Interview with PayGo Solar Home Systems Provider Azuri Tecnologies’ CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth
Earlier this week, Azuri Technologies (Azuri), a UK-based provider of PayGo Solar home systems, and home entertainment satellite provider, Zuku launched the first complete pay-as-you-go satellite TV package targeting households without electricity in the Kenyan market. AzuriTV Combines solar home power, 24-inch TV, satellite dish and Zuku Smart+ entertainment with 48 TV and 21 radio channels for households outside the power grid offering affordable TV, anytime, anywhere, in one complete PayGo package. For only Kshs 149 a day a customer will access an optimized 24-inch television integrated with Zuku TV with up to 5 hours of normal viewing per day, a powerful solar home system providing four bright home lights, mobile phone charging and a rechargeable portable radio.
I had the opportunity to interview Simon Bransfield-Garth who is the CEO of Azuri when he was in Kenya for the launch of AzuriTV in Mwea as well as another Azuri event here in Nairobi that was hosted at the residence of the British High Commissioner in Kenya. Simon has 30 years global experience building rapid growth, technology-based businesses in sectors including Semiconductor, Automotive and Mobile Phones. He currently sits on the Governing Council of the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), and his career includes 7 years at Symbian, the phone OS maker, where he was a member of the Leadership Team and VP Global Marketing. Named a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum in 2012, Simon is also founder of Myriad Solutions Ltd, and was previously a Fellow at Cambridge University. Here is what we discussed:
Moses Kemibaro: How did Azuri get started and what problem were you hoping to solve?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: When Azuri was started five years ago, we looked at the business case for domestic solar power in Africa. We found that there are 600 million people that don’t have access to electricity and still use kerosene for lighting and candles. The amount of money people are spending on kerosene and candles is huge in comparison to what we would spend in the West.
However, there was an affordability challenge for people earning $3-4 a day to be able to purchase a solar home system. So we combined mobile phone and solar technologies to enable people to pay for their solar power as they used it. Instead of an upfront cost, the solar home system is unlocked for use by the purchase of top-up credit, either weekly or monthly using mobile money services. The cost for PayGo solar home system is lower than the kerosene and phone charging fees being replaced, making it net cheaper for the customer which has been a huge incentive across sub Saharan Africa.
Moses Kemibaro: How big is the market for solar/off-grid offerings in Kenya?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: There are over 5m households in Kenya that are currently without electricity.
Moses Kemibaro: How long has Azuri been operational in Kenya and what sort of market coverage do you have at this juncture?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: Azuri first entered the Kenyan market in 2011 and has since expanded its reach outside the home of Africa’s ‘Silicon Valley’ to serve some 90,000 households across 12 African countries, reaching approximately half a million people. The company’s HQ is located in Cambridge, United Kingdom, with staff based in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania and a regional HQ based in Nairobi.
Moses Kemibaro: What sort of products and services have you been selling to-date in Kenya and what’s next?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: Azuri provides entry-level solar home systems for off-grid households. The entry-level product offering, Azuri Duo, has a 5 watt PV module and a long- life Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, and is supplied with two 75-lumen LED lights. It provides users with eight hours of lighting for two rooms and mobile phone charging.
Azuri Quad, features a 10 watt solar panel and long-life Lithium Iron Phosphate battery with four high brightness LED lamps providing a total output of 475 lumens to light a whole rural household for eight hours per night and a USB port for phone mobile charging. The system also includes a compact, rechargeable radio for 12 hours continuous play, with quality speakers to suit both internal and external use.
In April 2016, Azuri introduced HomeSmart; the world’s first self-learning, artificial intelligence in small solar home systems that automatically adapts to each customer’s individual needs to guarantee light at night-time, whatever the daytime weather. Azuri Quad features unique HomeSmart technology, which ‘learns’ the customer’s usage patterns and then manages power provision in order to provide the best experience based on the available battery power, allowing users to depend on solar even in poorer weather conditions. In this way, HomeSmart brings “permanent light” to consumers for the first time.
Customers aspire to have the latest consumer technologies. AzuriTV marks the next step in Azuri’s ‘Energy Escalator’ pathway to enable customers to step-up to higher value services. Combining solar home power, 24-inch TV, satellite dish and Zuku Smart+ entertainment with 48 TV and 21 radio channels, the AzuriTV system targets households outside the power grid offering affordable TV, anytime, anywhere, in one complete PayGo package.
Moses Kemibaro: What sort of challenges has Azuri faced in penetrating the Kenyan marketplace?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: The greatest barrier to penetrating the Kenyan marketplace is the wide dispersion of off-grid households. To meet this challenge, Azuri maintains an ecosystem of regional distributors, who already own and manage agents within established ‘last mile’ distribution channels. Through its existing partnerships, Azuri has reached isolated rural communities that would otherwise have been inaccessible. Reciprocally, with Azuri’s support, SMEs can grow their business at a pace to meet the huge customer demand for the solution. Azuri is not tied to any particular mobile payment system but works with all mobile money payment methods to provide choice and cost effectiveness for consumers. Azuri works even if there is no mobile coverage in the customer’s household, allowing deployment in even the remotest villages.
Moses Kemibaro: Why did Azuri opt to partner with Zuku in launching its new offering this week?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: There is a strong customer demand in the off-grid market for television but in rural areas it is often difficult to receive a TV signal and the number of channels that can be accessed varies widely. Azuri wanted to offer customers affordable access to satellite TV which is guaranteed to work in every part of Kenya and provide a consistently wide range of entertainment, sport, information and education channels.
Zuku TV is one of the leading broadcasters with a strong presence in Kenya as well as Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. Their satellite platform has been developed to resonate with local audiences. The partnership with Azuri and its off-grid PayGo TV solution allows Zuku to access homes that were previously inaccessible to them because they lacked power.
Moses Kemibaro: How innovative is AzuriTV compared to other alternatives in the marketplace? What makes it unique?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: AzuriTV is the first complete home TV PayGo package for off-grid households. Customers can enjoy popular Zuku branded channels, international channels as well as all of the Free-to-Air channels. The TV is a super slim LED screen and 24-inch for maximum viewing enjoyment. Customers do not need to purchase separately a dish or set-top box as everything is included. There are also four LED lights to give customers more choice on how they light their homes. AzuriTV marks the next step in bringing news and entertainment to everyone in Kenya no matter where they live and in an affordable manner
Moses Kemibaro: In your view, where do you see Azuri going in the next 2 to 5 years in Kenya and Africa? What is the potential?
Simon Bransfield-Garth: The number of people in sub Saharan Africa that don’t have access to electricity is increasing with the population growth rather than going down. Azuri is committed to investment in Africa and has created a regional HQ, Azuri East Africa, headquartered in Nairobi. Azuri and its partners are building skills locally and not just providing a product.
The market varies between countries, including climatic conditions, which presents an opportunity for Azuri’s HomeSmart technology to further benefit the customers. This is particularly beneficial in some West African countries where the rainy season can impact the available sunlight.
Azuri aims to go beyond lighting and to provide each customer with TVs, internet access, entertainment and a range of services. Solar is a stepping- stone whereby the customer starts with lighting and maybe a radio and phone charging and progressively moves up to larger devices. Solar can be leveraged for productive use applications, to enable people to earn more money and increase their standard of living.
The decentralised approach of powering each household individually dramatically reduces the rollout time to new customers, allowing new ‘Azuri’ communities to be created in weeks rather than years.