The need for electricity and power is severe in many African countries especially those in the sub Saharan region. Most of these people live in seclusion, keeping them away from national power grids. While bringing electricity lines to these places is an expensive task, the world has found a unique solution to it : micro-grids.
Steamaco, a Manchester-based micro-grids firm, is a leading provider of micro-grids in Africa and Asia. These grids absorb renewable energy like wind and sunlight and converts them into electricity, which will be sufficient for daily use. Since most of the people they cater to as located in secluded areas, the British company has developed a remote cloud-based payment system and also tied up with M-Pesa, so that people can pay their monthly electricity bills without leaving their homes.
Harrison Leaf, CEO of Steamaco, said that their payment system registers a payment within 60 seconds, sends a message to the local meter system that payment is made, and the electricity will be back up working. Steamaco’s cloud-based management system allows them to check the financial and technical performance of their micro-grids. They also have easy access to problems if any arise. Steamaco currently caters to more than 10,000 people in six countries.
The CEO and founder was inspired by automotive mechanics of East Africa to start this business back in 2012. He took on the mission to create a wind turbine from scratch using automotive parts and then held a workshop to teach others. Following that, Steamaco hired 20 blue collar professionals. Together, they build around 20 wind turbines and placed them near schools and health clinics in western Kenya.
Even though making a sustainable electricity generating system was the most crucial part of the process, establishing a payment system changed their fate completely.
Steamaco’s micro-grids work entirely on SMS but they plan to soon progress on 2G and 3G data. Leaf said that they can manage a complete micro-grid with hundreds of thousands of connections by sending SMS back and forth every 60 minutes. This ability makes their business model ideal. Steamaco’s influence in Africa is priceless.
Leaf said that the people have moved on from kerosene and fuelwood to paying electricity monthly. It took them a lot of time to educate the customers about electricity to gain their trust, so that they pay for the service regularly. Steamaco’s smart meter also allows people to call personnels to give them information about the micro-grid. Even if a person doesn’t use internet on their mobile phones, Steamaco can connect to them through SMS or call in a language they are comfortable interacting in. Steamaco recently started providing micro-grids in northern Nigeria, Kano, and Mali.