Image: Azuri Technologies
The off-grid solar sector has provided 245 million people with access to affordable, clean electricity in just nine years. To date, GOGLA members and IFC Lighting Global affiliates have sold 42 million off-grid solar products. And the industry is predicted to continue growing and serve millions of people in the years to come.
But with growth comes responsibility – the responsibility to put consumers first. GOGLA launched its Consumer Protection Code to guide and lead best practice among our members and the off-grid solar industry. Azuri Technologies – a commercial provider of PAYGo solar home systems for rural off-grid home in 12 different countries across East and West Africa – was one of the first companies to make a commitment to the GOGLA Consumer Protection Code. In this interview, Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO, Azuri Technologies talks about committing to GOGLA Consumer Protection Code, the role it plays in the success of his organisation and the future of the Code within the off-grid solar sector.
1) What does success look like to you, as a company?
With all the technological success we have seen in recent years, it seems crazy that a billion people cannot even turn on an electric light. Success in the broader sense is using modern renewable energy to offer these billion people the same opportunity to access the technology we all take for granted and the ability to benefit from the digital economy. Success for Azuri is to create a profitable, sustainable business that delivers our part in this transformation.
2) What do you think are the most important next steps for the off-grid solar industry to scale successfully?
Just keep going! This was never going to be an overnight transformation; it is a process of creating a new industry that delivers technology in new and exciting ways. The industry has grown impressively over the last decade and continues to do so, but these things don’t happen in an instant. It took the mobile industry nearly 20 years to become ubiquitous in Africa. It will take a while for other technologies to do the same.
Image: Simon Bransfield-Garth
3) What role does The Consumer Protection Code play in your success?
As they mature, all industries develop standards – whether they be technological or regulatory. We have had technical standards in the off-grid sector almost from the outset with Lighting Global. Now is a good time to be looking at other standards in terms of how companies engage with customers and offer their products and services. The Consumer Protection Code is a starting point on that journey. It is important to note that the GOGLA Consumer Protection Code is not trying to solve a major pre-existing problem. Overwhelmingly, the solar industry is doing a pretty good job in the way it interacts with customers, but by writing down these good practice behaviours into a defined code, we set a baseline that companies can measure themselves against and a starting point to build upon. In addition, for other stakeholders in the industry, from financiers to Governments, it is good to demonstrate that there is a concrete and specific way that the sector as a whole is considering these important issues and taking sensible steps to ensure the highest standards of customer engagement and service are met.
4) What are you most proud of in terms of Consumer Protection?
I am proud that the industry saw fit to create the Consumer Protection Code at all. Companies could easily have taken the approach that they would do their own thing and ignore the views of the outside world until they were eventually enforced by Governments. Instead, the industry – via GOGLA – has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that the sector grows in a way, which takes into account a broad range of stakeholders and not just a simple drive to short term profit.
5) What areas do you feel need more attention?
The Consumer Protection Code is not cast in stone. It is a specific and comprehensive starting point and it will no doubt evolve over time. The current Consumer Protection Code is a very good baseline. While it would be a mistake to have regulation that changes all the time, a sensible process of review and update should be expected – particularly as we measure performance against the Code and identify any areas that require more attention.
6) What are your plans for the next year, to help achieve your goals on Consumer Protection?
The good news is that most companies are doing most of what is outlined in the Consumer Protection Code already. But by writing processes down, it is possible to measure objectively against the individual indicators and create action plans for any areas that need improvement. The big step is to take a process that was going on informally and make it more formal and quantitative.
7) What do you see as the future for the Consumer Protection Code?
The Consumer Protection Code is deliberately a starting point. The key is adoption and acknowledgement so it becomes a basis that everyone can subscribe to. In this way we create a common set of values that all the companies seek to embody and at the same time seek to avoid a plethora of widely varying regulations in different jurisdictions that simply add unnecessary costs to products – costs that ultimately get passed on to the customer.
Learn more about the GOGLA Consumer Protection Code, its principles and indicators in our Consumer Protection Hub.