Sydney based non-profit Empower Projects has set up a social enterprise, Zuwa Energy in Malawi to bring affordable solar energy of the 21st century into Malawi households.
Empower Projects hopes to empower disadvantaged communities and enable them to take charge of their own development, so that they are socially and economically self-reliant.
One of the poorest nations in the world and among many other challenges it faces, Malawi also faces the issue of energy poverty. According to a World Bank report, only nine percent of Malawi’s 16 million population has access to grid-based electricity.
In the 21st century, a majority of households in Malawi rely on kerosene lamps and candles for light. The 2015 Economic report reveals that for those households that do have energy sources, approximately 16 percent of their annual income is used to pay for it.
Empower Power’s mission is to provide Malawians with access to high quality energy through the sale of solar household systems. This project will enable Malawians to purchase their own systems with dignity as opposed to relying on charitable donations.
In line with this mission, Empower Projects is working with Zuwa Energy to utilize a solar household system that will eliminate the financial barrier that comes in the way of using solar energy.
Currently, those that have access to solar energy, are often purchasing products of variable quality (cheap, and uncertified) or with limited functionality. While a significant upgrade from candles, lamps and torches, these solar lanterns are limited in their ability to transform lives. What can really make a difference is a high quality and relatively high power household systems that could address their needs into the future. These systems can overcome the cost, safety and environmental issues associated with existing fuel options all in one go.
For the first time in Malawi, Empower Projects will use a unique Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) system that will allow customers to pay for powerful, high-quality solar systems through incremental monthly payments.
The PAYG technology allows Zuwa to track repayments on each system that is sold. With as little as 20% upfront deposit, customers pay for their system across a 20 month period.
A unit automatically switches off when a customer fails to adhere to the agreed payment plan. For customers that wish to reactivate the system it is a simple process of making a payment and entering a unique code into Zuwa’s battery hub.
“By partnering with a local network provider, we are able to accept payment via mobile money in addition to cash, allowing us to offer greater convenience to our customers. Our units also turn off when there’s non-payment and turn back on upon receiving payment. This level of automation means that our operations are more efficient and less labor intensive,” explained co-founder of Zuwa Energy and executive director of Empower Projects, Shanil Samarakoon.
Zuwa is still in its early stages of business and looks to deploy its product to customers next month. So far, Zuwa has raised just over $20,000 from a mix of contributions from the board of Empower Projects, donors and its crowd-funding campaign to aid the deployment of Zuwa’s first batch of solar household systems.