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Solar Provider Partners with Unilever to Expand Across Kenya

Words by Andrew Burger
Energy & Environment
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Leading African mobile pay-as-you-go solar providers continue their efforts to build out services that provide rural Africans who lack access to the grid a variety of consumer and household goods and services, including emissions-free electricity.

In the latest development, pay-as-you-go solar provider Azuri Technologies and Unilever recently launched an e-voucher program that links Azuri's solar home lighting system with one of Unilever’s laundry detergent brands. Azuri home solar customers who purchase a “Quad” lighting system will receive e-vouchers for free Sunlight washing powder each week they top off their pay-as-you-go solar energy systems via wireless provider Safaricom's network.

Such partnerships are important, these companies point out, as approximately 600 million people in rural sub-Saharan Africa lack access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity service and all the benefits it provides. Pioneering mobile pay-as-you-go home solar providers such as Azuri and M-Kopa are showing that it's economically feasible to expand clean energy access to consumers across this region, thereby laying a foundation for sustainable development.

“This is an example of how Azuri is helping rural consumers to access modern services and goes beyond just providing lighting as a service. Through our collaboration with leading consumer and telco companies such as Unilever and Safaricom, off-grid households are finally enjoying the benefits that technology and modern living can bring, powered by solar,” said General Manager for East Africa Snehar Shah.

The e-voucher program expands on the partnership Azuri and Unilever announced this past August, which they made during a visit to Kenya by United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. business leaders, including Azuri CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth, in an effort to boost trade between the two nations.

Under the terms of the agreement, Azuri's solar home energy system will be co-branded with Sunlight products and offered to customers through Unilever's distribution network. Unilever products are marketed and sold via a network of some 67,000 small shops throughout Kenya, which helps expand Azuri's reach into rural areas of the country.

Azuri’s solar home lighting package includes a 10-watt solar panel, four LED lights, USB port for mobile phone charging, rechargeable radio and rechargeable flashlight. The system features Azuri’s HomeSmart machine-learning technology, which adapts to household usage and adjusts to meet each customer’s needs. The technology monitors weather conditions and adapts to ensure lighting during the evenings, according to Azuri.

“The partnership with Azuri will help deliver life-changing solar technology to off-grid communities and provide Unilever customers and traders with the benefits of modern energy. Solar power is proven to support the local and wider economy and further supports Unilever’s commitment to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs],” said Justin Apsey, Managing Director East Africa at Unilever.

A growing number of sub-Saharan African governments are turning to pay-go home solar and community "solar plus storage" microgrids as a means of realizing rural and national electrification goals, as well as related national and international initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the SDGs. Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced a 100 percent-by-2020 renewable energy goal. Renewable energy currently supplies 70 percent of electricity in Kenya, according to several sources.

A recent study concluded that owners of solar home systems increased their incomes by $35 per month on average, the companies noted. In addition, the results showed that children were spending more time studying in the evenings. Finally, Azuri says that to date, the company has created over 2,000 new jobs through its Kenyan partner companies to sell, support and maintain solar home systems.

Image credit: Azuri Technologies/Facebook

Andrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

Read more stories by Andrew Burger