It is hard to imagine paying for electricity is like paying for a cell phone. Firstly, outside of the US, the majority of the world pays for their cell phones with ‘pay-as-you-go’ or prepaid plans. This way, companies can estimate their monthly profits and users can get as much as they need without overpaying. This issue is similar to what many living in rural areas or off-grid areas in Africa were dealing with when it came to electricity in their homes.
With 1.4 billion people living outside of the main grids, getting the lighting to their homes was often expensive and an inefficient chore. Many used kerosene or oil lamps. Connecting to the main grids is ridiculously costly, even for an average American. Off.Grid:Electric has combined the business plan of the mobile industry with the use of solar power and mobile stations to help power homes in Tanzania.
Off.Grid: Electric was founded in 2011 by Xavier Helgesen, Joshua Pierce, and Erica Mackey. It sets up ‘M-Power Hubs’ which use solar energy to charge individual attachments that are placed on roofs of homes. The installation fee is $6 and the weekly charge to run two lights and a cell-phone charger is a mere $1.25. Customers can increase the types of services they want, be it adding a television, radio, or more lights. A major reason why the costs are affordable is that none of the actual products are owned by the customers, the products are rented.
Mackey, a UCLA graduate who also attended Oxford’s Saïd Business School, had spent a good part of her young adult life split between California and Africa. Understanding how companies and organizations must alter themselves to African customers is extremely important, she says. “There’s definitely an art to figuring out how to run a Western-style company in an African context.” She claims that mimicking the way cell phone companies in Africa managed to deal with the unprecedented 72 fold increase in cell phone users from 2000 to 2011 gave her company a good insight on how to market and handle a similar process with delivering solar power.
Off.Grid:Electric plans to extend its services out of Arusha, Tanzania and expects to reach 10 million homes in the next decade across Africa.
– Deena Dulgerian