no electricity in their area – were using batteries or chargers – Kimara Kitunda – near the airport. The area is very interior – electricity is not yet established. Took a year for electricity to arrive. By that time, she was in form one – coming home from school to home at night can’t really study – were using battery which were providing electricity – doesn’t last for a long time. We shouldn’t take electricity for granted. Small battery costs 80,000 – 100,000. Not everyone could afford batteries to light their homes – they had to use candles.

What are the main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?

  • It is important to choose a business idea that you are passionate about and think realistically about what your business might look like. It is difficult to search for funds. Funding can be a serious hindrance to business.
  • Biggest success – It has always been a dream of mine to go to university – the second is to have a company of her own. Right not on the way to that which is very exciting.

How did the DAREnterprisers course help you?

  • When I entered the course, she did not have much experience working with a lot of people – she learned how to handle different characters. Especially people with a lot of temper. A lot of knowledge about business in general.
  • I didn’t really enjoy waking up early to start the course. In the summer, I will be working with the entrepreneurship team to support students.

What has surprised you most about working as an off-grid energy entrepreneur?

  • Never expected the course to be so interactive – that you can learn in an interactive manner – speaking to people from different areas.
  • It was fun using games to learn.
  • Surprised by the business idea itself – can cow dung produce anything useful. And people’s perception on the idea.

-What has been most difficult/most rewarding?

-If you could share some wisdom with yourself 3 years ago, what would it be?  

-Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

  • I will be finished with university- hope plans of having a business would be already settled. Hope to have own company and business also with Tacode.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-neema-tacode-east-africa/

Profile: James Ogingo, Chemolex – East Africa

James OgingoJames is an Industrial Chemistry graduate with entrepreneurship passion leaned towards renewable energy adoption among low income communities, energy management and environmental conservation. He is an alumnus of Cambridge Development Initiative, a program sponsored by Smart Villages. He is also recognized as Smart Village Ambassador by IEE Smart Village. James is the Co-founder of Chemolex Ltd, an enterprise providing lighting and phone charging solutions to off-grid households, clean transport solutions using rechargeable motorcycles and currently piloting powering agricultural activities by smallholder farmers  & agro-industry (animal feed manufacture) using renewable solar energy and modeling low cost biogas digesters from recycled polymers.

He is currently pursuing masters in environmental Chemistry and consults in energy and environmental sectors.

What is your off-grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?

Chemolex Ltd through Solarvil as an enterprise is providing off-grid solar solutions to its target consumers by harnessing solar energy through solar power stations and storing in rechargeable batteries. The enterprise utilizes a unique model where it distributes valve regulated lead acid batteries to households through designated agents, The batteries provides the off-grid households with  lighting and phone charging services. Local businesses such as video shows and barber shops are supported by powering their operations using large capacity battery units. Chemolex has gone further to introduce clean and affordable transport solutions for transport of farm produce and passengers using rechargeable electric motorcycles. The enterprise has run steadily since its inception in September, 2015 upon winning seed capital through an energy competition of US$3000 courtesy of Smart Villages.  http://e4sv.org/competition/challenge/

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

I love the environment and this bond drove my ambitions towards being champion of the earth, I read articles, journals and surfed internet on energy trends elsewhere and this lead me to identifying the gaps which I saw as opportunities for social entrepreneurship. I was inspired by the Nobel Laureate, the Late Wangari Mathaai towards championing for environmental conservation; I was also inspired by Gerhard Knothe for his work in bio-energy which got me into persuing my dreams towards championing for renewable energy among low income households.

Have you lived in a off-grid community?  What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

Yes. Having being raised in a rural, off-grid setup made me observe how poor families in these communities cooked and light up their homes using unclean sources of fuels that include; firewood, kerosene and charcoal. I saw this situation as not only harmful and costly to the users but harmful to the environment through carbon emissions and deforestation. They light their homes on kerosene lamps which are dim, emit fumes causing lung and eye disease and school going children are affected as they can only study for an hour leading to poor performance compared to their counterparts in areas connected to the grid. I believed I could change the status quo. It requires an investment of US$35 to see a household have access to clean lighting solution.

What are the main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?

One must really understand their target customers in terms of what they need and their willingness and ability to pay considering the low income levels of rural households who comprise the majority of off-grid regions in any country. Quality of service is also a key factor to consider as this differentiates from your competitors. This requires you to adopt an innovative model to tailor quality services at affordable costs for mass adoption by the households.

Biggest success has been great demand for the services through high market penetration as a result of referrals from existing clients. One failure has been low quality of some batteries which arises from local suppliers who give non-genuine products. We hope to overcome this challenge when we start to import the batteries directly from manufacturers.

Key emphasis is thus having the right business model and quality products to provide quality services

What has surprised you most about working as an off-grid energy entrepreneur?

It not just surprises me alone but to my peers and the community to reveal to them that I have background in Industrial Chemistry and not Electrical Engineering as many think; I have come to believe that an entrepreneur can fit anywhere as long as they have the vision which sets the path and act to create the desired change

What has been most difficult/most rewarding?

Just like making a movie, the team has it all. For a startup with limited finance to hire experts and experienced staff, getting a team has been an uphill task, they have to be committed and passionate individuals working more of as volunteers. Being a social entrepreneur I am rewarded by the impacts I make as a change agent, I get motivated through traction of the enterprise. This has made me to visualize where the enterprise will be in future

If you could share some wisdom with yourself 3 years ago, what would it be?  

No regrets and turning back- believe in the future and hope for the best, if it feels dark midway of the tunnel just believe there is light at the end of it.

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

I see myself as a champion of the earth. I see impacting on millions of poor families across Africa, providing them with clean and affordable off-grid solutions, biogas plants, and powering their activities through renewable energy for improved productivity and increased profits, I see transformation of rural communities and an end to hunger and poverty in the rural communities. I foresee Smart Villages just like Cities.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-james-ogingo-chemolex-east-africa/

Profile: Clifford Okoth – Chemolex – East Africa

 

clifordBrief biography

I am an entrepreneur, marketer and sales trainer in Kenya. Since graduating from the university, I have passionately worked at Chemolex Company where I am a co-founder. I have developed the start up from an idea to the scale up phase where the company serves 400 households, 30 businesses and operates 5 solar powered motorbikes for transport. I have efficiently developed appropriate sales and marketing strategies for the company as well as training a team of 10 sales and marketing persons thereby creating an effective marketing department for the company. I have also worked as a business consultant for NEWX SHOP which is an established online company in Kenya. I have a degree in BSc Industrial chemistry with a post graduate diploma in sales and marketing.

What is your off grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?
Chemolex Company is a green energy startup company in Kenya. We basically provide green and renewable energy in off grid environment within the Kenyan households. This is due to the fact that clean energy is very important in spurring economic development within the households. We started in 2015 by providing systems that use solar energy to provide lighting and phone charging services within the off grid set up then we developed the business to also provide clean and affordable solar energy to various businesses within the off grid community. This is because we noticed a huge demand for affordable energy by various businesses. Chemolex currently provides affordable transport services to rural farmers and business women by use of solar powered electric motor cycle. The solar powered electric motor cycles have helped 300 farmers and business women transport their farm produce to the required potential market thus reducing post-harvest loss by 70% within the off grid Kenyan community.

Chemolex therefore provides clean and affordable energy for lighting and phone charging, for business operation and for transport services within the off grid community.

What inspired you to start working in off grid energy? Are there any key people who inspired you to start working in this area?

I was inspired by my dad so much as he made me believe from a young age that with appropriate education and knowledge I can have the power to positively transform my society.  I can vividly recall one time when I was 8 years old and my dad took me to the nearest town which was 250 km away from our community. While in the town, I noticed how bright it was at night and how several businesses are operating till late in the night and so in my curiosity I noticed that the main reason for that was electricity supply from the grid connection. This was the turning point in my life as I started identifying other alternative sources of energy that could make our community have businesses that operate 24/7 and even bring light to our community.

Have you lived in off grid community? What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about living in off grid community?

I was born and brought up in an off grid community. I used kerosene lamps, candles and sometimes moon for my night studies. My first time with a television was at the age of 14 when I joined high school.

The most important thing that those with reliable energy should know is that growing up off grid was challenging but it improved my innovation and creativity as through the challenges that I encountered, I can develop appropriate solution for them. I also appreciate the importance of energy in our ecosystems as through clean and affordable energy, we have access to information, we can see and most importantly we can operate numerous enterprises.

What are the main things you have learnt while working as an entrepreneur in off grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning point?

I have learnt that the most important factor in business development is the customer or the target market. The success of any business depends majorly on the ability of the owners to develop relevant technologies and business models that resonates with the target market.

My biggest success is to develop Chemolex Company to a level that it is attractive to all the stakeholders that is customers, investors and partner organizations.

What has surprised you most about working as an off grid energy entrepreneur?

The most important thing that has surprised me is the role of clean and affordable energy in off grid household. I have noticed that clean and affordable energy is not limited to lighting and basic household operation but it’s also very crucial to business operation as well as development of other sectors of the community such as security, education, health facilities and even water supply. This is different from the traditional African mentality where clean energy was assumed to be important only for the households.

What has been most difficult/ most rewarding?

The most difficult thing has been to effectively develop the business with absolutely no capital and to run it at no profit at a time where I was just from the campus with absolutely no source of income to meet my daily needs such as food, housing, clothing and even entertainment. It was a time where most of my classmates had gotten well-paying jobs while I remained completely focused on the business despite the financial constraint and no support from anyone.

This has been very rewarding as through this passion I have developed something and brought a positive change in my community thus making me feel fulfilled.
If you could share some wisdom 3 years ago, what would it be?

I would say that creating a positive change in our society can never be a one day thing. It requires relentless effort, great passion and ability to be consistent for a very long time without losing hope.

I would also say that failure cannot be an option unless you get discourage and stop what you were doing. The human being never fails but they only lose hope and stop whatever they were doing.

What do you hope to be in 3 years from now?

I hope to have develop Chemolex Company to a fully established company with operations spanning from provision of clean energy to off grid community, businesses and offering transport services to Kenyan off grid households.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-clifford-okoth-chemolex-east-africa/

Profile: Sameer Nair – Gram Oorja – East Africa

What is your off-grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?

Gram Oorja electrifies un-electrified villages in remote areas of India using mini grids. Each home is provided a metered connection that can be used by the household for its electricity needs varying from lighting, mobile charging to small commercial applications like water pumps, flour mills, etc.

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

Gram Oorja was co-founded by 3 of us who had worked several years in the corporate sector and were keen on starting up an enterprise that helped solve a key social problem in India under a commercial framework.

Have you lived in a off-grid community?  What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

All the founders were raised in large urban centres of India and as such have not experienced challenges during their formative years. However, they were involved in social activities in remote villages during their adult life and as such have a sense of the magnitude of the problems caused by lack of electricity.

What are the main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?

The biggest learning is that problems of electricity access across the different regions can have vastly different reasons, hence multiple approaches are needed to solve the problem. Some areas lack electricity despite being close to electrified areas because of the socio-political issue, other areas lack access because of the difficulty of access. Our biggest success has been our ability to convince communities the importance of taking ownership of the project and making sure they are able to create economic sustainability through tariff collections. On the other hand we have not been able to enhance commercial activities at the villages to the extent we had imagined

-What has surprised you most about working as an off-grid energy entrepreneur?

-What has been most difficult/most rewarding?

Our team works extensively in areas that have no electricity at all. Given the remoteness and lack of easy access, even transporting material to this kind of locations pose huge logistical challenges. Building an implementation team that is motivated enough to live in remote villages, where basics such as water, sanitation and lighting are totally absent can be a huge challenge. Over the years the most rewarding aspect has been our ability to train people from these villages on solar technology and employ them to be part of Gram Oorja to help us in implementing similar projects in totally different geographical areas.

If you could share some wisdom with yourself 3 years ago, what would it be?

Create enough successful demonstrations of your business model before engaging with policy makers, otherwise the time & effort spent in engaging them can affect your ability to implement projects on the ground.

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

In 3 years from now, we hope to have demonstrated in at least 200 + villages that a community-based tariff collection model for off grid energy helps to create long term sustainability. We also hope to have a large number of villages demonstrate a significant improvement in their economic well being as a consequence of electricity access.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-sameer-nair-gram-oorja-east-africa/

Profile: Tecla Mariwa – East Africa

12. TeclaWhat is your off-grid energy business?
Manufacturing of portable bio-gas for generation of cooking energy and organic fertilizers.

Can you give a brief overview?
Lack of adequate cooking energy has been one of the major problems in the country.
Many people utilize charcoal and firewood which is not an environmental friendly source of energy. However, there are other cooking energies which are cheap but not highly utilized in the country. Bio-gas is among the cheapest cooking energies and gives organic fertilizers as an additional product. However, many societies in the country do not utilize it due to lack of awareness; and despite of that, the few people who are aware do not practice it due to complications involved during installation and its low calorific value.
The business aims at designing portable bio-gas which will use organic waste as a raw material. The portable bio-gas will be designed in such a manner that it will
be easy to operate and it will not need any major installations, and it could be
moved from one area to another easily. Also, the business added an additional
feature to the system which will purify the gas hence increasing its calorific value.
Once the business is successful, it will solve the problem of cooking energy which affects a lot of people in the country. It will also provide cheap fertilizer for the communities practicing agriculture. And finally, it will solve the problem of waste management which is a major problem in Tanzania.

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy? Are there any key people
who inspired you to work in this area?

What inspired me to work in off grid is the desire to solve the problem of lack of
adequate and clean cooking energy in the country.

Have you lived in an off-grid community? If the answer is yes, what is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

No, I have not lived in an off-grid community.

What is the most important thing you have learnt so far by being on the off-grid energy track?

I have learnt on idea generation, screening, team work and different business skills.

What are some of the challenges you have faced when coming up with an off-grid energy business?

The main challenge that I faced is lack of awareness among the society on different off-grid energy. To establish the business, the time has to be set for promoting awareness among the people.

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

To be a successful entrepreneur with a lot of experience and skills.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-tecla-mariwa-east-africa/

Profile: Seni James – East Africa

[:en]12. SeniWhat is your off-grid energy business?
Portable biogas
Can you give a brief overview?
Portable biogas is a system that can be easily installed and used in households and
institutions like schools, food vendors etc… system uses organic wastes such as food
leftovers to generate a cooking gas, additionally the system has a purification system that clean the gas produced making it
more efficient
 What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

I am inspired to work on this area because off grid energy has proved to be asolution to many low income communities in countries like india and
Pakistan but it is vice versa in our country although we have tons of wastes

3) Have you lived in an off-grid community?  If the answer is yes, what is something
you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?
Yes, although they have a reliable energy I’d recommend that they use off grid
energy because the energy produced is efficient and it is relatively cheaper as
well as environmental friendly

 What is the most important thing you have learnt so far by being on the off-grid
energy track?
Different ways of generating a business idea.

What are some of the challenges you have faced when coming up with an off-
grid energy business?
Lack of required skills, inadequate time, dilemma on choosing the best idea
among the alternatives

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?
Hope to establish medium scale biogas plants in three cities[:]

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-seni-james-east-africa/

Profile: Samwel Baruti – East Africa

9. SamwelWhat is your off-grid energy business?
i. Drying fruits using solar oven
ii. Solar power in the agricultural sector.

Can you give a brief overview?
i. In Tanzania there’s no fruit preserving
factory, which means fruits gets destroyed
easily by either for not being consumed for
long time or by climatic conditions such as
high temperature. Thus, the idea is
basically to help prevent fruits spoilage by
drying them using a solar oven which itself is environmental friendly, the
dried fruits are added with natural flavors such as salt and peppers. Then we package them ready to sell. The products can be used by anybody but
to start the target groups are children and students. Dried fruits can live
for a very long time, and thus saving the farmers from loss at the
same time giving them revenues from sales. As the business grows, the
products will increase, with things such as vegetables and nuts also being made.

i. I’m thinking of renewable energy in agriculture system.
Recently in the world there has been increasing change in climatic
conditions which hinders development in the  agricultural sector. In our
country, agriculture still depends on seasons , with the modern
technology we don’t need to be depending on rainfall in agriculture, I was
thinking if there was a possibility we could work together to find a way we
could generate off-grid energy power solutions in the agricultural sector, that
could be installing large solar panels in farms or wind energy that would
transform us from classical time of depending rainfall to the modern
era of irrigation systems where we are sure and certain of getting
enough harvest for food and business. The idea is to employ many
youths around the country because we all know when agriculture is
conducted properly in terms management and methodology, it results in
greater yields.

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people
who inspired you to work in this area?

I think the passion to help people and hunger for success are among factors
inspired me to work on off-grid track. But to be honest CDI made me realize the
opportunities available in off-grid track, I believe the impact you guys have
brought will continue inspiring many people and realize the potential of this
sector.

Have you lived in an off-grid community?  If the answer is yes, what is something
you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?
Yes, I have.
Off –grid energy can be reliable too. Many of them are environmentally friendly,
their production does not produce poison to our environments like the grid power
does, you could use solar cooker instead of gas banner which produces ashes
and smoke, and they produce enough energy just like grid systems. Off-grid
energy is growing really fast not just in our country, but worldwide and it brings
opportunities along with it. It is very expensive to use generator for water
pumping in irrigation, but with solar power installed within your farm, you could do
it for many years, it will only cost you once.

What is the most important thing you have learnt so far by being on the off-grid
energy track?
I have learnt many things really, getting to know the sector in details, getting
enough information about availability, usage, efficiency and management of
resources. The site visits and community visits were so important in learning
about the challenges facing society which I now look them as opportunities to
solve problems but also as a business which can employ people from different
disciplines and hence improve our social and economic wellbeing.

What are some of the challenges you have faced when coming up with an off-
grid energy business?
Since I didn’t have enough information about the off-grid energy track, it was very
challenging to design a proper business idea with little information about this
track. But to get the feeling of how people are suffering due to lack of power I
think it would be better if next time you could change environment, maybe
another region, was suggesting the Coastal region, which is just near Dar es
Salaam so the cost wouldn’t be much expensive.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-samwel-baruti-east-africa/

Profile: Nelson Maleko – East Africa

Wha5. Nelsont is your off-grid energy business?

My off grid energy business is to produce efficient stoves which will use briquettes and charcoal.  

Can you give a brief overview?

The stove will have an adjustable plate which allows accommodation of different pan size in order to increase efficiency.

Other additional features on the stove is automatic ash removal plate and insulation mechanism to avoid heat loss.

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

The consumption of fuel great influenced by cooking habit as well as stove performance characteristics.

Currently the stove with higher performance are imported but its higher price make it not affordable. So our product will be affordable and durable compared to normal stove or imported one.

Have you lived in an off-grid community? If the answer is yes, what is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

YES, people should be aware of renewable source of energy and have trust to the coming inversion like ours, in order to support growth of off-grid energy.

What is the most important thing you have learnt so far by being on the off-grid energy track?

I have learnt a lot about the formulation of methodologies to solve different problems occurring in the community.

What are some of the challenges you have faced when coming up with an off-grid energy business?

-Some ideas may be rejected by investors, this cause a lot of problem to come up with viable ideas at short period of time.

-Awareness of people is also a challenge, because people like to buy products which they aware with.

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

-To have a registered company on civil works and constructions, to have an online market platform which will enable selling of my agro-products.

-to be leading entrepreneur in terms of off grid energy

-To give back to community (Have orphanage centre) and professional soccer academy.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-nelson-maleko-east-africa/

Profile: Mlamba John – East Africa

5. JohnWhat is your off-grid energy business?

My off-grid energy business is an efficient stove producing business known as Jensen Energy incorporated in collaboration with partners named Nelson Maleko and Senteu together with Elifadhili Shaidi.

Can you give a brief overview?

Our business incorporates at producing efficient cooking stoves that avoid the loss of heat plus saves time and pollution predicaments.

What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy? 

My drive to initiate changes in energy providing throughout Tanzania gave me an insight to work in the sector.

Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

Strive Masiyiwa, a Nigerian entrepreneur who puts emphasis on the off-grid balance and channeling.

Have you lived in an off-grid community? If the answer is yes, what is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

No, i have not

What is the most important thing you have learnt so far by being on the off-grid energy track?

Knowledge on technicality and that is vas of it, science adaptability and environment control.

What are some of the challenges you have faced when coming up with an off-grid energy business?

Competent knowledge on technicality at first and also adaptability to the off-grid initiative had me challenged.

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

I hope to see myself in a different perspective that is the goal of pushing up our business strategy ahead so we can self employ ourselves.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/profile-mlamba-john-east-africa/

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