Ethiopia: Pay-As-You-Go Lights Up Off-Grid Residents

Eighty solar home system kits were provided to residents in Somali Region

A joint effort by four institutions has launched a solar systems project, Pay-as-You-Go, with the principal goal of addressing the power demands of the off-grid population.

HelloSolar, an off-grid energy company, launched the project in collaboration with HelloCash Mobile & Agent Banking Service, BelCash, Shell Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department for International Development and Power Africa.

The cost of the project, including a pilot project, is 600,000 dollars. The system, dubbed Pay-as-You-Go, was piloted in the Somali Regional State towns of Berket, Kebri Dahar, Degehabur and Shilappo. Eighty solar home system kits were provided to residents after registering them on the HelloSolar system.

Pay-as-You-Go allows daily, weekly or monthly instalment payments from a mobile phone through HelloCash. The system also enables payments to be made from outside Ethiopia through credit cards.

The number of agents of HelloCash throughout the country is more than 7,000, of which 1,150 are found in the Ethiopian Somali Regional State.

The solar kits are provided in four types and range from 1,500 to 25,000 Br.

The smallest kit consists of a lamp and a USB charger; while a lower level kit has two lamps, a torch and a charger; the medium-level kit has three lamps, a torch a radio and a charger; and the largest kit consists of three lamps, a charger, a television, a decoder and a satellite dish. The solar panel size ranges from 2.2Wp to 50Wp, and the battery capacity is within the range of 9.3Wh to 128Wh.

For the first three types of kits, payments must be completed in one year, while largest kits have to be paid off over a two-year time frame.

Payments can be made either through agents or at the bank. An activation code sent by HelloSolar will activate the battery. When payment dates are missed, the battery will lock all systems that can only be unlocked through a central controlling system located in Addis Abeba.

"What makes HelloSolar different is that it is a full circle service," said Wilhelmina Diop, operational director. "We provide not only solar products but also technical and informative support for our clients."

Tigabu Atalo, power and energy consultant with over a decade of experience in the power sector, lauds the project as a good option for the off-grid community but believes that there must be clear regulation to maintain the quality of service and to set standards.

"The bottlenecks of finance and energy have to be solved by setting a strategy that attracts competition and makes prices more competitive," he said.

The nation currently has the ability to generate 4,500MW of power. Although less than a third of households in the country have access to electricity, the government wants to reach 90pc coverage by 2020.

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