United Nations has called on
businesses, governments, and
civil society to achieve Sustainable
Energy for All by 2030
Member Spotlight – May 2016
By: Christopher Baker-Brian, Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer, BBOXX Ltd.
According to the Rwanda Energy group, an estimated nine out of every 10 households in Rwanda have no access to electricity. Many of these households still use inefficient energy sources such as kerosene tin lamps and candles that are harmful to the environment and consumers. In places where electricity is accessible, shortages are frequent and the supply is inconsistent. Due to its population density, stable investment climate and other factors, Rwanda is an ideal country for deploying solar home systems (SHSs); however, many households cannot afford to power their homes with solar energy due to the larger upfront costs.
BBOXX, a venture-backed company developing solutions to provide affordable, clean energy to off-grid communities in Africa, is looking to change that and increase the uptake of SHSs. Operating in East Africa since 2014 and around the world since 2010, BBOXX is a fully vertically integrated business, controlling every part of its customer experience from start to finish and employing over 200 full-time staff in six countries around the world.
The three co-founders of BBOXX met at Imperial College London while studying electrical and electronic engineering. All three had travelled in the developing world and recognized the challenge posed to community and business development by the unreliable electrical supply. They saw potential in the lack of existing infrastructure to create a sustainable, environmentally responsible solution to the problem. In response, the trio founded a successful student charity in 2008, which exposed the potential for off-grid solar solutions in the developing world. BBOXX is the resulting for-profit venture and started in March 2010.
Between 2010 and 2014, BBOXX focused on partnering with distributors around the world to increase access to energy in their respective communities, building up distribution businesses with local partners in over 14 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In order to increase affordability for the end customer, in 2014 BBOXX opened up a retail network in East Africa to provide end customer financing on a monthly payment scheme.
At the end of April 2016, BBOXX celebrated installing over 70,000 solar home systems, ranging from 15W to 2kW, in more than 45 countries around the world, through its wholly owned network and its partners. This equates to over 2MW of installed capacity, with over 300kW installed in 2016 alone. In 2016, an average of 100-150 new customers are joining BBOXX every day, attracted by the long-term service, low cost and high-quality product offering.
In March 2016, BBOXX launched its latest product offering for the East African market in the Rwanda capital, Kigali: the BBOXX Home – a remotely monitored solar home system that connects over the local mobile phone network and allows the operator to view, control and locate the unit on a web interface, as well as tracking customer payments to ensure prompt and accurate customer service can be provided.
In Rwanda, two packages are initially offered to customers: The Ikaze (“Welcome”) and Aguka (“Growth”) packages come complete with the BBOXX Home control unit, 50W solar panel and up to four LED lights, as well as additional accessories for charging phones, as well as optional radio and portable lights that the customer selects according to his/her needs. Systems start from as little as 3900 RWF/month (130 rwf/day or $0.16/day) for customers, who pay monthly in advance.
Customers who show good payment history over the first few months then have the option to upgrade to a TV system and access up to 20 local TV channels in their own home.
BBOXX operations in Rwanda first began in April 2014 and have quickly expanded. With an increasing demand, BBOXX is expanding from having 10 shops located in six districts to having a total of 20 shops located in 16 districts of Rwanda by the end of May 2016. In Kenya, BBOXX’s operations started in Homa Bay County and have since expanded to other counties, including Kisumu, Kakamega and Siaya. Using BBOXX, households can now access solar energy for as little as 20 Kenya Shillings a day.
The company’s research and development activities are carried out from London, where it develops the software systems and hardware used in its retail and supply chain activities. BBOXX also operates a 15-person team in China to manage the production of its products.
In the future, as well as growing its Rwandan and Kenyan businesses, BBOXX is also partnering with smaller distribution businesses around the world to license its technology, software and training systems to third-party businesses, enabling them to develop a local distributed energy service company (DESCO) in their region, without the investment required to build the systems, technology and training schemes that BBOXX has already invested in.
Over the past five years, BBOXX have had the privilege of bringing clean electricity to over 70,000 rural households across Africa and has the vision of electrifying a further 200,000 in the next two years, with four million households reached by the end of 2020.