African countries are among the world’s poorest and yet the ones with the highest electricity rates. Many people do not have access to electricity grids and they often rely on toxic kerosene lamps and burning of polluting coal.
Although fitting solar panels does seem like the ultimate and most obvious solution, the costs for installation and maintenance are way higher than what most can afford, therefore the investment is risky. This is where Off.Grid:Electric, an American start-up comes in.
The company, which currently operates in Tanzania, mounts solar panels on houses, and allows the owners to pre-pay for the electricity they would use. The panels and batteries are placed for free, and the cost is lower than what a household would spend on kerosine.
The idea for the project developed over time, as one of the founders of Off.Grid:Electric, Erica Mackey, went to the country wanting to help rural areas improve their health system. To her surprise, it turned out that lack of electricity and energy services were more of a problem for the communities. The common practice of using kerosine is not only inefficient, but it is also expensive and dangerous to human health, yet many still do it simply because there is no better and cheaper alternative.
The guys at Off.Grid:Electric developed a system, in which they install solar panels and provide the needed battery storage and chargers. This takes away the investment risk from the house owners, and provides a neat way for them to eliminate the biggest obstacle in front of them- the financial aspect associated with installation. Once the system is mounted, the house owners pay in advance for as much electricity as they want, but for an average family this sums up to around $6 a month. To put this price in perspective, 24 hours of solar electricity would cost as much as a night-worth of kerosene needed to power one single lamp.
Of course, here the services of the start-up provide much more than simply electricity. Having a constant, clean and strong enough supply of power limits the risk of developing lung and heart diseases, families can work longer hours, and they can also introduce a lot more fun activities at home. In addition, of course, the company has opened up numerous jobs, offering a generous pay to its employees.
At the moment, the company provides services to only three regions in Tanzania, but this will not be for long. Thanks to investors among which are the giants SolarCity and Omidyar Networks, the company can now expand in more places around Tanzania, and they can even look beyond boarders and plan to go to Uganda and Kenya.
Image (c) Off.Grid:Electric