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These are exciting times for Africa’s solar industry. Solar markets in Africa have rapidly become commercially profitable ventures that reflect Africa’s increasing appetite for socially responsible bu

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Harnessing Africa's Sunlight

Written by Mahmoud Ashmawy Partner & Director of Commercial Partnerships at BBOXX Only 31 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa is electrified, and with many public suppliers being erratic,...

http://www.africanbusinessreview.co.za/leadership/209/s-Sunlight


Harnessing Africa's Sunlight

- Leadership - Aug 17, 2012

Written by Mahmoud Ashmawy Partner & Director of Commercial Partnerships at BBOXX

Only 31 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa is electrified, and with many public suppliers being erratic, the demand for reliable energy is limitless. We believe that with increased investment in local resources, Africa’s domestic solar markets will develop exponentially. However a few key issues must be addressed.

Solar technology awareness

There is a lack of awareness about solar technology and this explains why market penetration in areas of Sudan and the DRC where we operate remains unfulfilled. These markets are maturing and as manufacturers we can add great value there by educating local distributors about the primary benefits of solar energy, understanding the product life-cycle, cost benefits against commonly used fuel generators and ultimately transferring technological knowledge locally.

While the degree of market penetration in our other markets such as Uganda and Kenya is higher with European and Asian companies flooding the market, there is a need for more advanced manufacturer input to develop energy efficient appliances, remote payment systems, on-grid solar systems, and sophisticated sizing. Our goal is to work with local partners to fully understand the customer needs and share our technological expertise.

Product life-cycle support and educating consumers

The biggest competitor system to solar energy is the fuel generator, a comparatively cheaper system in terms of initial investment, but an expensive option to maintain. The main issues with generators are fuel availability, fluctuating oil prices, transportation costs, maintenance costs, noise and air pollution as well as health and safety issues. We believe solar systems are wholly superior and our ground experience, based on research in Sudanese and Congolese markets, shows solar solutions have financial lifecycle cost advantages versus fuel generators, paying back over six to eighteen months – dependant on fuel prices.

Despite this, the biggest obstacle for customers switching to solar energy is a “fear of the unknown” – the unavailability of effective maintenance and after-sales services. When we initially entered the market, we found existing solar customers had misused their systems and were unsatisfied with their products due to misinformation from vendors. This led to the wider solar market getting an adverse reputation and we subsequently focused on more clear and concise distribution methods.

Now over 90 percent of our local partners report that effective maintenance and servicing is the most effective method of increasing solar energy awareness. Additionally, by clearly labelling our products and communicating specifications effectively to customers, while modifying products to prevent consumers from overloading our systems, we have transformed the image of complexity surrounding solar systems. We continue to invest our resources in training local engineers and technicians in system maintenance. This has allowed us to efficiently deliver a service that matches consumer expectations.

Reaching out

The solar industry epitomises the global trend towards ethical energy use and embodies a widespread desire to provide over half a billion Africans with electricity in their homes. Our biggest challenge will be to get depth in penetrated markets and reach out to people who simply cannot afford the initial costs.

BBOXX is eager to be involved in all this by attracting social investors and therefore subsidising smaller range products. We have additionally implemented and pitched several of our electrification ideas to non-Sub Saharan governments that wish to actively develop energy supplies in rural communities. These solutions are financially sustainable for the investor government as opposed to a donation and provide the end-user with a rental or deposit scheme to use solar generated electricity. The economic multiplier effects of electrifying a remote village or community are enormous; we have seen small industries and business grow out of our first electrification project in Minazi, Rwanda such as barber shops and cell phone charging stations. In Malawi, one of the key social outcomes we are evaluating from our projects is the increased learning and education facilitated by electrification.

Developing a compelling customer value proposition

To develop customer loyalty, value proposition requires more than just a competitive product or price. It must include the overall advantages and benefits a customer receives from doing business with us. Our philosophy is to consistently listen to our customers on the ground, understand their needs and mould our technology to suit their demand. This has been demonstrated in the application of our solutions to key industries such as mining, agriculture and telecommunications across urban and rural households.

Electrifying Africa is not a science, but a journey of education, capability building, social impact and commercial excellence. We are privileged to be at the heart of all of this.

 

About BBOXX:

BBOXX is a global provider of integrated technology, consulting and transformation services dedicated solely to the electrification markets in developing countries. We develop innovative business models and energy systems to provide “The Right Energy”. We aim to use our local knowledge combined with our global research and logistical base to create a paradigm shift in electrification systems in developing countries.

Over the last few years BBOXX has sourced Franchisees and Local Partners in Rwanda, DRC, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Pakistan.

For More Information please Contact Mahmoud Ashmawy - Partner & Director of Commercial Partnerships.

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