In sub-Saharan Africa, small solar home systems have brought electricity to millions of off-grid consumers, which has enabled community upliftment through education, healthcare and business development.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the full digital magazine here, or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

Technological advances in LED lights and mobile money payment systems
have enabled the success of many of these projects. However, UK-based solar energy equipment supplier, Azuri Technologies, has evolved these offerings into one simple and affordable concept – AzuriTV.

In 2016, AzuriTV was the first fully-integrated pay-as-you-go solar satellite TV package for electrified customers in Africa, thus enabling users to enjoy the same high-quality TV services that are normally only available to urban households. The system includes a solar panel and battery system providing up to five hours of television (TV) viewing per day.

With Kenya selected as the pilot region, Azuri partnered with Zuku TV to deliver its solar powered satellite TV service, providing 58 satellite TV channels and 21 radio channels on a 24-inch TV. In addition, the system is equipped with four home lights, mobile phone charging, a portable rechargeable radio and a rechargeable torch.

The unit is designed to deliver power all through the night, even on cloudy days. This design is the first use of intelligent automation in a small solar home system; effectively working out a performance target by monitoring the customer’s typical power usage, which then becomes the level that the system aims to achieve under all conditions. In the evening, the system works as it would on days when weather conditions have been favourable.

However, on cloudy days when the stored power is reduced, the system automatically adjusts the brightness of the lights and the rate of phone charging in order to meet the duration of light to the level that the customer is used to. For a once-off non-refundable down-payment of KES 4,999 ($50) for the system, installed free of charge by a local agent, customers pay
a top-up-rate either weekly or monthly via their normal mobile money payment platform.

This enables the customer to use the system as much as they want during the credit period. Over a 130-week contract, the system cost averages KES 99 ($0.98) per day. At the end of the contract, the customer ‘unlocks’ the unit, and they own the system for life, effectively providing them not only with a free television, but more importantly, free electricity.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES
With over 12 million households, and a TV household penetration rate of only 38.2%, mainly in urban areas, Kenya’s rural TV penetration rate is lower than 5%. Rural off-grid consumers face three challenges in order to watch television: access to power, service coverage and the high up-front cost of installation.

In January 2018, Azuri Technologies announced an industry-leading $20 million receivables financing facility – a new way of funding solar that has the potential to revolutionise the off-grid power sector by providing the capital needed to accelerate the growth of solar technology.

As the rural telecommunication infrastructure isn’t able to guarantee coverage to every home for remote maintenance, the system is designed
to not require 24x7 connectivity. To mitigate incidents of theft and vandalism, the product has been designed to automatically lock if tampering is detected.

The parts of the system are cryptographically tied to each other and so a stolen TV for example will not work away from its original control unit.

Distribution and logistical challenges are often deterrents for many companies looking to do business in Africa. However, through a strategic distribution and partnership model, these business opportunities have proven successful in and beyond Kenya.

Azuri works hand-in-hand with its local distributor and agent network,
providing support and investment when needed.

OFF-GRID SOLAR IMPACTING ON ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
In a product survey, 98% of AzuriTV customers said they feel more aware of local and international affairs and that children feel more confident in discussing current topics in school. TV also improves language capacity with some 92% of the respondents saying watching television programmes in their preferred language has improved their communications skills.

Some 60% of customers with school-age children reported seeing their children improve in reading, writing and speaking skills since the purchase of the home solar system. This insight has been supported by a recent
independent study that shows the impact offgrid solar is having on economic activity.

The GOGLA study entitled Powering Opportunity: The Economic Impact of Off-Grid Solar found that nearly 60% of off-grid solar customers undertook more economic activity within just three months of purchasing a solar home system: whether gaining a new job, using their system directly within a business, or being able to work for longer.

For more than a third of customers, this access to electricity has already enabled them to increase their monthly income by $35 a month, more than half the average monthly GDP per capita. (https://www.gogla.org/powering-opportunity-theeconomic-impact-of-off-grid-solar). In addition, over 90% of households that replaced toxic kerosene lamps with solar alternatives report that they have experienced improvements in both health and feelings of safety.

Azuri has partnered with East Africa’s favourite farming TV show, Shamba Shape Up, which offers practical advice to farmers on how to improve their farms and how to increase yields. Eighty percent of viewers say they have learned something new, while 43% say they have made a change as a result
of watching the programme; particularly in poultry, dairy, maize and farm records. Seventy-seven percent of those who made a change reported an increase in income.

“Now that I can do my house chores at night, I have more time in the day for managing my livestock and crops. Before, I could only manage two acres. Now, I am managing seven acres of cassava,” explains Katherine, an Azuri customer living in Kitale in Kenya with her husband and children.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the full digital magazine here, or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

CONCLUSION
It is evident that the off-grid solar market is rapidly advancing beyond just lighting and phone charging, and a Bloomberg Report 2016 forecasts that around 15 million off-grid households will have solar-powered television
by the year 2020.

The digital economy has the potential to allow rural Africa to leapfrog conventional market approaches and deliver hugely expanded commercial opportunities. Azuri aims to target the five million people currently outside the power grid within the next five years.

Link to Bloomberg report: https://about.bnef.com/blog/off-grid-solar-market-trends-report-2016/