Scaling up solar energy
More than 90% of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are not connected to the electricity grid, while the few who are – mostly in urban areas – experience an average of 17 blackouts per month. As a result, people turn to devices such as kerosene lamps, candles and diesel or petrol generators to light their homes and charge their mobile phones. These dirty, expensive and unsafe sources of energy reduce people’s incomes, worsen their health, interfere with their learning and productivity and degrade the environment. The country’s poor infrastructure, weak incentives to use clean energy and longtime political and economic instability perpetuate this status quo.
The founders of Altech Group, the DRC’s largest distributor of solar products, grew up and still live in low-income, underserved areas of the country. This has given them not only firsthand experience of these problems but also the inspiration to find the right clean energy technologies and payment solutions for this market.
Altech offers customers a variety of solar products, notably a high-quality certified solar kit called ovPilot X, for about USD 35. The kits are made affordable through three pay-as-you-go (PAYG) payment plans. Two of the plans target people with daily income inflows, such as small shop owners, and require either a small or no down payment. The third plan, which requires a larger down payment of USD 10, targets people with monthly or seasonal incomes, such as teachers. In 2019 Altech started piloting the sale of solar home systems and clean cookstoves.
Customers who stick to the payment terms will own their solar kit within one or two months at most. They also receive training in proper kit usage and a two-year after-sales service guarantee.
Altech’s sales strategy is based on the recruitment of talented, trustworthy and ambitious local youths as solar ambassadors. Altech equips them with the skills and tools needed to promote, sell, collect payment and service the products. Ambassadors are supervised by area sales managers and are paid a 10% sales commission.
GOALS AND IMPACT
During its collaboration with the Swiss Re Foundation, Altech ensured a steady supply of its core products by increasing its inventory capacity from about 13 000 solar kits in 2018 to over 30 000 kits and 5 000 solar home systems in 2020. As a result of this increased capacity, it was able to strike strategic agreements with its solar product suppliers, including flexible payment terms.
Altech also introduced mobile-based ways for customers to pay for solar home systems and clean cookstoves – either up front or on a PAYG basis – and to activate solar kits. At the same time, the company continues to offer in-person cash payment collection for most of its diversified its product portfolio.
In 2020, the number of Congolese people who had benefited from Altech crossed the 1 million mark thanks to cumulative sales of more than 210 000 products. Those products saved an estimated USD 34 million in energy costs and helped avoid an estimated 275 000 tons of CO2 emissions.
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