In African rural villages, every time a phone runs out of battery, people walk to the next town with a generator and pay a high cost for recharges. At the end of the day, children do their homework with only light from candles or dangerous kerosene lamps. This energy poverty is the daily routine for 600 million people in Africa. upOwa has the solution to empower these people and end this situation.

upOwa develops and operates smart solar systems to power lights and cellphones in African off-grid villages on a pay-as-you-go model. Thanks to upOwa, off-grid communities get electricity at home with unlimited maintenance on the system and without the upfront cost.

To offer such services, upOwa has integrated top-of-the-art energy and ICT technologies that enable an innovative and sturdy business model. First, upOwa’s pay-as-you-go scheme adapts to customer’s revenues and shifts the former dynamic of loan-repayments (actual least among evils solution to acquire solar systems in Africa) to proactive payments. Secondly, mobile money payments allow fast, secure and effective money collection. Finally, upOwa develops new unique services embedded in solar kits such as emergency alarms and rural internet hotspots.

upOwa’s revenues come from the sale of activation codes that unlock access to the electricity stored into the solar kit at home. With such revenues, upOwa’s activities are economically profitable so its impact can be sustainable. Furthermore, upOwa runs an R&D program to further develop and field test new services and technologies.

upOwa has a strong social impact on off-grid communities. With affordable access to clean electricity, children study longer at night and health hazards due to candles and kerosene are dramatically reduced. Additionally, access to electricity creates sustainable professional opportunities and promotes the adoption of modern ICT.

Objectives and beneficiaries

The mission of upOwa is to bring electricity to the 600 million people off the grid in Sub Saharan Africa. Market studies lead the team to focus on French-speaking countries initially, and more specifically Cameroon to implement a pilot in 2015. The beneficiaries of upOwa’s services are households and micro-entrepreneurs who never got the chance to simply turn the light on after dusk nor charge their cell phones at their home.

upOwa aims to be a major game changer in rural electrification in Africa in 3-5 years.

Strong points of the solution

The first strong point of upOwa is its model that puts together top-of-the-art development capabilities in France and operations (distribution and maintenance) embedded in the local economy of rural Africa. This model allows upOwa to immediately incorporate community feedback in the design of its solar kits and commercial offer thus producing solar kits and offering services most adapted to the specific needs of communities. Additionally, by matching production to demand, upOwa avoids stocks and can leverage efficiently its financings.

Furthermore, the guaranteed maintenance and high level of quality provided by upOwa is an improvement from traditional unguaranteed solar products that often turns out not adapted to climate conditions. This approach greatly reduces risks for the communities and fosters the long-term adoption of upOwa’s services.

Finally, upOwa puts a strong emphasis on innovative technologies. upOwa’s team has set up an R&D program to continue innovate over the years in order to offer new technical features and commercial services to the targeted off-grid communities.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

upOwa’s solar kits replace candles, kerosene and power generators previously used by communities to light their places and charge cell phones. With upOwa’s solar kit, a household in Cameroun decreases its CO2 emissions by 54 kg a year. Thus, upOwa participates in the mitigation of climate change.

Additionally, upOwa aims at creating momentum for sustainable adoption of clean energy in off-grid communities with an R&D program independence acquired vis-à-vis polluting energies such as fossil fuels used for lightning. Communities benefit from solar energy in their daily lives without the hassle of repayment or malfunctioning issues. This positive experience is the first step towards an increased use of clean energy at home as well as for business matters. upOwa wants to promote long term adoption of clean energy in off-grid communities.

Scalability potential of the solution

upOwa’s model is very easily scalable and replicable. upOwa’s solar systems can be installed in any community that needs electricity services (its size or remoteness does not matter). The solar kits can be placed on all types of roof and resist adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, upOwa’s solar kits do not need GSM coverage to function and therefore they can be deployed without any infrastructure restrictions. The potential for scaling up and replicate upOwa is huge!