New Solar Products To Boost Small Businesses In Africa

As electricity access is one of the most pressing problems for businesses in Africa, a solar energy company – backed by Elon Musk’s SolarCity – is expanding from providing solar kits for homes to offering clever solar power for small businesses.

Off Grid Electric, which already has 100,000 customers in Rwanda and Tanzania, announced a new range of solar products aimed at rural entrepreneurs today at President Barack Obama’s 7th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Called Kazi na Zola (which means “Work with Zola” in Swahili), the kits are aimed at three small enterprises: barber shops, charging stores, bars and restaurants

“Nearly every country in Sub-Saharan Africa has an energy problem. Even those who have grid access suffer from unreliable electricity that is as much as 10 times more expensive than electricity in the US,” Xavier Helgesen, the CEO and co-founder of Off Grid Electric, told me. “Sub-Saharan Africa represents approximately half of the under-electrified population around the world.”

Citing figures from the International Energy Agency, he says nearly 600-million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, with the electrification rate as low as 14.2% in rural areas. More people in Africa have a mobile phone than access to electricity, while the UN estimates 1.5-billion don’t have access to electricity.

Off Grid won the Zayed Future Energy Prize in the SME category in January and has also been recognized by the Ashden Award. It’s backers include Omidyar Network, Vulcan Capital, Zouk Capital and SolarCity, of which Elon Musk is chairman, while his cousin and CEO Lyndon Rive, sits on Off Grid’s board.