With funding in place for the first push of a newly developed solution, Peoples’ Portable Power is ready to bring serious portable power to rural Africa. This summer, the first 1000 units will hit the markets in Kenya and Tanzania.
It’s been no more than two years since engineer and founder Steen Kramer Jensen established Peoples’ Portable Power (PP Power) – a company dedicated to developing portable energy solutions that can make sustainable energy available to off-grid households in rural Africa. Since then, things have been happening fast.
The core idea of PP Power is to sell or lease a portable power bank solution that can be used to store and carry energy from solar power installations to private homes – making grid connection unnecessary and speeding up the access to sustainable energy for people in rural areas.
Understanding the market
“It has been two busy years of learning, developing and re-developing,” says Steen Kramer Jensen and points to the fact that the solution that is now ready for the East African market is something very different than the original PP Power unit. Although it may look quite similar on the outside, the new solution is nothing like the old one on the inside.
Originally, the unit came with a number of accessories including a small radio, a flashlight and other types of lightning solutions. They have all been stripped from the unit that is now more durable and has a higher capacity – without making it more expensive or heavy to lug around.
“If people wanted a flashlight or a radio or some other power demanding accessory they could easily get their hands on them on the market anyway,” says Steen Kramer Jensen.
“Instead, we focused on developing a portable power bank solution that would give them as much power as possible, because that is basically what they want.”
Partners, not competitors
Working with commercial partners Rafiki Power and Solar Kiosk, PP Power is now ready to start scaling up an energy solution that should not be seen as a competitor on the booming mini-grid market, rather than a valuable add-on, says Steen Kramer Jensen.
“Mini-grids are popping up all over Eastern Africa right now as a sustainable energy solution in rural areas, but they see a lot of competition from small, single household pico-installations.
When small households invest in pico-grids it usually means that they are unlikely to connect to mini grids later on because of the costs. And pico grids quickly become too small and ineffective because they are designed to cater for the needs of people’s current consumption. As soon as people get access to energy, consumption and demand rises very quickly,” Steen Kramer Jensen says.
This is where PP Power comes in. The scalable power bank allows people in rural areas to get access to clean energy from mini-grid installations without having to invest in a grid connection or a single household solar cell solution.
“In most cases, our solution shoehorns green energy to off-grid families. People simply take their battery with them to get it charged, and as their demand rises, they can either expand the battery pack or invest in a mini-grid connection that suits their demands more accurately. This approach means that we are working with mini-grid companies rather than against them,” says Steen Kramer Jensen.
Funding options wanted
Although PP Power has secured the economy for their first push of 1000 units, they are still looking for funding that can help them scale up the solution. Without scale, profit builds slowly, creating a needless drag in relation to the large market potential.
“Through access2innovation and others we have received funding for the initial stages of testing and development, but it is really hard to find financial support that fits the stage we’re at now; ready to take the solution to the market on a grander scale. We have been lucky enough to secure funding from a private investor, but that being said, funding options are scarce for small entrepreneurs. It is rather frustrating.”
Being part of the right network
Funding is not the only issue. Finding the right people to work with on a market far from home is also a significant challenge that you have to pay attention to, says Steen Kramer Jensen.
“In my experience, the customers are there and they are willing to pay to get energy. That’s not the issue. The issue is the link between you and the customers. You absolutely need to find good relations with local distributors and people you can trust all the way down the line. We’ve learned that the hard way already.. To me, those are the most important reasons for being part of access2innovation; knowledge about funding and a large network of experts and trusted connections in Africa. That is absolutely essential.”