Thursday, July 27, 2017

US solar firm tackles cost barriers through instalment system

A US-based solar product company launched its services in Myanmar with the support of the International Finance Corporation and United Nations Capital Development Fund to widen access to clean energy among the rural population. The opening of its first store in Myanmar was accompanied with the introduction of the instalment system for purchases.

Greenlight Planet launched its retail store on July 6 under the brand Sun King in Bago Region. The store offers both EasyBuy and upfront payment options across a range of solar lamps and home systems. Photo: SuppliedGreenlight Planet launched its retail store on July 6 under the brand Sun King in Bago Region. The store offers both EasyBuy and upfront payment options across a range of solar lamps and home systems. Photo: Supplied

Greenlight Planet launched its retail store on July 6 under the brand Sun King in Bago Region. The store offers both EasyBuy and upfront payment options across a range of solar lamps and home systems. The store is the company’s first branch in the country and also in Asia.

The store’s launch was organised in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) as a part of its “Lighting Myanmar” program. At the launch event, representatives from the IFC and Greenlight Planet addressed the need for acceleration of sustainable access to clean energy and the role technologies such as EasyBuy play towards achieving this goal.

According to the IFC, more than 65 percent of Myanmar’s population, a total of seven million households, has no access to grid-based electricity services. In rural areas, more than two thirds of households rely on candles, kerosene, low-quality batteries and diesel generators to meet their energy needs.

With the assistance of the World Bank Group and other donors, Myanmar’s government has adopted the National Electrification Plan, which aims to achieve universal access to sustainable electricity services by 2030 through a combination of grid extension and off-grid programs.

Launched in June 2016, the IFC-led “Lighting Myanmar” programwill support this goal by helping international and Myanmar-based companies create a commercial and sustainable market for high-quality off-grid energy solutions, including solar lanterns, solar home systems, and mini-grids.

The Sun King project is another step forward for the program.

Solar is already widespread in this area but most systems are low quality and unreliable, providing an opportunity for quality assured solar lighting products to enter the market and compete.

Sun King’s parent company, Greenlight Planet, is a Chicago-headquartered company which focuses on distributing a small-scale solar home system to remote, off-grid customers through a vast network of micro-entrepreneurs, distribution partners, and its proprietary EasyBuy instalment payment technology.

EasyBuy service allows customers to pay for solar products in daily or weekly instalments. This instalment system aims at breaking down the cost barrier to clean energy access and hence broaden access to clean energy among the rural population.

“From what we have seen in economies with large off-grid populations around the world, technologies such as EasyBuy are revolutionising not just access to energy but also financing, especially in the micro-lending sector.

“Greenlight Planet is committed to invest and remain at the forefront of this sector with the help of robust technology and trusted partnerships in the region,” said DhavalRadia, the company’s vice president.

According to the press release from Sun King, the business sees the 38 million individuals living off-grid in Myanmar as its main customer base, aiming to provide clean, reliable and safe solar energy products with their instalment payment method. The system matches customer expenditure with income, making it affordable for customers to pay for their energy needs in small amounts in daily or weekly instalments, and it automatically links payment to product usage, which ensures accountability.

Sun King’s country manager told The Myanmar Times that it prioritises the rural population, scattered among villages, and is not concerned with large-scale commercial or industrial clients.

“Our focus is distributing a small-scale solar home system to rural villages which do not have connection to grids,” said KoThet Win Naing, country manager of Sun King.

“We are not focusing on industry or business use.”

Sun King started its operation in January this year, and is now in the second quarter of their operation, covering 12 townships in three regions: Bago, Ayeyarwady and Yangon regions.

Currently, Sun King is collecting payments manually, leveraging employees from the regions they cover, managed by their corresponding area sales manager, but this will soon be replaced by the EasyBuy payment system, a Pay-As-You-Go service, which allows a 100-percent integrated payment network. The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) offered a “last mile” finance model from which provided a grant to Sun King to extend its Pay-As-You-Go service in Myanmar for its two initial years of operation.

KoThet Win Naing told The Myanmar Times that the EasyBuy system is being developed hand-in-hand with mobile payment technologies in cooperation with several telephone companies in order to overcome Myanmar’s underdeveloped banking system. They have also developed a system called ANGASA, which provides the necessary codes for top up, tracks and manages payment collection processes.

“Gaining access to clean, reliable and safe Sun King products leads to remarkable developments in communities.

“Children study for longer, businesses earn more, and families experience better air quality - all while cutting overall expenditure on daily energy needs,” Ms Radia added.

Sun King hopes to achieve its first 1000 sales in Myanmar, KoThet Win Naing told The Myanmar Times. The company plans to saturate the market, and extend its coverage to all regions and townships in Myanmar, becoming the premium brand of solar home systems with the world’s best Pay-As-You-Go payment system.