Off-grid energy provider introduces innovative internet access for rural Tanzania

Pay-as-you-go off-grid energy provider, Trend Solar has officially launched in Tanzania. The company which started operations in 2017, distributes and finances a range of solar systems from 70Wh systems to 32kWh all-in one battery storage and mini-grid systems, targeted at un-electrified, low-income households. Trend Solar’s recently concluded beta period has seen 500 units sold from its hubs in Dar Es Salaam, Geita and Bagamoyo, and the company will now deploy thousands more systems throughout rural East Africa, as it looks to gain a strategic foothold in the African off-grid solar market estimated to be worth $3.1 billion.

Leveraging the influence of mobile telephony in Africa, and the latest IoT technologies, the company has now added the provision of internet access for rural communities by arming each user with a solar panel, a 5.0 inch 4G Android Smartphone (the TS-X), combined with inclusive data allowance every month, turning the phone into a modem.

“With Trend Solar, we are solving the ‘digital inclusivity trilemma’, by providing an affordable smartphone + mobile data + home recharging possibility. We are disrupting how emerging markets access electricity and internet, by being the first company in the world to assimilate a Smartphone and a Solar Home System [SHS],” said Trend Solar co-founder and CEO, Irfan Mirza during the official launch. “We know that access to energy is just the beginning of the journey for our customers, which is why our product team develop innovations in technology that unlock more than just energy – we connect our customers to the wider world.

“During our beta testing, the feedback we received from our customers actually outperformed our expectations, and the addition of the TS-X Smartphone proved to be a stand out function for our users, who previously had no means of accessing the internet. Now, we are ideally positioned to grow our user-base rapidly across East Africa, in a bid to supply power to the 36M people in Tanzania alone, who live off-grid, as well as providing them with opportunity to become digitally inclusive,” Mirza said.

Trend Solar currently has 30 agents across the East African region, who go out to rural communities to provide education on how the system can support their home, life or business.

With its unique Cloud platform, built in-house by the development team, Trend Solar can collect comprehensive, real-time data on what the system is being used for and for how long. About 30 percent of battery capacity is used for USB-Phone charging, and 86 percent of all users prefer to use one of the LED lights switched on overnight for security. Furthermore, the Solar Home Systems (SHSs) have been adopted by home and business owners, with initial usage reports revealing that 65 percent of Trend Solar customers use SHS to grow their business. This shows how the system and access to affordable energy and the internet can fuel economic growth and social mobility.

The team behind Trend Solar is also aiming to empower its customers to become more financially inclusive, thanks to its Trend eWallet; users can credit their mobile wallet via any of the existing mobile money providers, such as mPesa or Tigo. Once the wallet is credited via the Trend Customer App, the balance can be used to pay for installments and purchase products such as Micro Insurance or additional accessories. The team is also anticipating the Big Data opportunities that the SHS provides. Using the thousands of data points across mobile, mobile money and power usage, Trend Solar are currently developing a credit score (using AI & proprietary algorithm), which will assist with the development of additional products in the future, such as solar powered irrigation systems, appliances, and also consider microloans.

The Trend Solar SHS has been designed as a clean power alternative for people who live off-grid. Each Trend Solar TR140 Kit includesa 24-inch Digital HD TV with built in digital Sat decoder, Smart Solar battery (lithium), 40Watt PV Solar panel, 4 x compact fluorescent and/or LED lamps, 1 x portable LED rechargeable lamp and 4G 5-inch smartphone

Users can purchase the systems with a deposit of at least $40 and the rest paid in 12 – 18 months installments from as little as $0.50 (50 cents) per day. Trend Solar’s system is also integrated with mPesa, TigoPesa, Airtel Money and HaloPesa, East Africa’s prominent mobile money platforms.