Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is investing $1.5 million from his personal fund to help a company bring solar electricity to the developing world.
Britain-based BBOXX has a goal of providing solar kits called “battery boxes” to 20 million people by 2020, positioning it as a world leader in off-grid electricity.
Formed in 2010 by three electronics and electrical engineering graduates from Imperial College London, BBOXX operates in 14 countries across Africa and Asia through a network of local franchisees.
Its plug-and-play “battery boxes” power small appliances – lights, refrigerators, radios, computers, and mobile phones. They come in various sizes with solar panels that range from 3 watts to 5 kilowatts, a battery for energy storage and a charger for mobile phones.
For example, Station Energy, a BBOXX partner in Senegal, has established a micro-franchise network with 12 local distributors that sell and maintain BBOXX solar systems across Senegal.
So far, they have been selling the kits, but they plan to switch to pay-as-you-go, which could be the breakthrough BBOXX needs. As Simpa does in India, customers would pay for the solar they use through their cell phone.
“There is likely a $100 billion global opportunity for small scale distributed energy solutions, with no clear market leader,” says Simpa. This is one of the few huge opportunities that are being left to small entrepreneurs – multinationals and utilities aren’t interested. Over the past decade, small businesses have installed 4 million such solar systems.
Khosla’s investment and another $400,000 from the UK’s Synergy Growth, will allow BBOXX to invest in its entire supply chain – including design, manufacturing, distribution and customer financing.
“The BBOXX team shows what is possible when entrepreneurs and engineers take on the problems of development. Technology is the most cost effective way to multiply resources. BBOXX is serving parts of the world furthest from the grid and most in need of electricity, while maintaining capital efficiency, profitability and entrepreneurial agility. This is not easy. The team has done a great job and we are pleased to fund their investments in new distribution channels and new product development,” says Khosla.
His fund, Khosla Impact, is his personal investment vehicle for market-based solutions to poverty. Formed in 2011, it assists entrepreneurs who are developing products and services for the three billion people at the bottom of the world’s economic pyramid.
Synergy Growth invests in breakthrough cleantech businesses.
Other interesting approaches for getting solar to these communities are solar loans in Bangladesh, Solar in a Suitcase and gravity-fueled lights.
Denver-based Nokero sells solar light bulbs for $6-$45; more expensive versions provide more hours of light. If used daily, the battery – charged via an internal solar panel – lasts for five years. Introduced on the market in 2010, Nokero has sold over 500,000 bulbs in 120 countries.
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