How Innovative Energy Startups Are Powering Africa

Lack of electricity in Africa remains one of the biggest barriers to the region’s development and prosperity, and continues to trap millions of people in extreme poverty.

– The ONE Campaign

Nowhere else in the world are energy problems are more ubiquitous than in Africa. In sub-Saharan parts of the continent, which has a population of more than 915 million, over 50 percent of the population lacks access to electricity. As a result, economic development is stifled, and quality of life is severely diminished. Sadly, many educational institutions and health care clinics are deprived of the means to deliver much-needed services, which further compounds the problem.

However, the continent’s energy prospects may be changing. Visionary entrepreneurs from across Africa, ranging from Tanzania to South Africa, are leveraging the power of renewable energy to help solve Africa’s widespread energy crisis. Many startups have made sizable progress by providing sustainable sources of energy to the masses.

While much work remains to be done, small and budding startups are providing a glimmer of hope to African citizens. Following is a discussion of five African startups that have made significant strides in solving the challenging and complex problem of powering Africa.

  1. Off Grid Electric – Tanzania

off grid electric logoResidents of Tanzania have traditionally relied upon antiquated means of energy, primarily fire, wood and kerosene. Of course, the use of such materials is extremely hazardous to the health and safety of those who use them as sources of energy. The World Bank reports that in 2010, only 14 percent of Tanzanians had access to electricity.

In order to provide Tanzanians with a sustainable energy solution, the founders of Off Grid Electric have focused their business efforts on prepaid solar power systems. Off Grid uses a proprietary solar hardware and software platform that is available for customers to finance through mobile payments. In order to maximize output efficiency, the company complements its energy products by installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances in homes. Appliances are also available through financing.

Founded in 2011, the startup immediately garnered significant attention from foreign investors, including the United States government.

  1. Strauss Energy – Kenya

Strauss EnergyIn 2012, the World Bank reports that only 23 percent of Kenyan citizens had access to electricity. Over a span of just under four years, the percentage of Kenyans with electricity is now closer to 60 percent. Such prolific expansion has primarily been the result of solar innovation and adaptation. Strauss Energy in Kenya is a primary example of these transformative efforts.

Strauss Energy designs building materials that utilize Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). BIPV differs from traditional solar panels in that it comprises entire building sections: windows, roof tiles, and walls. According to the company’s website, the technology replaces the need for a secondary energy source for households. Additionally, BIPV is associated with lower energy costs

Recently, the company received a prestigious innovation award from DEMO Africa. As a result, company officials were invited to Silicon Valley to demonstrate and pitch their business to potential investors.

  1. Solstice – Nigeria

solstice logoCollaborating with leading researchers and engineers from Stanford University in California, Solstice has developed a business model that prioritizes data-driven energy solutions. The company’s innovative, data-reliant approach is evident in its products.

Solstice’s products focus primarily on energy monitoring and management capabilities. Marketed as a low-cost energy monitoring solution, consumers can observe their energy consumption patterns and make subsequent energy production changes through the company’s proprietary software. For instance, the Solstice mobile app can be used to budget and track energy usage.

In an effort to penetrate the increasingly concentrated Nigerian energy market, Solstice developed the Solstice Alpha Project. Participants in the project can obtain early access to developing products and services, which are available at discounted prices.

  1. Shakti Energy – South Africa

Shakti Energy LogoWhile municipalities and other concentrated areas of the South Africa have access to abundant energy sources, little effort has been made to expand into rural areas. It is estimated that around 90 percent of South Africa’s off-grid residents light their homes using kerosene and candles, an expensive and potentially dangerous practice.

Recognizing these trends, Shakti Energy focuses its efforts on the production and distribution of cheap and clean energy products. An example of this is the Nuru LED light, a portable energy source that is capable of providing at least 20 hours of light on a full charge. Other innovations include the POWERCycle, the world’s first commercial pedal generator.

In order to reach a highly distributed rural population, Shakti enlists the local workforce to demonstrate, sell, and service the products.

  1. Ugesi Gold – South Africa

ugesi gold logoSimilar to Shakti Energy, Ugesi Gold focuses on “rural and informal settlement electrification.” What separates Ugesi Gold is its emphasis on female-only owned franchises, citing the nation’s lack of progress in ensuring and safeguarding women’s rights.

In addition to the company’s unique ownership perspective, Ugesi produces innovative energy products and solutions. Product-wise, Ugesi manufactures a micro-utility unit called the SolarTurtle, a small, convertible mobile power station. Ugesi also manages and oversees the corporate social responsibility and enterprise development needs of privately owned establishments. This is considered a priority for many, as South African laws require strict adherence to legislation pertaining to corporate responsibility and certain developmental criteria.