How crowd financing is helping Milton-based Azuri Technologies bring clean energy to sub-Saharan Africa

PUBLISHED: 10:57 15 April 2018

Students in sub-Saharan Africa study in the evening thanks to the solar-powered system of Azuri Technologies

Students in sub-Saharan Africa study in the evening thanks to the solar-powered system of Azuri Technologies

ILIFFE

£1.7m raised in nine months to bring off-grid solar power to 16,000 households

A solar panel from Azuri TechnologiesA solar panel from Azuri Technologies

Crowd financing is helping Milton-based Azuri Technologies to provide clean energy to thousands of families in sub-Saharan Africa.

The innovative company has raised £1.7million in nine months – enough to deliver off-grid solar power to 16,000 households.

Azuri has partnered with Energise Africa to enable retail investors to support its work while making a potential return of five per cent per year on their investment.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri, said: “We are delighted to be associated with Energise Africa and work with the crowd to fund off-grid solar projects. Innovative financing is ensuring that we can solve the problem of energy access in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies, in AfricaSimon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies, in Africa

Azuri provides pay-as-you-go solar systems to customers in off-grid locations, powering four LED bulbs that can provide up to eight hours of lighting, a radio and a USB port with charging cables for mobile phones. A satellite TV package is also available.

After paying a small one-off installation fee, customers use an integrated mobile money service to top up their unit.

This costs less than their current weekly spend on kerosene lamps and phone charging – and has other benefits. Kerosene can fill a room with smoke and represents a fire risk, while those in rural sub-Saharan Africa typically have to spend time and money travelling to shops to charge their phones.

By contrast, solar provides clean energy that enables families to run businesses into the evening, and allows children to read and study at night.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri TechnologiesSimon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies

Credit for the systems are purchased through a mobile money service and a T-code is sent via text message that enables their unit to be topped up. Over 19 months, the top-up purchases enable the system to be paid off, and the customer can choose whether to unlock their Azuri system forever or upgrade to a larger model.

The ingenious model won Azuri the cleantech scale-up category in the Cambridge Independent’s Entrepreneurial Science and Technology Awards last year.

In order to scale, providers of pay-as-you-go solar technology such as Azuri need commercial debt finance to build the equipment.

Energise Africa is a scheme run by two online impact investing platforms, UK-based Ethex and the Dutch company Lendahand.

It provides a simple means for anyone to invest in a sector that can deliver a social, environmental, and financial return for both the investor and the end consumer.

Danny den Hartog, managing director of Lendahand Ethex, said: “Through Energise Africa, Lendahand Ethex is committed to providing UK-based investors with easily accessible opportunities to invest directly in sustainable businesses that can create long-term social and environmental impact, while also delivering a potential financial return.

“By working with mission-driven organisations like Azuri Technologies we can significantly scale the power of the individual investor to bring affordable solar energy to thousands of people across Africa – transforming lives.”

Returns for investors are not guaranteed and their capital is at risk. The scheme is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies, in KenyaSimon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies, in Kenya

One user, Alice, who lives in Vota, Kenya, purchased an Azuri Quad Solar Home System, which provides light, phone charging, a portable radio and a torch.

She said: “The kerosene lamps were so dim and made the children cough. Now we have solar power, both of my sons can study safely in the evening and their grades have dramatically improved. Now that I have solar, I would never want to go back to kerosene.”

Azuri is also deploying HomeSmart technology in its equipment – thought to be the first example of machine learning in small domestic solar home systems. It monitors weather conditions and historical customer usage patterns to ensure a full night of light, even following cloudy days. Conventional solar home systems work well in sunny conditions but can shut off early on cloudy days because they run out of power.

Throughout 2018, Azuri is using a $20million off-balance-sheet debt financing programme announced in January to provide working capital for the expansion of its services in East Africa.

Azuri is presented with the Cleantech Scale-up award at the Cambridge Independent's Entrepreneurial Science and Technology Awards in 2017. Picture: Keith HeppellAzuri is presented with the Cleantech Scale-up award at the Cambridge Independent's Entrepreneurial Science and Technology Awards in 2017. Picture: Keith Heppell

The first $4million phase, now concluded, included investments from the European Union programme ElectriFI, alongside Azuri and its investment partners such as impact investment platform TRINE. It helped tens of thousands of households in Kenya to access its PayGo and satellite TV systems.

Other phases of the program will cover Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, Azuri is working with the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) and the Nigerian government to deliver its systems to 20,000 rural households living without electricity, an initiative expected to create 500 jobs.

The Nigerian government’s renewable energy policy aims to increase production from renewable sources from 13 per cent of the total electricity generation in 2015, to 23 per cent in 2025 and 36 per cent in 2030.

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