Interview with Thibault Lesueur – Co Founder & CMO Solaris Offgrid – Solaris Tanzania (*)
What constraints are preventing the inter-operable off-grid appliances market from ramping up? and what could be done to overcome them?
The number one issue is plugging. There are different plugs and plugging systems, as they are ultimately defined by the manufacturers of solar systems. This limits expansions and constrains users to remain captive within the proprietary systems developed by such manufacturers.
At Solaris Offgrid we promote the adoption of a “neutral” plugging protocol. We are currently developing one mandated by the organisation Efficiency 4 Access (and being financed by UKAID) to develop an opensource one in order to facilitate collaboration across the industry players. This open source protocol is already in its testing phase. We believe that inter-operability breeds efficiency and enlarges the freedom of choice for the final user, which in addition will result in easier access to finance.
Having a standard plugging protocol will allow manufacturers to sell more accessories to a larger group of users, possibly there will be more competition but at the same time, this will foster the creation of more plugging products.
How does Solaris Offgrid envision to address the Productive Use Leveraging Solar Energy market?
The Open Paygo Token makes vertical markets accessible for the end-user, i.e. promotes and helps their financing. Markets such as water, mobility, sanitation, med tech, etc. targeted at BOP users will become accessible through the adoption of Pay As You Go (PAYGO) payment mechanisms. We promote the adoption of an open-source PAYGO mechanism as a form to broaden financing, enable the owners of data to share it widely and improve the tracking of users’ credit history across different products. This is really about providing value to the end-user and enabling impact beyond the use of solar energy, without detriment to the privacy and confidentiality of the information. We have developed a payment protocol that meets EU GDRP standards and that will enable end-users to add value to their credit records, should they decide to share them.
Will preventive analytics help reduce PAYG credit risk?
When we discuss machine learning, there is always this debate between the need for a lot of data vs. useful data. We have to keep in mind that the end-users of the PAYGO solutions mostly live in informal economies. They have no credit history, thus there is no proof about the usefulness, veracity or accuracy of any information that they voluntarily contribute. The principle of ‘garbage-in / garbage-out‘ clearly applies to these situations.
Predictive credit models are being designed by several solar PAYGO operators, including Solaris Offgrid. We are interested in providing value for the end-user through the data that we collect, beyond up-selling. We look to create a virtuous cycle, such as the one that BrightLife and Baobab+ bring to their users while combining PAYGO with micro-financing, or being able to offer them additional freebies such as insurance, similarly to what PEG Africa does.
Even though the most reliable data comes from telemetry, i.e. from tracking use, and despite the widespread belief that ‘data is the new oil‘, we acknowledge the limits and constraints imposed by the context in which we operate. We do not want to impose any costs on the end-users since they already go to great strides to afford the electricity. We thus promote software solutions that favor the sharing of data and the spreading of costs among multiple providers.
Today we have implemented automated payment reminders, and we can accurately predict who will pay and who will fail. What we are trying to do now goes beyond early action, we are trying to compile customer identity patterns that will let us anticipate who will be a good client based on weak signals such as his/her profession, location, consumption patterns, etc.
Today every product is speaking its own language in the paygo world, making their adoption harder. With OpenPaygo Token we have created the Esperanto of paygo, under an open source methodologyThibault Lesueur – Co Founder & CMO Solaris Offgrid
(*) I am an investor in Solaris Offgrid