Member Highlights – September 2016

d.light Raises Over $22 Million to Expand pay-as-you-go Business into new markets

d.light has secured $22.5 million in financing to grow its pay-as-you-go (PayGo) business globally. The company raised $15 million in Series D equity from KawiSafi Ventures Fund, Energy Access Ventures, Omidyar Network and NewQuest Capital Partners. Debt funding of $2.5 million was also raised through SunFunder. The funding round also includes over $5 million in grant funding. Shell Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development – Development Innovation Ventures (USAID-DIV) and United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) were key contributors to this round.

With this new funding, d.light will focus on ramping up sales for its D30 solar home system, as well as bringing new products to market that can power other appliances, like TVs and fans. Currently, d.light operates five distribution hubs in East Africa, West Africa, India, Southeast Asia and the United States.

As of August 2016, d.light has impacted the lives of over 65 million people, including 17 million school-age children, with its solar lighting and solar home system solutions. d.light aims to empower 100 million people with affordable and reliable solar by 2020.

BBOXX closes $20 million fundraising round

BBOXX successfully closed a $20 million Series C investment in late August. Since 2010, BBOXX has provided off-grid electricity to more than 350,000 people in 35 countries around the world. The company has pioneered a distributed energy platform, comprising data-driven technology and a unique solar home system design to deliver off-grid energy on a utility scale.

This latest round of investment is supported by co-investors MacKinnon, Bennett & Company (MKB), ENGIE Rassembleurs d’Energies and KawiSafi Ventures, as well as existing investors Khosla Impact Fund, Bamboo Finance and DOEN Foundation.

The investment will support an expanded presence in the company’s existing markets, Kenya and Rwanda, where BBOXX owns and operates retail distribution networks and after-sales service centers to support customer service for all users. The investment will also accelerate the provision of licensed BBOXX products and services in other markets, including the creation of three franchises in the West African countries of Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

BBOXX is currently building its operational headquarters in Kigali, Rwanda, where the company has experienced swift growth. By the end of this year it expects to be electrifying as many households as the Rwandan national grid. With the country’s ambitious goal of electrifying over 20% of the population with off-grid solar systems, BBOXX is well positioned to serve this quickly growing market.

Acumen and GCF sign $25 million agreement to bring household solar energy to East Africa

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Acumen Fund recently signed a Funded Activity Agreement (FAA) enabling the disbursement of funds to implement the first approved project proposal from Acumen – a private sector accredited entity – making it the first GCF project to move to this stage.

The signing of the FAA will allow Acumen to receive GCF financial resources to invest in companies along the off-grid energy value chain to drive access to off-grid solar power in East Africa for low income consumers. The project proposes to provide solar technologies to rural, off-grid communities initially in Rwanda and Kenya, with possible expansion to Uganda at a later stage, not only meeting the objectives of the UNFCCC but also serving Sustainable Energy For All objectives under the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The GCF Board agreed to provide USD 25 million of the Fund’s resources to this program as part of its initial investment decisions, taken at the end of 2015.

Off Grid Electric secures $18 million in funding

Off Grid Electric recently announced the acquisition of $10 million from Helios Investment Partners and $8 million in debt financing from a lending group led by responsAbility. Totaling $18 million, this funding will enable Off Grid Electric to continue on the path to solving the energy access problem in Africa, providing millions with clean and sustainable solar energy.

Since its 2012 launch, Off Grid Electric has led the industry in capital raising, importantly opening the industry to institutional and more traditional capital sources. Off Grid Electric has grown rapidly and now serves more than 100,000 households and businesses in Tanzania and Rwanda. Helios is one of the few independent pan-African private investment firms founded and led by Africans, and has built a reputation as a partner of choice on the continent with successful investments across sectors and geographies.

This news follows the launch of Off Grid Electric’s line of solar appliances for rural entrepreneurs, featured in our Practitioner Network July newsletter. Called Kazi na Zola (“Work with Zola” in Swahili), the “business in a box” solution is designed to give self-starters in Rwanda and Tanzania the tools they need to run a business — whether a barbershop, charging shop, bar, or restaurant – completely on solar energy.

Azuri now using artificial intelligence for solar home systems in Africa

Azuri Technologies claims to be the first company to have implemented artificial intelligence (AI) in small solar home systems in sub-Saharan Africa. While solar home systems are typically adversely affected by cloudy daytime conditions, which creates unreliable power after sunset, the AI-powered power management system developed by Azuri automatically learns a customer’s typical power usage pattern and adjusts the light brightness to meet their expected demands.

The HomeSmart system offers greater energy efficiency and customer control, and 5,000 have already been sold. The product has LED lights, lithium iron phosphate batteries, adaptive smart metering and artificial intelligence, and has been developed by Azuri – which operates in 12 African countries – priced at US$50 with lower income consumers in mind. The latest deployments have been in Kenya and Ghana.

By carefully matching product to market requirement, and tailoring the length of the payback period region by region, Azuri is able to price the top-up as much as 50 percent lower than the customer’s previous spend on kerosene and mobile phone charging. Azuri customers typically pay around US$3 per week over the course of 18 months, after which time the cost of the solar home system is paid off and the customer fully owns the system.

The HomeSmart technology will be of particular benefit to customers in some West African countries, where the rainy season can impact the available sunlight. It aims to add a new level of enhancement to solar provision, and prevent a situation whereby users are beholden to weather conditions to meet their required power usage.

Recent interviews with some of Practitioner Network’s successful member organizations

A deep dive into d.light’s impact: A Thomson Reuters interview with Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun, founders of d.light, can be found here. A blog post detailing anecdotes of how d.light helps move off-grid families up the energy access ladder can be found here.

A discussion of Off Grid Electric’s value-add and success to date: An NPR interview with Xavier Helgesen, CEO and Founder of Off Grid Electric, can be found here.

An MIT lesson in failure helps deliver fresh milk to millions in India: Listen to a PRI story with Sorin Grama, who won second place in MIT’s annual 100K Entrepreneurship Competition for his company Promethean Power Systems’ work on off-grid refrigeration for milk storage in India.

M-KOPA now providing Kenya’s off-grid residents with solar-powered TVs

Residents of Kenya now have access to solar-powered digital flat screen TVs from M-KOPA Solar. The company launched a payment program earlier this year to help its customers do something they never dreamed of: own a TV. After two years of payments, they can own the flat screen as well as the solar power system that runs it, so they can enjoy hours of TV watching without a monthly bill. Customers can make payments from their mobile phones, and after two years they own the solar power system and the TV, so they can continue watching news and programming without further costs.


In order to broaden the reach of the program, M-KOPA leaned on its existing relationship with mobile provider Safaricom. M-KOPA’s residential solar power systems, along with the solar-powered TVs, will be sold through Safaricom retail stores, making it possible to connect millions of people to sustainable solar power in areas underserved by – or not connected to – the grid, in addition to putting TVs in the homes of people who likely never thought they could afford one.

SunFunder moves to new model of financing energy access projects

SunFunder is retiring its crowdfunding operations in favor of Solar Notes, which offer more flexibility and capacity to raise larger amounts of capital more efficiently. Read their blog post to learn why and for further details on fund withdrawal.

The GSMA M4D Utilities Programme invites Practitioner Network members to the Investor Roundtable webinar series

The GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities team has been supporting entrepreneurs globally since 2013. Although the mobile-enabled utilities sector has changed multi-fold in these years, particularly around pay-as-you-go solar models, investment continues to be a challenge for entrepreneurs.

In response to some of the information gaps highlighted by its grantees, and also taking a cue from the larger discussion in this space, M4D Utilities has curated the Investor Roundtable Webinar Series to facilitate conversations between funders and entrepreneurs. During the webinars, funders will share details on their investment process and take questions from participants, addressing some aspects of the matching challenge by:

  • Helping entrepreneurs understand different types of funders;
  • Supporting entrepreneurs to make informed decisions related to investment;
  • Sharing the funders’ perspective to improve communication between funders and entrepreneurs.

The first of three webinars will focus on Foundations and will take place on 15 September: 12 noon BST / 11 am UTC / 7 am EST. Development Innovation Ventures (USAID DIV), Fundación Netri and Lundin Foundation will be participating. Register here.

To find out more about M4D Utilities work in this space and the latest investment trends in the sector, read pages 60-67 of GSMA’s recently published Annual Report. For any questions related to the webinar series, please email Charu Chadha.

ENERGIA plans to reach two million consumers with off-grid energy solutions by 2017

ENERGIA, the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy, is implementing a Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme to strengthen micro- and small-scale entrepreneurs, mostly women, to become successful business owners, energy service providers and even leaders in their communities.


Improved cookstove demonstrations in Senegal. Photo credit: SEM Fund

Improved cookstove demonstrations in Senegal. Photo credit: SEM Fund


The program aims to reach 3,000 women entrepreneurs, who in turn are expected to reach 2,000,000 consumers with energy products such as solar task lights, lamps and home lighting systems, improved cookstoves, and water filters in hard-to-reach communities. Support to the women entrepreneurs includes training, technical assistance in the field of finance and distribution, business development, partnerships with private sector and/or government institutions, marketing, fostering women’s leadership and influencing the national environment.

Through this program, ENERGIA and partners contribute to SDG 7 on access to affordable and clean energy for all. The model is being scaled through partnerships with governmental institutions and as well as the private sector.

The program is active in Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda through its partners Kopernik, Practical Action Eastern Africa, CRT/N, Solar Sister and Energy 4 Impact, most of which are fellow Practitioner Network members.

Impact of energy efficiency on small livelihoods – lessons learned from Selco Foundation

Lack of opportunities prevents the rural as well as urban poor from shaping their own livelihoods, two primary barriers being access to value-based technology and reliable energy. Many rural livelihoods are energy-intensive and quite often are not viable if the required energy is unavailable for the required period of time each day. Thus, grid power scarcity forces entrepreneurs to use dirty sources of energy like diesel generators and kerosene-powered motors, resulting in excessive expenditures on energy bills; entrepreneurs that are unable to afford these energy supplies end up working when power is available, often at odd hours in the middle of the night or early morning.

By bringing in energy efficiency and backing the systems with renewable energy sources Selco Foundation has been able to reduce capital investment and lifetime energy expenditures. Learn more about their work here and watch their video focusing on sewing machines below.

Gham Power shares early learnings from the first solar microgrid in Nepal

To test the commercial viability of solar microgrids in Nepal, Gham Power began developing the first solar microgrid in the remote, mountainous districts of Khotang and Okhaldhunga in Nepal. This project was an exercise in identifying the optimal mix of debt, equity and assistance funding that would make rural solar microgrids financially viable to private developers. This was a big step forward for the solar industry in Nepal, as this project represented many novel interventions not seen before in the sector. To learn more about the results so far, see this blog post.

GVEP rebrands to Energy 4 Impact

To mark its 10th birthday, GVEP is rebranding to a new identity – with a new name and logo – which reflects more accurately its aims for the next 10 years and beyond.

GVEP International was established in 2006 with the objective of increasing access to modern energy services to help reduce poverty in developing countries. While this remains its objective today, it has evolved into a different entity with different priorities and strategies, no longer being village-based or a partnership. In its 10 years, GVEP counts among its achievements: 12 million people with access to clean, sustainable energy; 3,000 businesses supported; 8,000 jobs created; 9 million tons of CO2 avoided; and $90 million raised to support the development of a wide range of businesses offering, small-scale, decentralized energy solutions to off-grid areas in Africa.

Now, GVEP has changed its name to Energy 4 Impact to signify the great importance on the impact that access to energy brings, with energy access seen as not an end in itself, but as a means to the ultimate end – to deliver change.

12 startups making waves in Africa’s off-grid electricity market

Practitioner Network members Mobisol, Solynta Energy, Off Grid Electric, Juabar, M-KOPA Solar, SolarNow, SolarKiosk and PEG Ghana were featured in this AFK Insider list of off-grid energy providers that are making strides in the provision of clean energy in Africa.