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Solar Panels Aim To Supercharge Business In Africa



Like many small-scale farmers in densely populated Kisii County in western Kenya, James and Janet Torori long depended on bananas, maize and a single dairy cow for food and income.

“Like everyone else around here we have relied on two crops to support our family and it has not been easy earning a decent income considering that what we have been producing is what everyone else produces,” James Torori said.

But over the last year they’ve found another promising source of cash: Using green electricity from a local solar micro-grid to power a hatchery and raise chicks for sale.

As part of the Kuka Poa (“smart poultry” in Swahili) project they now earn about $80 a month more than they once did, said the couple from Kebaracho village.

Commercial-scale solar power – sufficient to run businesses as well as lights – could help many more rural people across East Africa earn a better living, say officials at Powerhive, a microgrid power company that provided the Kuka Poa panels.

But installing clean power requires cash – and for that the company is turning to a partnership with The Sun Exchange, a South Africa-based solar energy financier.

The Sun Exchange runs an online buy-to-lease marketplace for solar cells, where investors can buy solar equipment that is then leased to rural communities to help them run businesses.

As the businesses make a profit, investors get a rental income over 20 years – and poor communities get access to clean energy without the big upfront costs often associated with installing renewable energy, said Abe Cambridge, The Sun Exchange’s CEO.

Investors can use anything from credit cards to cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to buy solar cells, with transactions managed via blockchain, he said.

“With cryptocurrencies, the market is large and you access the whole world since you are using the internet. And the investor can put in as little as $10, which may not be possible in traditional markets,” Cambridge explained.

Since it was founded in 2015, the company has raised about $800,000 via the model to fund five projects in South Africa, generating a total of 700 kilowatts of power.