Last week, we wrote about the importance of connectivity in education in Africa. In this post, we’ll focus on a solution that our portfolio company SolarNow provides. When it comes to education, electricity is critical for reading lights, internet connectivity, as well as for a wide variety of education technologies that schools can use to improve their outcomes. SolarNow is working to provide these key ingredients for improved education by designing PV solar systems that are specific to schools’ needs. To assist with financing, SolarNow provides 18-month financing for its customers and a 2-year warranty including free maintenance. We’ve asked Willem Nolens, Managing Director, to share SolarNow’s experience working with schools, and how the company has met the needs of this particular market.
- In SolarNow’s experience, has there been a connection between educational performance and electricity availability in the areas where you work in Uganda?
WN: Normally the first reason for a school to invest in solar is safety: there have been accidents with kerosene lamps in dormitories where many children died. Soon after the teachers are convinced of the technology, they also want proper light in their class rooms to give evening classes and charge phones and laptops, and even a computer lab. We even have schools that bought a SolarNow DC television, which allows children to watch the news and educational DVDs .
- What changes have you seen in the communities after a SolarNow school installation?
WN: While the impact of solar energy in schools is obviously positive, we have not yet measured the impact on the community level. What we do see though, is that school systems normally generate many referral sales, as parents see the technology working and decide to buy systems for their private homes and small businesses.
- How have you designed systems to meet school’s specific needs?
WN: Our systems are tailor-made to the needs of the client. Schools typically need big systems, with many lights for the dormitories (replacing kerosene lamps) and classrooms (for evening classes), and at the same time a socket for charging the teacher’s phones.
We recently broadened our product range with 12V laptops, mainly as head masters have expressed strong desire to have better access to information. For some schools we have powered computer labs, where students get computer education. These schools have a major competitive advantage over other schools in their areas. Also, it opens doors to distance learning programs.
- How has the pay plan program helped schools adopt the systems?
WN: Without the pay plan program, only a fraction of the schools would have been able to buy the systems. Besides, in a market where solar energy does not have a good reputation yet, the payplan effectively reduces the risk to the buyer.
We offer schools the option to pay per school term, so three installments per annum. This way, the risk of default is reduced to the school and to SolarNow.