Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|December 2, 2020|7 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Turning A Profit From The Sunshine

Have you ever wondered how you can monetise the sunshine?  You can now buy a piece of a solar farm and invest in the sun.

The sun, as we know, is one of Africa’s most valuable and underutilised resource. Not only is it available in abundance, but modern-day technology has allowed us turn it into one of the most affordable sources of electricity, to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.

Despite conditions for solar energy in Africa being favourable, the continent’s solar industry accounts for less than 6% of the renewable energy on the continent, according to data on the International Renewable Energy Agency.

South African businesses know a lot about this thanks to rigid regulation that made getting solar PV generation of between 1 Mega Watt (MW) to 10 MW a challenge.

Recent government legislation has made this slightly easier having just removed a licensing requirement barrier for self-generation for projects over 1 MW, on 30 October. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa now allows applicants are no longer required to obtain Ministerial approval before applying to NERSA for a licence to connect to Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned power utility.

It’s good news for businesses, offices parks and even schools that have an abundance of parking lots and flat roofs ripe for harvesting solar energy.

However, financial obstacles continue to hinder solar adoption, especially in emerging markets.

For instance, to power just a small 4-bedroom home the cost can be around R200,000. The cost of building a solar park to power a 60,000 square meter shopping mall with daytime peaks of 3MW – 4MW would run into the millions , reports Business Insider South Africa.

Which is where entrepreneur Abe Cambridge, the founder of the Sun Exchange, saw a gap in the market.

Agriculture accounts for approximately 23% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP, yet this critical sector faces immense challenges including unreliable power supply, rising electricity costs, climate-induced drought and limited access to finance for clean energy. Sun Exchange directly addresses those challenges by facilitating access to extremely simple, affordable, reliable solar power.

- Abe Cambridge

After six years of building and running a solar panel installation company in the UK, Abe moved to South Africa in 2014 to work as a solar engineering consultant. He noticed immediately the absence of solar panels on rooftops, despite Southern Africa being one of the sunniest regions on Earth.

He realised the lack of appropriate finance products for businesses and organisations to go solar was the most common roadblock to solar deployment.

So, he set about building a universal peer-to-peer solar cell leasing platform – in essence it’s a marketplace that enables members to purchase and then lease solar cells to schools, businesses, and communities.

Cambridge looks for retail space on the likes of hospitals, schools, community organisations, businesses, and factories. It then offers the companies 20-year power purchase lease agreements that come in cheaper than what they would pay for the electricity normally.

Based in Cape Town, Sun Exchange hosts solar project crowd sales, each with thousands of solar cells available for under an average $10 unit price. Anyone from around the world can purchase a cell and you can pay in Bitcoin, credit credit card or by bank transfer.

The company has gone on to fund solar power projects in 35 schools, shopping centres and business parks across South Africa. Depending on project it’s possible to own a small portion of a solar cell on a Spar shopping mall in Mokopane or Rondebosch Boys’ High School 135.3 kW park.

In June, Sun Exchange attracted the eye of investors from African billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital (ARC), via its stake in British-based private-equity firm ARCH Emerging Markets Partners, that invested some $3 million into the project, reports Reuters. ARC backs other successful start-ups, such as TymeBank and mobile internet provider Rain.

The latest of the company’s projects, a 1.9 megawatt (MW) solar-plus-storage project for Nhimbe Fresh, a premier exporter of fresh produce in Marondera, Zimbabwe, is due to be their biggest one yet. The sale is expected to open this November.

Working with United Exports, Czon and Global Fresh, Nhimbe Fresh exports blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, stone fruit, snap peas and snow peas to major international grocery retailers in the United Kingdom, European Union, United Arab Emirates and South Africa.

The solar and battery project will power Nhimbe Fresh packhouse and cold store facilities (phase 1 crowdsale), pump sites (phase 2 crowdsale), and Churchill Farm (phase 3 crowdsale).

Nhimbe Fresh  benefits by gaining reliable power, at a lower cost than running diesel generators with what Sun Exchange say will reduce energy costs by more than 60% per year and carbon emissions by more than one million kilograms per year.

“Agriculture accounts for approximately 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, yet this critical sector faces immense challenges including unreliable power supply, rising electricity costs, climate-induced drought and limited access to finance for clean energy. Sun Exchange directly addresses those challenges by facilitating access to extremely simple, affordable, reliable solar power,” said Cambridge.