Ethical investing: a solar scheme with the power to change lives


Fight the climate crisis and earn a return of 5% at the same time, plus enjoy a guarantee on your investment.

That’s the offer from an ethical investment scheme that allows people to put money into companies providing African families with access to clean, affordable solar energy.

It’s notable that this scheme is supported by UK aid money from the Department for International Development (DfID), and offers a guarantee, although this only covers the first £100 of capital invested and applies to first-time investors.

Energise Africa enables ordinary people to invest in bonds issued by solar companies, allowing them to provide “life-changing” solar home systems to low-income families in countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.

With a minimum investment of £50 and expected annual returns that have in the past typically ranged from 5% to 7%, this is a potentially straightforward and accessible way for people to make sure their money is doing some good. And the guarantee on offer to new investors will definitely provide reassurance. However, above and beyond that guarantee, your capital is at risk, and the returns are not guaranteed.

In the worst-case scenario, if there is some kind of disaster, crisis or bankruptcy, you could lose some or all of your capital and would not be able to get redress from the UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme or complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service. So this is not going to be for everyone.

Energise Africa was launched in 2017 and is the result of a link-up between Ethex, a UK-based ethical investment platform, and Lendahand, a Dutch-based crowdfunding platform.

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It boasts a community of more than 1,800 investors and partners who have so far raised more than £8.9m. The platform says it has successfully closed more than 60 fundraising projects, which means its investors have helped about 350,000 people to access affordable, clean energy.

An estimated 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. Many use traditional energy sources such as kerosene lamps, candles and batteries but these can be dangerous as well as costly. Having a solar system can allow children to read and study in the evening, and enable a person to install a fridge so they can sell cold drinks.

In terms of the investment offer, this involves putting money into unsecured bonds that are not listed on a public market. Essentially, you are lending money to businesses that sell small solar home systems to African families, with a typical term of two to three years.

At the time of writing, there were two projects on the Energise Africa website open for investment: both two-year bonds with an expected interest rate of 5% a year.

The company behind the two-year product is Cambridge-based Azuri, which has set an investment target of £200,000. The company says each £200 invested will enable one Kenyan family to buy an Azuri SolarPlus home system in affordable instalments. Meanwhile, the firm behind the other bond is Sollatek, based in Mombasa, Kenya, which is seeking to raise £65,000.

At the moment, all first-time Energise Africa customers are being offered a guarantee on the capital they invest, up to £100 in one project. In the event of the issuing company defaulting on its repayments, the guarantee would be called on to repay the investor their £100. Assuming there is no call on the facility, the funds will be available to provide a guarantee to other first-time investors once the bond has been fully redeemed.

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Energise Africa is supported by UK aid money, Virgin Unite (the nonprofit foundation of the Virgin Group), the Swiss-based Good Energies Foundation, and P4G



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