A unique model to acquire electricity
Solar energy systems for self-use are increasingly in demand; however, due to a lack of financial products geared toward the unique high CAPEX and long project lifespans of solar energy systems, many businesses and communities are unable to utilise their own working capital to go solar. On the other hand, there are individuals and businesses throughout the world that do want to support the global transition to clean energy and sustainable development, but for various reasons may not be looking to install solar on their own premises.
Through a unique digitised platform, The Sun Exchange solves both these problems by running a shared economy marketplace where individuals around the world can purchase solar cells and lease them to be installed in remotely located solar projects. Individuals leasing their solar cells through The Sun Exchange receive lease rental payments paid in digital currency, enabling nano-scale leasing on a universal scale.
The Sun Exchange partners with EPC companies and project developers to select and validate solar projects in need of funding. The company has four solar projects already commissioned and installed, and members in The Sun Exchange marketplace that purchased solar cells for deployment in these projects are located in 70 countries around the world, with South African individuals owning the bulk.
THE DRIVING FORCE
The driver behind this digital concept was to accelerate the adoption of solar power globally, enabling those with previously restricted access to solar an easy and efficient route to market. This model is a universal design based on blockchain technology in order to drive the rapid deployment of solar power around the globe. South Africa has been the pilot region as it has some of the best solar resources on the planet, and so it makes sense that the resource is harnessed to its maximum potential where it can establish itself as a global leader in solar electrification.
The biggest challenge has been matching the project flow, customer sign-ups and the technological capacity of the online marketplace. To prevent any potential slowdowns in the future, a new monitoring system was launched in October 2017 for members to better track performance and lease income earned on their solar cells.
From a job creation perspective, the benefits are obvious, as The Sun Exchange platform has enabled the development and operation of four commercial-scale projects, which would have not otherwise been possible. In addition, the solar cell ownership and leasing is an inclusive process – the base unit of these solar projects is a single solar cell sold for under R100 – having effectively reduced the cost of going solar by three orders of magnitude, making it possible for anyone to go solar, even those in a lower income bracket. The Stellenbosch Warldorf School 15kW system, one of the four operation projects activated through this platform, has afforded children the opportunity to invest in their school's solar rooftop systems, through solar cell ownership. The knowledge and attitudinal benefits that a child gains through this process are undeniable – from a single solar cell, the invested children are powering their own education.
Through this unique funding model, the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (C.R.O.W.), KwaZulu-Natal’s only registered centre dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of all indigenous wildlife, is consuming 17kW of sun-generated power. With over 3,000 orphaned animals in their care, electricity costs remain one of the centre’s biggest running expenses and for each solar cell that was purchased, they are saving R38 in electricity costs. The Sun Exchange portfolio includes the Knysna Elephant Park’s 60kW Solar Garden, the Kal Tire recycling factory in Rustenburg, which has a 45kW system, and the Stellenbosch Warldorf School’s 15kW solar rooftop system.
Having reached over 3,000 registered members, this platform is introducing a new way of financing solar projects that would never otherwise have taken off under usual circumstances. Different sectors are already seeing the benefits of this crowdfunding-type model, which could be the game changer for the project finance market. As this is a very new concept, the platform members have been on a learning curve with The Sun Exchange, where patience has been invaluable to understanding this cutting-edge technology – this educational journey is a community-driven one toward creating a solar powered planet.