Solar Panda is a solar powered electricity startup that has been in existence since 2017. The company was founded in Canada by Andy Keith and since then has continued to break numbers with its achievement and impact in the provision of affordable electricity in underserved households in Kenya.
In an interview conducted recently by Brand Spur Nigeria with Brett Bergman, the Chief Operating Officer of Solar Panda, he stated that the main inspiration behind the company is the need to provide electricity to families and households in Africa. “I mean in Canada, there’s light and you take it for granted that electricity is a given and for these people, for our customers it’s life changing.”
Andy Keith is an Engineer with a lot of experience in the solar power industry managing large scale solar power projects in different countries and continents including Africa. He attended a conference in the United States of America and came across a solar home system company and he really liked what they were doing. “He had had experience volunteering in Africa and saw what that company was doing in bringing small scale Solar to homes and really liked what the opportunity was”, Andy wanted to invest in the company, but they were not interested, so he decided to float his own company with the belief that he could do a better job at providing affordable energy to homes in Africa. Therefore, he spent about a year and half developing the hardware and software to work in the background and then launched the company in December of 2017.
Solar Panda sells different sizes of solar home systems, it starts as a starter kit where a family can get 10 wall solar panel on the roof that connects to a battery pack, which is the control unit that works like a brain system and with this starter kit they get 2 bulbs and a phone charging cable. “This meant that these homes are largely replacing the need for kerosene which as we all know is just inefficient, dangerous and unhealthy so this gives them access to reliable, clean and very affordable energy and it’s on a pay as you go model, so they pay a deposit on the day that they buy it and then pay for each day they want to use through mobile money make a payment to Solar Panda.”
The Solar Panda starter kit costs 30 shillings per day and the unit works for that day, customers are expected to pay every day for about a year after which they will own the kit forever with access to free electricity from that period onward. Solar Panda has different kits based on the needs or size of the family. The most affordable is the starter kit which is for a small home or a family that only wants a couple of bulbs, next is the home kit which has a bigger panel, bigger battery and it also comes with a good radio, torch or lantern and 4 light bulbs. Customers can upgrade to a tv package and get a tv premium package with more bulbs, bigger battery, bigger panel and 32-inch tv. Solar Panda range of products are available to provide customers with access to clean and affordable energy to meet the need of the family.
The daily payment for the starter kit is so affordable that it is about the same amount as kerosene and charging a phone in kiosks in Kenya, hence, having the kit gives you much more value than just charging your phone as you get light and other products as well.
Solar Panda in less than 4 years despite the pandemic has its products in more than 160,000 homes in Kenya, talking about the growth of the company, Brett stated that “it has really been an amazing growth story and exciting and I love going over there and meeting people and seeing the impact that our product can have on their lives. The reception for the Solar Panda products has been amazing and it has been life changing for our customers. Solar Panda currently employ almost a thousand people. We have 250 full time employees in Kenya and about 750 field agents that have good jobs and are part of the team. Our mission is to improve lives and I get to see that we are achieving it.”
The company takes affordability as a top priority with top emphasis on product development to see how best to reduce the cost of producing the kits so that the customers can pay for them with ease while it also remains in business by being profitable. The repayment model is structured to fit the pockets of the families in rural Kenya. Solar Panda has 31 retail outlets throughout Kenya with sales teams in each outlet that include 20 – 30 field agents. A new customer is expected to pay a onetime deposit and then a very affordable daily amount that varies depending on the package. This model is leveraging on mobile money which has enabled financially excluded citizens to have access to finance and enable them to transact businesses.
Currently adjudged as the third fastest growing company in Canada, Solar Panda is working on replicating its success story in Kenya in other countries across Sub Saharan Africa by contributing to the growth in access to clean electricity across the continent. In Brett’s words, “Africa has the biggest opportunity, there’s almost 600 million people in Africa who don’t have access to reliable electricity, there’s about a billion people in the world, but 60% is in Africa.”
In his final remarks to other social entrepreneurs, Brett stated that “I think the biggest thing is to have a mission, believe in it and tell everyone about it. I don’t think that there’s anything that we’ve done that is truly breakthrough. I think we’ve got better products than our competitors but it’s not revolutionary, there are other companies that have the pay as you go system. I think what we’ve done very well is we really believed in what we are doing and we have a team that we carefully chose and taught what we are doing and they all believed in it and when you do that, you can get through things like this pandemic, you can get through the days where you don’t want to work and you are tired and everything feels like it is going wrong which in business is going to happen, but I often think about it that whenever I am having a bad day, I remember the mission and have that understanding that I wake up this morning and there are hundreds of families that have light this morning that didn’t have it yesterday because of what we are doing, that is what has kept us through everything. You should always have your customer in mind, and it doesn’t matter what business you are in. Whatever your business is, if you keep that customer in mind, you are always thinking about how you make their lives better and make sure your team all believe in that, it is remarkable what you can achieve, and I hope that our story is very remarkable. I pinch myself that this is how far we have come in such a short period of time, but I truly believe it’s because we have a team that believes in what we are doing and that can get you through anything.”