Why Gender Is Key to African Off-Grid Solar Energy Sales

Gender equality could have a significant impact on rural electrification moves in sub-Saharan Africa, new data suggests.

Fenix International, which sells off-grid solar kits in Uganda and Zambia, has uncovered a gender difference: Although only 20 percent of its kits are purchased by women, they bring in more new clients than men.

In 2016, Fenix got about 60 percent of its sales through personal referrals, according to Erin Boehmer, a data scientist at Fenix. A third of these sales came via customers who had provided more than one referral, with eight out of 10 referrers being men.

Digging deeper into the data, though, it is clear the women are better ambassadors for rural electrification. On average, women can be expected to refer four new customers, compared to three for men. Fenix customers get a small commission for each referral.

Anecdotal evidence suggests women might have even greater influence in solar kit purchase decisions than the referral figures indicate. For example, once Fenix contracts are signed it is usually women who pay the bills, Boehmer said.

While the men like to be seen as the main decision-makers in many sub-Saharan African off-grid families, it is actually the women who are pulling the strings and spreading the word about the benefits of solar.

A report published a year ago by the African Development Bank Group said: “In rural and peri-urban areas, women and girls are mainly responsible for procuring and using cooking fuels; they are disproportionately affected by the negative effects of limited access to energy.”

The bank said it had “traditionally concentrated on large‑scale, capital‑intensive technology projects designed to provide energy for growth in the formal sectors of the economy, including cash crops and mechanized production, which tend to be the domain of men.”

Not only do women represent the biggest source of demand for rural electrification in sub-Saharan Africa, they also might be slightly better than men at keeping up payments to solar kit providers, based on Fenix’s data.

Although it is hard to generalize, said Boehmer: “As a general trend, what we see is that women can tend to be a bit more reliable, but they can also be more dramatically unreliable. If they have a shock, it might hit them harder.”

Underpinning Fenix’s experience is an implication that gender-sensitive companies might do better in the rural electrification market than those that are more male-oriented.

Boehmer noted that many cleantech and IT firms operating in Africa appear to have greater gender equality than their counterparts in the U.S.

It is unclear why this is the case, although “the green industry draws people who are idealists,” said Boehmer, including women who are motivated by making a social contribution as much as building a business.

At Fenix, for example, the entire data science team is made up of women. The company, which was bought by the French utility giant Engie in October, has a woman CEO and “has been very powered by women thus far,” Boehmer said.

Other rural electrification players might want to take note, although the need for a woman’s touch is not the only thing that sets this market apart from other energy sectors worldwide.

Take customer relations. Most customers in developed countries dread a call to a service provider. Fenix reports that 60 percent of its customers have contacted the company, often just to praise the service.


Zimbabwean President to Commission Kariba South Power Project’s first unit

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is set to commission Kariba South power expansion project’s first unit on 24th December, 2017. The unit will feed 150MW onto the national grid.

The project has been undertaken by Chinese state-owned hydro-power engineering and construction company, Sinohydro. It began in September 2014, as part of Zim-Asset, under the Infrastructure and Utilities Cluster, with the aim of increasing power generation by 300MW. Zesa Holdings chief executive Mr Josh Chifamba yesterday confirmed that the first unit was coming on line next week.

“There are concerns over the water levels in Lake Kariba. Therefore, we would not get the full benefits of the project until the water level improves,” he said. The second unit will generate another 150MW to be fed into the national grid by end of March next year.
The Kariba South expansion project will ease pressure on the national power utility Zesa. Currently, Zesa is importing about 350MW from Zimbabwe’s neighbours. The completion of the power project will see the country making colossal savings on power imports.
Economic recovery

Constant power supply is one of the key enablers in the economic recovery drive. Sinohydro chief representative in Zimbabwe, Mr Wu Yifeng last year told The Herald that the project was on schedule. He said the first unit will be complete this month, while commissioning of second one will be in March next year. As a result the power project will make an additional 300MW to the national grid on completion. The country needs about 1 400MW for industrial and domestic use. However, it is generating 900MW, with the balance coming from imports.


African Development Bank to lend $100 mln to Guinea bauxite mine

ABDIJAN, Dec 9 (Reuters) – The African Development Bank said on Saturday it had approved a $100 million loan to develop a bauxite mine in northwest Guinea, as the West African country works to treble output by 2020.

The money will help construct a new mine operated by Guinea Alumina Corporation, a subsidiary of Dubai-based Emirates Global Aluminum, by 2020 with annual production capacity of 12 million tonnes of bauxite, the Bank said in a statement.

It will also finance a new container terminal in the port city of Kamsar and the refurbishment of a 143-km (89-mile) railway to the port from the mine in the town of Boke, it said.

Guinea has about a third of the world’s bauxite reserves, which are refined and smelted to make aluminium. But annual production has lingered below 20 million tonnes for years, largely due to political instability.

Operations at mines around Boke have been interrupted this year by riots in which protesters complained that the nation’s mineral wealth had not brought enough jobs or eased poverty.

However, the government expects bauxite output to rise to over 30 million tonnes this year and is targeting 60 million tonnes by 2020.

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