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Canadians Bring Solar Power To Off-The-Grid Africa

M-Kopa and Jaza Energy take different approaches, but their founders agree there is plenty of room for expansion in East Africa

Many people dream of building their small business into an international power base, but two Canadian companies in Africa are taking different approaches to spreading the power.

Jaza Energy and M-Kopa, both started by Canadians, are bringing small-scale solar energy to communities in Tanzania and, in M-Kopa’s case, to Kenya and Uganda as well.

Their main line of business is similar, and it’s one that in the long term may be potentially disruptive for utilities in developed countries.

Both firms deal in distributed generation – providing on-site, off-the-grid electricity that can be installed cheaply and quickly and which doesn’t necessarily require giant infrastructure such as power plants or transmission lines.

Despite their similar market spaces, the two companies take different approaches to sales, marketing and distribution. M-Kopa customers pay for their solar panel units in small increments using their mobile phones, says Jesse Moore, the company’s CEO and co-founder.

“The ‘M’ in M-Kopa stands for mobile,” explains Mr. Moore, 40, speaking from the firm’s headquarters in Nairobi.

“Our customers pay the equivalent of about 50 cents a day, making payment by phone. Over time, within a year or two, they are buying their solar system from us, in the same way as you would take a mortgage from a bank to buy your house,” he says.

M-Kopa, started eight and a half years ago, has connected more than 700,000 homes in East Africa to solar power, with 500 homes added every day. The company says that by using solar power to light homes, its customers save the equivalent of 75-million hours of kerosene that would otherwise be burning, emitting fumes and contributing to climate change.

Jaza, started in 2016, is smaller than M-Kopa, powering about 2,000 households, or about 10,500 people in Tanzania. It sets up and sells its power units through small-scale retail hubs, often run by women, which are both sales points and solar-powered recharging stations.

Customers take their removable power batteries to the local hub each week to swap. A single hub can serve up to 100 households that need their batteries recharged.

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