Off Grid Electric, a Tanzania-based company providing solar lighting services, has received $16 million in new funding from American solar finance and installation giant SolarCity that will help it grow its customer base from the current 25,000 to 100,000.
SolarCity became America’s biggest solar company by providing solar services to people who can’t afford to pay upfront for a system. It’s now looking to do the same for off-grid solar in developing countries.
“We’re a pioneer of micro-solar leasing” Off Grid CEO and co-founder Xavier Helgesen told TechCrunch. “Pre-paid mobile is what really unlocked the mobile phone market in Africa. Now it’s the beginning of the era of pre-paid solar.“
In March, SolarCity joined up with venture firms Vulcan Capital and Omidyar Network to invest into Off-Grid Electric. The investment was part of a flurry of venture activity in the off-grid solar sector.
By replacing families’ inefficient, dangerous kerosene lamps with solar systems that can run modern lights, Off Grid is bringing the electrical revolution to countries still in the dark.
Interesting most the families taking up the technology are not even doing it for lighting rather to charge their mobile phones.
TechCrunch says many Tanzanians where Off Grid operates usually seek to juice up their cheap android phones using the pre-paid service.
To get hooked up to Off Grid’s prepaid service, customers pay a small $6 installation fee, and then are connected to a self-sustaining solar system on their house, complete with panels, lithium battery, super-efficient lights, and a meter.
The panels collect energy and store it in the battery. But to use it, the customer sends Off Grid a mobile payment and gets a pass code they can enter on the meter to unlock their energy. This only costs $5 to $10 a month, which is much cheaper than what a family would have spent on Kerosene.
Off Grid estimates that it will be able to recoup its investment in 10 years. Compared to competitors, Helgesen told TechCrunch “Our price feels much more like a utility bill.” And since it uses a bring your own phone model rather than putting a phone inside the meter itself like some solar installers, Off Grid can be cheaper, doesn’t need deal with the telecoms, and works even if a customer’s home doesn’t get cell reception.”