In Focus: Zonful Energy and Off-Grid Solar in Zimbabwe
Apr 25, 2017
Darragh Cotter, Communications and Marketing Manager
GOGLA member, Zonful Energy, is a PAYG provider based in Zimbabwe. They recently entered a partnership with Mhondoro- Ngezi Rural District Council (and other partners) to provide 24,000 households in the district with off-grid solar energy. With initial funding support from KIVA of 50 thousand dollars (US) and an agreement to increase funding to 4 million upon the good performance of the pilot scheme, Zonful Energy is aiming to reach 120000 households in the Mashonaland province of Zimbabwe.
11 million of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million population live rurally and with 75% of the rural population currently living off-grid and dependent on dangerous and expensive kerosene for lighting, it is clear to see the enormous consumer need and market potential for off-grid solar lighting. “People living in rural Zimbabwe will also typically spend 25% of their income on kerosene and mobile phone charging alone” notes William Ponela, CEO of Zonful Energy, further increasing the necessity for alternative clean lighting, energy and phone charging options.
Zonful Energy provides smart credit to enable low-income consumers to access energy products and pay instalments using mobile money platforms such as Econet and Netone. William says that Zonful Energy’s innate understanding of rural Zimbabwean households enabled them to set up a social structure based on local leadership and indigenous knowledge. “We were able to develop a unique business model where we engage everyone in the off-grid solar value chain and enter into a smart partnership with an emphasis on the local at the core”.
The Zonful Energy/ KIVA International PAYGO pilot project was officially launched in March 2017 with over 300 delegates in attendance, including the Zimbabwe Minister for Energy. William says that attendance of high-ranking officials and the cooperation with the local council is indicative of the level of political will for off-grid solar in Zimbabwe. William believes that GOGLA’s work combined with the Power for All Zimbabwe campaign have been successful in bringing about awareness within political circles. “The Government of Zimbabwe has taken off-grid solar seriously and has integrated it effectively into their plans, introducing duty exemptions alongside free national radio and T.V campaigns”.
Attendees at the recent Zonful Energy launch
William also clearly sees the importance of working together with the local council on this project. “By working with local government and local leaders in rural districts, a more sustainable approach to off-grid solar can be adopted”. “Our local partners guarantee repayment of the credit extended to village households and provide assurances to local households on the benefits and quality of this new solar technology”. This is especially important when considering the potential negative impact copycat and poor quality products may have previously had on the local market. Zonful Energy systems and solar portable lights. In addition, Zonful Energy have set up support structures to facilitate ease of payment for customers while a 24-hour call centre has also been established to offer technical support for consumers. The first results of the pilot project are expected within three months.