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How To Start Solar Power Business In Africa

How To Start Solar Power Business In Africa

Solar power is already at work in Africa and doing quite well!

The world talks endlessly about solar power, so what better place to make a business of it and utilize its benefits than Africa? If there‘s any energy source Africa has got in abundance, it‘s the sun. With an average of 300 days of bright sunlight every year, solar power remains one of Africa‘s most abundant but scarcely used resources. Of all the other alternatives available to Africans, solar power is relatively cheap, easy to deploy, decentralized and effective enough to provide electricity to millions of people in the shortest possible time.

Africa‘s solar power potential is huge and has the capacity to generate and supply electricity to power the entire continent. Recently Google, one of the world‘s most successful multi-billion dollar corporations invested $10 million in the Jasper Power Plant, a South African solar project. This solar plant is planned to supply nearly 100 megawatts of clean energy to the country and will power over 30,000 homes when completed.

There is also the DESERTEC Project, another interesting initiative which plans to set up solar farms in vast areas of the Sahara desert and supply Europe with the generated electricity. These ambitious and high investment projects prove that solar energy will power the future and Africa will be the major source of it!

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Apart from these high-investment projects, we would like to share with you some of the gadgets and appliances that are already gaining significant traction on the continent. Here they are:

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Solar panels – This is the heart of every solar power system that converts the power of the sun into electricity. Over the last decade, a lot of progress has been made in solar technology – making it cheaper, reliable and more efficient. As a result, solar power equipment prices have been falling, and are now within the reach of many Africans. Solar panels are commonly installed on rooftops and the electricity generated is used to provide lighting and power home appliances.

Solar water heaters – This solar appliance is quite popular with hotels, hospitals and a growing number of private homes in East and Southern Africa. Solar water heaters collect heat from the sun and use it to heat up water for domestic use.

Solar chargers – This gadget is one of the most highly demanded in many parts of the continent. It is basically made up of batteries which are charged via solar energy. These batteries (which can last a long time when fully charged) are used to charge mobile phones and provide lighting in the night.

Solar fridges and freezers – Although it‘s still very expensive on a per-unit basis, solar refrigerators and freezers have a huge potential in Africa. The poor state of electricity on the continent is adversely affecting millions of households who cannot preserve cooked food and foodstuff for extended periods of time without spoilage. A fridge or freezer that doesn‘t depend on the electricity grid is a very attractive prospect as long as it‘s affordable for these
households. It could work well if you focus on milk collection in rural areas for dairy farms.

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Solar powered computer – Yes, amazing, but they have now been developed in South Africa. Maybe you can become a distributor?

Business Concept

The business concept is easy: You buy the solar appliances and import them to sell on to customers. Be aware though that, despite the popularity of solar energy, the great majority of Africans are not too well familiar with it and may not trust a new product.
Raising awareness, and hands-on observation and introductory opportunities need to go hand-in-hand with your business concept – especially in the beginning. This will increase the customers‘ confidence in solar applications.
Quite unique to Africa is the manufacturing of solar panels and equipment – so definitely another successful business model.

Niche Ideas

 Small panels for African huts in the rural areas
 Specialized solar equipment to meet heating and drying needs in agro-allied and food processing industries.

Top Countries & Policy Guidance

This business concept will work absolutely anywhere in Africa. You may find it easier in countries with higher environmental awareness, such as Ethiopia, or in countries where power cuts and generators are causing a problem to public health due to noise and dangerous fumes – Nigeria is such a country. In fact, the problems people face using generators has become an issue of public debate.

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Action & Tips

 Choose your niche and target market and start with one house at a time. You will see your business expanding fast.
 Know and understand your imported products well and make sure your team of workers does, too. You will need to do a lot of demonstrations locally before starting to sell anything.

 Important: Make sure your important goods have your own brand name on it! It can be ordered that way and it is absolutely necessary for the development of your business that you do not just sell, but that you create a product with a well-respected brand.

Success Story

Patrick Ngowi – Helvetic Solar (Tanzania)

Ten years ago, aged 19, Patrick received a small loan from his mother to start a business. He started off selling Chinese mobile phones, but then he discovered that only a tiny fraction of Tanzanians enjoyed access to electricity, so he saw a gap he wanted to fill. He continued traveling to China, but now bought small solar supply-and-installation systems.

Long story short; in 2013, his company Helvetic Solar Contractors made more than $5 million in revenues and KPMG East Africa recently valued the company at $15 million! Yes, exactly, let‟s repeat: he had no real capital, no investors, no prestigious position or friends in the government, not even experience, and today Patrick ranks among the richest under-30 CEOs in Africa and met with Al Gore during climate change discussions.

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