News Article

How IoT Can Help Provide Affordable, Clean Energy To Africa


Today, more than half of all households across Africa do not have access to any form of energy. This means that more than 600 million people currently do not have electricity. According to the World Economic Forum, the energy generation capacity of Africa (excluding South Africa) is only 28 Gigawatts, which is equal to that of Argentina alone. Because of this minimal capacity to produce, there is consistent low levels of energy consumption and access and even those connected to a power grid experience an average 54 day power outage every year.

However, while there is a need for more production of energy there is a huge focus on non-renewable resources such as oil and gas. Therefore, like much of the world, Africa is contending with the issue of climate change. Most production for grid energy comes from oil, gas and coal, with off-grid households across the continent relying on energy sources such as firewood and kerosene. As well as a need for more access to energy, there is a real need for more sustainable and environmentally-conscious options.

The challenges with clean energy accessibility

This lack of access to energy across such a vast continent means that a multitude of opportunities, both financial and social, are limited. For example, in a school setting, a lack of access to energy means that there is no scope to implement computers into the curriculum, which is vital in helping students develop the skills they need to work in a digital environment, nor is there the certainty that lighting will be available on all school days of the year.

A energy resourcing issue is, therefore, one of the biggest factors in the continent's current socio-economic status, with less opportunity to develop current industries, as well as being limited in the creation of new urban areas and business hubs.

Additionally, in the home, the effect of having a lack of access to energy can also be felt. Without access to energy, everything from cooking to lighting and entertainment is affected. Having little or no energy within the home puts pressure on many households to do day-to-day activities in a way that is not efficient or even healthy.

While each of these issues are solvable with renewable power and although there is huge appetite for it in the region, the up-front costs of renewable energy - for which a customer must make an investment that will pay off over several years - is out of reach for the majority of the continent. In spite of a strong demand for solar power in the region, 95% of African households can't afford this initial cost because many families live on an average income of US $2 to US $10 a day.

Fenix International: Making energy affordable

To address the growing need for renewable energy across Africa, Fenix International is providing cost-effective solar energy solutions to households. A company of ENGIE, Fenix International been working for the past decade to bring clean energy to rural, off-grid households.

At the heart of Fenix International's technology is the company's lockable smart power system, Fenix Power. The product is an expandable solar home system targeted at rural, off-grid families to help them gain access to energy quickly, easily and cost-effectively. Using IoT to track usage, maintenance and payments, it is sold through a flexible payment plan that makes it much easier for families to be able to afford renewable energy.

Fenix provides a high-quality solar power ecosystem that has the ability to transform sunlight into energy to help run everyday appliances such as phones, lights, radios, TVs, and more. This means families don't have to buy an energy plan that is too large - and therefore too costly - for their needs, rather they can buy as much or as little as they need to power their devices. Additionally, customers can easily upgrade their solutions, adding more panels, lights, and accessories when they have the financial means to. This again means that households can pay as much or as little as they need to.

Customers set up the solar kits themselves and Fenix partners with mobile money providers to offer solar power systems via mobile money payments - which allow customers to pay from their mobile wallet - bringing the up-front cost down so as to reach low-income households and making pricing even more affordable by cutting out all middlemen.

Fenix International and Aeris: Energising Africa

To maximise Fenix's capabilities across the region, every Fenix Power system is embedded with an Aeris SIM card. Being carrier-agnostic, Aeris SIMs are able to connect to whichever network is strongest in the area is it located, meaning no device suffers from a lack of connectivity. This allows for real-time interactions between the core Fenix application and every device in operation.

Working with Aeris, Fenix gains a better connectivity across all of its devices. Having this constant connection, Fenix is able to service clients better. For example, the company is able to manage lockout on any device remotely - meaning an incident can be dealt with quickly and efficiently without the need to travel across Africa, so no customer is left a long period of time without electricity. Additionally, further maintenance of devices, such as needing to update firmware or fixing a bug, can be actioned from the headquarters instantly. Not only this, but the real-time data insights means that Fenix can access current key account information on the LCD display and receive granular device reports from the field, all of which are as accurate as if there was a service person with the customer.

Building financial stability

When using Fenix's Power system, customers go on a financial journey, taking on no more than they can afford, building on this when they can, and scaling back when they can't. Ultimately, they build a better awareness of money loans as well as develop a good credit score.

To begin with, customers make a deposit that enables them to take home their kit and self-install the system at their house. They then begin to repay their loan for the device - usually over 12 to 30 months - with repayments starting from as little as $0.14 per day. As the customer repays the loan, the Fenix system locks and unlocks automatically - using Aeris SIM cards over the GSM network to ensure this is achieved in real-time - allowing the power system to serve as collateral for the loan. That means no customer will ever be in debt to Fenix.

Once a customer has repaid the entire loan off, they then have access to free, clean, and safe power for the life of the system. That means free access to energy for years to come without the threat of having to consistently pay electricity bills that they cannot afford.

Through this process and with each repayment, customers build a Fenix credit score. This helps them unlock access to future credit which will allow them to purchase additional products, such as financial loans, power upgrades, and TV upgrades, as well as revenue-generating products. For many in Africa, this could enable them to start their own business or even get access to products that will help educate their children or themselves.

The right solution

To address the growing need for electricity across Africa, Fenix, with help from Aeris, is providing cost-effective solar energy solutions to thousands of households. So far, the company has expanded rapidly, reaching more than 600,000 customers and positively impacting three million people across six markets. By next year, the company hopes to have hundreds of thousands of IoT SIMs operating across Africa.

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