4 entrepreneurs taking on Africa’s energy challenges

Posted on September 15th, 2016

4 entrepreneurs taking on Africa's energy challengesThere are about 1.3 billion people without reliable power sources globally, most of them in Africa and Asia according to the World Bank.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, that number is estimated to be 600-million people.

Along with issues of access, the continent’s energy supply is characterised by intermittent power and load shedding with countries such as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, being well known for its expensive and unreliable power.

This is a problem that is set to continue. According to a report, Power Up, Delivering Renewable Energy in Africa commissioned by mobile telecommunications infrastructure provider IHS Towers Group, it is estimated that by 2030, 655 million people in Africa will be without access to power.

The continent’s energy and water challenges are a hindrance to the continent’s economic growth. The importance of reliable and affordable energy that is widely accessible cannot be underestimated with Mamadou Biteye, managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation which focuses on humanitarian efforts, quoting statistics that show that access to electricity can increase household per capita income by 30%.

“Businesses operate at higher levels of productivity, farmers can run cleaner irrigation systems and processing machines that improve their yields and thus, their income,” he writes.

Taking on the challenge

There are a number of innovative startups who are eager to take on the continent’s energy challenges.

Some of these energy startups were among 30 other African startups that pitched at the recently held DEMO Africa conference held in Johannesburg.

DEMO Africa allows startups from all over Africa to meet VCs, investors, tech acquisition specialists, IT buyers and media from across the region and around the globe. The startups are given an opportunity to launch their products into the tech eco-system.

SME South Africa spoke to 4 clean energy startup founders who are DEMO Africa finalists about how their innovations are working to solve the continent’s energy and water challenges.

Solstice Home Energy Solutions is the brainchild of Nigerian Ugwem Eneyo and American Cole Stites-Clayton.

The energy startup is using a data-driven approach to help Nigerian homes be more energy efficient and to find cleaner, reliable and money-saving solutions.

Their innovation, the E-Box, is developed as a low-cost energy monitoring solution for Nigerian households that gives insight into energy consumption patterns by measuring both utility grid and generator usage. The data the hardware provides can be used by homeowners to track energy usage, set budgets, and get energy saving tips through their mobile application.

“There are millions of households in Nigeria that are looking for ways to save money on energy – to use it more effectively and basically have more reliable, affordable and cleaner energy solutions,” says Eneyo.

Solstice is one of five startup companies to benefit from the DEMO Africa LIONS programme.

Watch: African solutions – DEMO Africa 2016 finalists on why African startups are poised to solve Africa’s biggest challenges

Holo Matlala is the founder of 4th Element Group, a technology solutions company specialising in solar energy systems within the water sector. They manufacture and install solar water irrigation systems and bulk water solutions.

Their Leak Detection system helps to detect faulty pipelines. “Our system detects the leaks in your system and gives an exact location of the leak and the impact of the leak,” says Matlala.

The water security system incorporates GPS detectors to monitor pipe leaks live via the internet.

Watch: Being a startup in Africa – African techpreneurs on the challenges of doing business on the continent and share their hopes for the startup landscape in Africa

Ekasi Energy founder Dave Lello is hoping, through his startup, to provide urban dwellers in informal settlements without access to the energy grid a safe and environmentally friendly cooking alternative to coal and paraffin.

“A battery can’t cook, but a battery can provide an airflow that makes a fire twice as efficient”, says Lello. His innovative cooking appliance is designed to use solar power and wood pellets.

Solar energy is the focus of entrepreneur Tony Nyagah, founder of Strauss Energy, a Kenyan energy startup using BIPV technology, a solar-powered roof tile.

“We have three problems that we are working on. The first is that we have a big energy gap in Africa. The second is energy, it is characterised by load shedding and blackouts and number three is the cost,” he says. They target both businesses and households.

Challenges as opportunities

“There are a lot of challenges so it’s very easy to be distracted and want to focus on all of them. We really want to take one first step by really understanding what the challenges are and we are using data to help create these solutions,” says Solstice’s Eneyo.

“What is also clear is that African solutions are what is needed to solve the continent’s challenges,” she adds.

“When you are really passionate about creating solutions to problems really close to home and are impacting you, your friends and your family, your dedication will really get you through those challenges,” she says.