A Netflix for Batteries to Get Africa on the Grid
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Around the world nearly 2 billion people don’t have reliable access to electricity. We’ve covered some of the inspiring plans and products aiming to compensate for that by making solar power cheap enough for off-grid homes in the developing world. But in Tanzania, where just 14 percent of people have electricity, the startup Egg-Energy has a plan to build a future crop of customers so it becomes economically feasible to expand the grid: they’re trying to become the Netflix of batteries.
“Ultimately we want to be a distribution provider. Our customers all want to be on the grid,” Egg-Energy cofounder Jamie Yang tells Co.Exist. The first step in making it worthwhile to wire up the whole country is to to wire up the houses of those future customers. There’s no point for a national utility to expand if the homes don’t have anywhere to screw in a light bulb or plug in a radio. So when you sign on with Egg-Energy, your home gets an upgrade. “We run the wires. We put in lighting fixtures. We put switches on the walls, and we provide them with the devices to power their mobile phones or radio,” Yang explains.
It costs about $40 to $80 for the installation-about one month’s income for the average customer. Usually that means one to three lights and a charger. Then the customer is ready for regular power from Egg-Energy’s recyclable batteries, the key to their business model.
Customers sign up with Egg-Energy for three-, six-, or 12-month periods. Each battery powers a home for three to 10 days. “If someone is just using lighting and being conservative, it will last 10 days,” Yang says, adding the average family turns over a battery every five days. When they’re out of juice, they bring in the dead battery-which is small enough to carry with one hand-and swap it out for a new one. Egg-Energy partners with local merchants to provide a pick-up and drop-off service too. The home stays dark while the battery swap is happening. There’s also an option for paying as you go-on a per-battery basis-for families that can’t afford the up front subscription price.