Published on: Nov 06, 2023
With Solarspar in Tanzania
The circle closes. In 2018, we submitted a project application to the Solarspar organisation for "solar charging stations" in Tanzania and received a loan of CHF 50,000 from the organisation. The last instalment is currently being paid back to Solarspar, bringing the project to a successful conclusion. However, it took a few detours before success materialised.
After the project's thirty Powerblox systems arrived in Tanzania, not much happened at first. The project seemed doomed to failure because our local partner suddenly lacked motivation and time. We had probably also made the mistake of not creating the right incentives. Fortunately, a new opportunity soon arose in a project in Uganda. All the equipment was loaded up again and shipped to Uganda. Once there, the first food shops were immediately supplied with clean energy, but this was not really successful.
Unfortunately, we had to realise that energy-guzzling "home-made" refrigerators were being used, which are far from "A++" and not really compatible with a solar system like Powerblox. The principle here is: first optimise, then electrify. The cheapest kilowatt hour is still the one that is not used. However, "prescribing" new energy-saving fridges for small businesses was not an option, so we focussed on other companies with slightly less energy-hungry applications. We found these in the two refugee settlements of Kiryandongo and Rwamwanja.
The mobile phone charging service in particular was flourishing at one of our business customers. The more energy we made available to him, the more customers he was able to serve. In the end, he was able to charge one hundred and fifty mobile phones at the same time thanks to Powerblox.
In the past, his range of services was very limited, as he obtained his electricity from a nearby diesel generator and had to pay the equivalent of over sixty francs per month. This was for a few hours of electricity per day, which also limited the services he could offer. Customers often had to make do with half-charged phones, which is very annoying when you have to walk for two hours to charge your phone.
The model with Powerblox was very simple. We provided the companies with one or more Powerblox devices. They could test these free of charge for a week so as not to take any risks and to try out the added value. After that, they had to make a down payment of around one hundred dollars and pay off the Powerblox in monthly instalments. After one or two years, they own all the equipment, including the solar panel, and from then on the electricity was free.
Our system has the great advantage that the boxes can be put together and thus scaled as required. This allowed the shops to expand their activities and the solar system grew as required.
Other companies soon wanted to benefit from the new service. In the end, in addition to the mobile phone charging stations, we also electrified hairdressing salons with hair clippers, local cinemas, computer schools, printer shops and even a hotel. Most importantly, the shops increased their turnover by between forty and two hundred per cent after electrification with Powerblox.
We now want to build on this success and scale the model further. The follow-up project in Ethiopia with Caritas Switzerland is already being analysed. We are also examining the application in other countries with Caritas.
In Ethiopia, the sale of electricity to neighbours was also added as a further income model for the companies. LED light bulbs and a switch are simply installed in households in the neighbourhood. A flat rate is charged per day. This diversification provides additional security for the companies. If their core business does not generate as much profit, they benefit from the income from electricity sales. The offer is also very favourable for light customers, who pay the equivalent of less than two francs per month.
Incidentally, the business model used to be very similar in Switzerland, as can be impressively read in the book "Geschichte der Elektrifizierung im Val Müstair" (History of electrification in Val Müstair). Charges were made on a semester basis, based on the number of light bulbs, which were still called "candelas" at the time.
What happens now? We are currently working on a new model in Tanzania that takes into account all the findings of recent years and builds on these successes. The scalability, good quality and robust construction offer major advantages over the current offerings in rural Tanzania. With the necessary production volumes, we can put together an extremely attractive offer here and electrify thousands of small businesses. This means that the joint programme with Solarspar is now arriving in Tanzania after all. It just took a little longer.
If you would like to be part of our story and support the current scaling of our model in Tanzania, you now have the opportunity to participate in our crowdinvesting programme on CONDA.ch. You can find out more at https://www.conda.ch/kampagne/powerblox-funding/