SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY) is among investors in a $16 million funding round for Tanzania-based Off-Grid Electric, which offers pre-pay solar energy. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital and UK-based Zouk Capital were the other investors. It’s the second time SolarCity and Vulcan Capital are investing in Off-Grid Electric. The Tanzanian company had raised $7 million in its first round last year.
Off-Grid has an ambitious plan
SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said in a statement that millions of people in Africa still rely on dangerous kerosene for power. Off-Grid knows how to provide them more light at less cost. Off-Grid has an ambitious plan to bring solar energy to 50 million homes by 2022. Fresh funds will help the company increase its workforce while improving its hardware and software.
Off-grid currently has about 25,000 customers. Its prepaid solar offering works just like prepaid mobile phone. Off-Grid co-founder and CEO Xavier Helgesen told TechCrunch that it required customers to pay just $6 upfront. Then the company installs a solar system on their house, including a Li-Ion battery, panels, efficient lights, and a meter. Energy collected by panels is stored in the battery. But customers can use it only when they send a mobile payment to Off-Grid and get a passcode to enter in the meter.
SolarCity betting on the right horse?
Off-Grid has schools in Tanzania to train locals to become solar installation technicians. For just $5-$10, customers get “50x more light” than kerosene, plus the ability to power a TV and charge their phones. You can’t charge an Android smartphone with kerosene. So, locals go to a nearby convenience store where they have to shell out $0.25 every time to charge their phones.
Pre-paid solar represents a huge opportunity in Tanzania, and SolarCity seems to be betting on the right horse. In a country where average annual income is $700, customers can’t pay $1,000 upfront for solar systems. So, Off-Grid’s business model looks promising, especially in the African market.
SolarCity shares fell 3.04% to $50.07 at 11:54 AM EST on Tuesday.