Mitsubishi invests in UK company to bring off-grid solar to Asia


A British energy firm lighting up homes in Africa with pay-as-you-go solar power has secured £40m to extend its reach to Asia with the help of Japan’s Mitsubishi.

The conglomerate has taken a stake in off-grid solar company BBOXX through the start-up’s latest funding round, which will power the Africa-focused company deeper into Asia.

The funds will also help BBOXX, which operates in Rwanda, Kenya, Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to break into new African markets, where an estimated one in three people live without reliable access to electricity.

BBOXX is one of a growing number of energy companies to plug into the demand for energy across Africa and south Asia.

The falling cost of solar technology and the strength of mobile banking across Africa have encouraged major investments from global energy companies including US giant General Electric and France’s EDF and Engie.

Mansoor Hamayun, BBOXX’s chief executive and co-founder, said Mitsubishi’s “extensive reach” and “technological expertise” would help the company to supply more people living without access to modern utilities and services.

“The funding is further evidence of Japanese interest in Africa and in PAYG [pay as you go] solar energy globally,” he said.

BBOXX and its rivals use mobile money to charge customers a monthly fee for the use of mini solar panels and ultra-efficient lighting strips. The fixed-period contracts usually run for about two years, until the equipment is paid off.

Customers can then choose to keep their existing kit and use the electricity for free, or upgrade their system to include more panels and extra appliances under a new contract.

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Earlier this year, BBOXX sold a 50% stake in its Togo-based business to EDF Energy in return for funding to help grow the company.

It operates about 270,000 solar systems, of which 200,000 are monitored remotely by software that uses machine learning to track customers’ energy use and payments. In time, BBOXX hopes to broaden its reach beyond energy to include gas, water, internet and loans.

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The company’s largest rival, Fenix International, supplies 500,000 homes and was snapped up by Engie in late 2017.

Hamayun said: “We look forward to this next phase of growth that will help us to transform more lives, unlock potential and grow our already global footprint by opening up new markets, and develop our product range.”

The funding round also included Bamboo Capital Partners, a Luxembourg-based impact investor; DOEN Participaties, a Dutch impact investment fund; and Canadian growth equity firm MacKinnon, Bennett & Company.



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