5 bright startups lighting up the African continent using solar power


From warding off lions in rural areas to allowing a child to study a few hours longer into the night, many startups in Africa have a unique edge as they try to tackle real social problems. A good example of this is energy – though the continent has a wealth of energy resources (particularly the sun),  Sun Strides says that 70% of the African population does not have access to electricity.

There are too many areas on the continent that suffer from inadequate power distribution. It’s a problem that alternative energy sources could solve, with solar energy being the most talked-about – and it’s something a number of startups have taken to heart.

As we’ve noted before, many of these companies have the benefit of getting support from governments. For instance, South Africa – which has the highest recorded carbon emissions on the continent – has the Green Fund, which has received R10.9-billion worth of project applications in 2013 that include governmental, NGO and private initiatives. Regardless of government support, many of these initiatives are now sustainable, profitable businesses.

Here are a couple that caught our attention:



Based in San Francisco and Tanzania but operating throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and India, SunFunder was founded in 2012 with the idea of empowering green products and projects through either institutional investment or crowdfunding. As the company’s site explains, SunFunder’s “focus is on providing short-term, working capital and project finance loans for solar lighting, phone charging, micro-grids and commercial solar projects.”

The site claims it has had an impact on more than 130 000 people across the developing world since it launched.


M-Kopa is very well-known in the Kenyan startup space. A spin-off from the mobile money transfer, M-Pesa, M-Kopa Solar offers an innovative solar-powered lighting system. Power can be charged pay-as-you-go (PAYG). Similar to a mobile phone, the mobile device carries a SIM card that is used to process payments when it suits the owner’s wallet. This startup is backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is said to have expanded throughout East Africa.

The company recently raised US$20-million to fund expansion of their customer base from 50 000 homes to one million homes by 2018.

Net1 Mobile Solutions
While not exactly a startup, this South African-based company came to out attention on Mandela Day when it introduced the Sun-e-light devices or “solar jars”. They have two of these solar-focused lamps on offer: one can be used as a torch or to charge mobile phones, while the other can also act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. The latter is expected to cost only R300 (US$30).

Helvetic Solar Contractors

Also hailing from Tanzania, Patrick Ngowi’s US$8-million solar company aims to be at the forefront of the East African region’s green energy revolution. The company has a bunch of products on offer, from water heaters, solar kits, solar batteries, as well as solar street lights. The online site also accepts M-Pesa and Airtel Money for those in Tanzania.

The company was named the Fastest Growing Company and Brand in Tanzania by KPGM.

Angaza Design
Similar to M-Kopa’s PAYGO model, Angaza is using the power of mobile data to give Kenya’s unbanked, off-grid families access solar energy and formal financial services. Founded by Lesley Marincola in 2010, the company is also looking to develop credit profiles and other crucial data of people using the devices.

Let us know of any favourites we’ve missed below in the comments.

Image by eirasi via Flickr

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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