SolarCity invests again in Off Grid Electric; provider backs $16 million fundraising

The money, which has also come from firms including Zouk Capital and Vulcan Capital, follows a first-round investment of $7m in March this year. That first-round of investing, which was spearheaded by Vulcan Capital and Omidyar Network, is also understood to have included the leasing giant SolarCity.

In a statement published on the Zouk Capital website, Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, said, “Off Grid is expert at offering Africans what they want: clean, affordable electricity that can allow them to grow businesses, improve educational opportunity and enrich their quality of life. Many people in African currently depend on inadequate kerosene lamps for power, and Off Grid knows how to give that market more light at less cost.”

Off Grid Electric was founded in 2011 by Xavier Helgesen, who had previously launched Better World Books and Indaba Systems, both businesses with multimillion dollar turnovers. Helgesen founded Off Grid Electric with Erica Mackey. From inception, the aim of Off Grid Electric was to ‘light up’ Africa within a decade. A comprehensive number of institutions invested initially and during the first round of fundraising. The company also received loans and grants from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund and the Energy and Environment Partnership for Southern and Eastern Africa.

Off Grid Electric specializes in prepaid off-grid solutions. Writing in Forbes in 2012, Helgesen said, “Yet a new generation of enterprises are overcoming these barriers by taking inspiration from the mobile telephone industry’s dramatic rise in Africa. Using pre-payment and mobile money (e.g. M-PESA in Kenya), they are making high quality solar systems accessible and affordable to the mass market. Pre-payment allows customers with variable and unpredictable incomes to pay what they can, when they can, for an essential service. It can also remove risk from the customer: if the system stops working, and nobody fixes it, they don’t have to keep paying."

Helgesen described mobile money as removing the "friction" from small numerous transactions.

"The result for African households is simple: much better light, often mobile phone charging and even radio & TV, often for less money than they were already spending on substitutes for electricity (such as kerosene and mobile phone charging)." Helgesen wrote.

Samer Salty, CEO of Zouk Capital, said that he foresaw Off Grid Electric reaching a million customers in the near future. He added, “Furthermore, Off Grid Electric is leapfrogging the Western world and proving that distributed energy is high scalable, financially viable, and has an immediate positive impact on hundreds of millions of people.”

Off Grid Electric also reports in the same statement that it has ‘big plans’ for next year, claiming ‘a number of engineering and operational breakthroughs’. Helgesen was also quoted in the statement on Zouk Capital’s website that Off Grid Electric could barely keep up with current demand for its products.