Sustainable Energy

How this company is changing lives in Africa

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Boosting business with solar
Boosting business with solar

Running a small business can be tough at the best of times, but trying to run one without a reliable source of power adds a whole new dimension. For Noella Uwimana, who runs a chicken farm in rural Rwanda, a stop-start electricity supply was severely impacting her business.

"When the grid power… (was) gone, in the evening the chickens were killing each other. Each morning, between five or six chickens were dead," she told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

Uwimana's chickens – and her business – are now benefiting from the use of a "plug and play" solar system devised by graduates from Imperial College London.

"Now, we are using the solar energy immediately when we have a power cut," she said.

Gavin Price | EyeEm | Getty Images

London based energy company BBOXX is responsible for the design, manufacture, distribution and financing of the solar power systems.

"Our business model has evolved a lot over the last five years, but now we have a business model where we are going 'it's less a product, it's more a service'," Laurent Van Houcke, COO of BBOXX, said.

"Clients get access to two packages: one with light, phone charging and radio, and another one… (that's) the same but with a TV on top," he added. "They pay every month for three years and then they own the system."

A key aspect of the company's portfolio is its Energy Kiosk concept, which involves the lease of charged units to consumers. BBOXX say that it costs between 50 cents and $10 per week to borrow the units.

The company says it costs a household up to between $40 and $90 annually to use the system.

A game changer for solar?

BBOXX was founded in 2010 and now employs over 140 people across the world. The company – which says it has sold over 41,000 products – has set itself ambitious targets, the key one being the desire to supply 20 million people with clean electricity by 2020.

BBOXX is not the only company looking to bring clean energy to emerging markets where energy supplies are limited or unreliable.

Earlier this year Sustainable Energy looked at the work being done by Azuri Technologies, a U.K. company that is using mobile technology that enables customers to purchase solar power when they need it.

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"Within the technology is viewed what we call a 'pay as you go' solar system, which helps the end users in rural communities to acquire this system by paying in instalments," Lydia Kobusinge, sales director for Azuri, told CNBC.

Back with BBOXX, Laurent Van Houcke is looking forward. "They key thing is the market is there, it is proven, the customers pay, it's proven, the technology is there, it is proven," he said.

"The challenging (thing) is how you scale up, how do you scale your financing," he added.

"The vision for the company is how do you franchise the distribution model, the product and the brand to third party business people in different countries, who believe in the market and the vision."