Oolu.3 Pic credit. TechCrunch
After a year-long pilot, the company has signed up 500 clients in Senegal. Pic credit: TechCrunch

US venture capital firm Y Combinator’s seed funded renewable energy company Oolu, that aims to deliver affordable solar energy to the region starting in Senegal, launched on Friday, reported TechCrunch .

According to Oolu founder Daniel Rosa the average rural family spends around $20 per month on energy-related costs.

Considering that Senegal’s GDP per capita was just over $1,000 in 2012, this is a huge expense for many families.

Oolu’s in-home solar system is composed of three adjustable lights and two USB plugs, powered by a battery that holds a charge for up to six hours with maximum output.

Affordable solar systems

For a monthly fee, Oolu will install the system and perform all necessary maintenance, including free battery replacements and system upgrades.

The company is not disclosing its exact installation price and it anticipates that the cost will differ slightly by region, but Rosa says that Oolu has been able to save families an average of 60% on total energy spending, reported TechCrunch.

Oolu is not the innovator of the technology behind the solar products that they are dispensing. Instead, the company is setting up a distribution model and payment infrastructure that west African families and community leaders are comfortable with.

Oolu has partnered with Orange Money, a Senegalese money transfer company, so that customers can pay the monthly subscription fee from their mobile phones.

“We’re working with Orange Money to bring not only solar, but also mobile payments and mobile banking to millions of rural people”, says Rosa adding that: “people talk about a solar revolution, but really it’s a solar mobile revolution.”

Oolu means trust

Prior to starting Oolu, Rosa’s co-founder Nilmi Senaratna worked with children in a rural region of Senegal through the Canadian International Development Agency.

Senaratna explained: “Rural people are very used to being let down because so many organisations come in and promise wonderful things and then they don’t deliver.

“Our name [Oolu] speaks to the fact that we’re holding ourselves to a very high standard; when we say we’ll be back with enough systems for your whole community in a week, we do that.”

Oolu, that means ‘trust’ in the local Wolof language, has employed a team of 10 people, working on the ground in Senegal, to communicate with clients in person and aid in the installation of systems.

Pilot success

After a year-long pilot, the company has signed up 500 clients in Senegal.

Rosa and Senaratna say they expect to reach 1,500 clients by the end of the summer, and they’re planning to launch in another French-speaking west African country in the near future.

Future growth

In the future, Oolu plans to offer a variety of products, from agricultural technology to consumer electronics, to rural West African families using its combination of mobile payments and on-the-ground community support infrastructure.

Rosa said: “The reason why we got into this business in the first place was to work with rural communities to find ways to provide them the technology they really need.

“It’s not just about solar, we really hope to impact these communities beyond that by bringing modern services to rural people.”

 

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