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太阳能新商业方案能否为卢旺达农村供电?

更新时间:2017/11/2 21:02:10 来源:本站原创 作者:佚名

Rural Rwanda is home to a pioneering new solar power idea
太阳能新商业方案能否为卢旺达农村供电?

Fidel Mberabagabo lives down a dirt path in a modest, hand-built mud and concrete home surrounded on either side by hazy, gently cresting green hills. Like most people in this part of Rwanda’s rural Rwamagana district, he is a farmer. Also like them, finances are strained; he never knows just how much he will make in a given month. But Mberabagabo’s life does now differ from that of many of his neighbours in one important way: he has electricity.

菲德尔·梅贝拉巴格伯(Fidel Mberabagabo)住在一条土路边上一个靠人力建造的泥土和水泥房子里,四周环绕充满迷雾和微微隆起的青山。和卢旺达农村地区卢瓦马加纳(Rwamagana)的大部分人一样,他是农民,并且生活拮据。他从不知道下个月自己能赚多少钱。但是梅贝拉巴格伯的生活又和他的邻居有着很大的不同:他有电。

In the developed world, people take for granted that light bulbs will turn on with the flick of a switch; that they can access unlimited power to charge copious devices; and that their well-stocked fridges and artificially cooled and heated homes will maintain just the right temperature.

发达国家的人想当然的认为打开开关电灯就会亮,他们认为自己可以无限制的使用电力为各种设备充电,还认为存满食物的冰箱里和自动控制冷暖的房子能够保持合适的温度。

But as anyone who has weathered the aftermath of a hurricane or found themselves in the midst of a major blackout will attest, if these precious amenities are taken away, life largely comes to a halt.

但是任何经历过台风或大范围停电的人都可以作证,如果这些宝贵的生活便利设施消失,生活就会基本中止。

Yet for all our dependency on power, some 1.2 billion people around the world – 16% of the global population – do not have access to it at all.

尽管我们对电力的依赖如此严重,全球有大约12亿人——全球人口的16%——完全没有供电。

Back in Rwanda, for example, less than 20% of the population live in homes that enjoy electricity – a fact that stymies development and reinforces poverty. It’s a huge problem that defines many of the problems we face in the 21st Century.

以卢旺达为例,只有不到20%的人口家中有电——这阻碍了发展,也加重了贫困。这一问题是21世纪很多问题的背后的成因。

To some, however, such statistics ring not of hopelessness, but of opportunity.

不过,对一些人来说,这些统计数字并不意味着绝望,而是说明存在机会。

“This is such an untapped market,” says Laurent Van Houcke, chief operations officer of BBOXX, a London-based company that brings off-grid energy to the developing world. “There are massive opportunities for entrepreneurship, as well as great possibilities for impacting lives.”

"这是一个尚未发掘的市场,"伦敦BBOXX公司的首席运营官罗兰·范·霍克(Laurent Van Houcke)说。该公司为发展中国家带来离网供电。他说:"这里有很多创业的机会,人们的生活有可能发生巨大的变化。"

For Van Houcke and his colleagues, rural residents like Mberabagabo who lack electricity are not charity cases, but bona fide customers.

对范·霍克和他的同事来说,缺电的梅贝拉巴格伯农村居民不是慈善项目,而是有诚意的顾客。

Their solution: a for-profit company that manufactures, installs and affordably loans out sturdy, hyper-efficient solar-powered chargers. In just four years, they have brought power to around 130,000 homes and businesses in 35 countries – by 2020, they're aiming for more than a million.

他们的解决方案是:由营利企业制造、安装并以平价出租坚固、高效的太阳能充电器。在短短四年内,他们就为35个国家的13万个家庭和企业带来供电——他们的目标是在2020年之前达到100万。

Breaking the mould

打破常规

It all began at Imperial College London. While others focused on buffing up CVs for future careers in banking or the consultancy sector, electrical engineering students Van Houcke and his two BBOXX co-founders, Christopher Baker-Brian and Mansoor Hamayun, decided to found Equinox: a charity devoted to electrifying a few communities in Rwanda.

一切始于伦敦帝国学院(Imperial College London)。当其他人专注于撰写简历,申请银行或咨询公司的职位时,电气工程专业的学生范·霍克和BBOXX的联合创始人克里斯托弗·贝克-布莱恩(Christopher Baker-Brian)、曼苏尔·哈马雍(Mansoor Hamayun)决定成立Equinox公司:这家慈善机构致力于让卢旺达的数个地区实现电气化。

In summer 2009, when they flew into Kigali, Rwanda’s friendly, laid-back capital, they could clearly see the challenge the country faced. The hilly city’s numerous lookout points afforded sweeping views of attractive buildings painted in shades of cream and yellow, interspersed with parks and a few high rises. But after sundown, a previously invisible divider revealed itself: the light abruptly stopped outside of the capital’s tight core.

2009年夏,他们飞往卢旺达轻松休闲的首都基加利(Kigali),当时他们清楚的看到了这个国家面临的挑战。这个多山的城市有很多观景点,可以看到大片的奶白色和黄色的漂亮建筑物,中间夹着一些公园和摩天大楼。但是在太阳落山后,原本隐藏着的分水岭开始显现:除了首都中心地带以外,其他地方一片漆黑。

How would Rwanda ever realise its goal of becoming “the Singapore of Africa” if so many of its citizens still lacked access to electricity?

如果还有那么多的人还没有用上电,卢旺达如何实现"非洲的新加坡"这一目标?

Rather than stay in Kigali, they spent the majority of their time living and working in a rural Rwandan community of around 200 households. As they explored various ways to get power to their new neighbours, they realised that the grid will never supply those in Rwanda and beyond who currently lack electricity: such communities are dispersed over immense areas, and are too poor to afford such extensive infrastructure.

他们并没有留在基加利,而是把生活和工作的大部分时间放在一个住着200户人家的卢旺达农村。他们努力研究给新邻居供电的各种方法,结果发现电网永远不可能覆盖到卢旺达缺电的居民:这样的社群分散在广袤的地区,他们没有资金承建如此大的基础实施。

That’s when they arrived at a grand idea: they concluded that Africa will largely bypass the grid and leapfrog over Europe and North America straight into solar – just as it did in skipping landlines, a rarity in rural Africa, in favour of cell phones.

于是,他们产生了一个更大的想法:他们的结论是非洲大体上会跨越欧洲和北美的电网阶段,直接进入太阳能阶段——正如非洲农村跳过固定电话时代,进入手机时代一样。

Encouragingly, their field investigations also revealed that many Africans in these communities were completely open to the idea of paying for solar energy.

鼓舞人心的是,他们的田野调查也反映出,在非洲的这些社群中,很多人对付费使用太阳能电力持非常开放的态度。

“If you go to a customer and tell them, ‘You’re spending $5-$20 per month on kerosene and batteries, but for the same amount, you can have electricity’ – well, it’s a pretty easy sell,” says Hamayun, BBOXX’s chief executive officer. “Governments and development agencies also understand that solar is the long-term solution for those customers.”

"如果你去告诉顾客,'你每个月买煤油和电池要花5美元到20美元,但是同样的钱可以买到电'——那销售就轻而易举了,"BBOXX的首席执行官哈马雍说,"政府和开发机构也明白,太阳能是这些顾客的长期解决方案。"

This encouraged them to revamp their charity into a for-profit venture.

这一点给了他们鼓舞,将慈善公司改组为盈利为目的公司。

“Ultimately, our motivation was to scale the business, which meant making money and charging customers rather than seeing them as beneficiaries,” says Baker-Brian, BBOXX’s chief technology officer.

"最终,我们的动力是业务的规模化,这意味着向顾客收费,而不是把他们视为受惠者,"BBOXX的首席技术官贝克-布莱恩说。

So why become a money-making business? It meant investing in the long term: freebie projects and charity-organised giveaways often fail to make a lasting impact because they tend to be one-offs, he says, and their dependency on donor funds likewise constrains their scope.

那么,为什么要改组为盈利为目的的公司呢?这意味着为未来投资:免费商品的项目和慈善机构的赠品总是无法实现持久的影响,因为它往往是一次性的。由于它基于捐赠的资金,影响范围也会受到限制。

The company would need to raise investor funding to enable them to build a team and get the technology up to par. Yet despite their discoveries on the ground, nearly everyone they approached, as Hamayun puts it, “thought what we’re doing was really risky and not scalable, because it’s Africa.”

公司将需要获得融资,以组建团队并提升技术水平。虽然他们在非洲当地发现了这些机会,但是按照哈马雍的说法,他们接触的每个投资者都"认为我们做的事情风险太大,无法规模化,因为那是在非洲。"

The first round of funding proved exceptionally difficult to raise, he continues, because there was no real precedent for doing technology business in Africa. “These are customers who have been underserved in every possible way,” he says.

他说,第一轮融资进展的难度非常大,因为在非洲做技术业务尚无先例。"这是一些一直没有获得很好服务的顾客。"

They eventually found an initial investor, Khosla Impact, that believed in the idea. Meanwhile, three other similar off-grid solar companies also emerged around the same time that BBOXX launched.

最后他们找到了初始投资方Khosla Impact,该公司相信了这一创想。在BBOXX成立的前后,另外三家离网太阳能公司也参与进来。

Indeed, pay-as-you-go solar is an increasingly popular solution for bringing electricity to those in Africa who have never had it before.

事实上,现收现付的太阳能电力服务在未曾通电的非洲地区越来越受欢迎。

Mobisol, a Berlin-based company, has installed 85,000 units in Tanzania and Rwanda; Off Grid Electric, based in San Francisco, serves 50,000 homes in Tanzania; and M-KOPA, a Kenyan company, has provided power to over 500,000 homes in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

柏林的一家名为Mobisol的公司在坦桑尼亚和卢旺达安装了85,000个太阳能供电单位;旧金山的Off Grid Electric公司为坦桑尼亚五万户家庭提供服务;肯尼亚的M-KOPA公司为肯尼亚、乌干达和坦桑尼亚50多万户家庭提供电力。

Efforts have so far concentrated on East Africa, but it’s no doubt a matter of time before more companies join the roster and existing ones expand. According to a recent World Bank Group report, energy storage in emerging markets worldwide are expected to grow 40% each year over the next decade.

到目前为止,这方面的工作主要集中在东非,但是越来越多的公司参与进来,以及现有的公司进一步扩张,只是时间问题。根据世界银行最近的一份报告,全球发展中国家的储能市场未来十年预计年增长40%。

The technology itself, it turned out, was the simplest part of getting such operations up and running. In BBOXX’s case, solar energy gathered from a panel on the roof is stored overnight, while remote connectivity over 2G cell networks allows for geolocation and performance data to be sent back to headquarters. Algorithms monitor the units’ health and allow the team to proactively replace fading batteries (usually, after about three years).

结果发现,技术只是他们运营过程中最简单的一步。BBOXX的情况是,屋顶太阳能板收集所得的电能可在晚上储存,而2G蜂窝网络的远程连接可以把地理数据和性能数据发送回总部。公司通过算法监控各单元的健康度,让团队能够主动前往替换老化的电池(通常是使用三年后)。

As for payments, the team realised early on that rural customers would never be able to afford to buy a BBOXX unit outright. So they opted instead for pay-as-you-go monthly installment plans. “That removes the massive upfront barrier that’s often the case for solar systems in the developing world,” Baker-Brian says.

在付款方面,团队很早就意识到农村的顾客不可能一次性买下一台BBOXX设备。所以他们提供现收现付的月度按揭计划。"这就扫除了起步的巨大障碍,这个问题在发展中国家很常见,"贝克-布莱恩说。

Customers can also buy accessories that BBOXX designed to minimise energy use, including shavers, smartphones and a 24-inch television that consumes 11 watts of power compared to an equivalent Western model’s 24 watts.

顾客可以购买BBOXX设计的节能配件,包括剃须刀、智能手机和11瓦功率的24英寸电视机;西方国家同等的电视机通常是24瓦。

Finally, people can pay with mobile phone money transfers. “We don’t take any cash,” Baker-Brian says. “We’re 100% mobile money” – a decision that capitalises on a preference for cash-free payments that’s popping up across Africa.

最后,顾客可以用手机转账付款。"我们不接受现金付款,"贝克-布莱恩说,"我们100%都是移动支付"——该决定是借力非洲正在快速发展的电子支付潮流。

Overlooked no more

不再被忽视

Five months ago, when BBOXX established an office in Rwamagana, the district where Mberabagabo lives, he was one of the first to sign up. The technology, he says, “has changed my life.”

五个月前,BBOXX在卢瓦马加纳(Rwamagana)建立办公室。这里的居民梅贝拉巴格伯是首批注册者之一。他说,这项技术改变了他的生活。

His family’s four lights have increased their sense of security against would-be trespassers, and he also appreciates that he no longer has to burn candles and lamps that emit smoke, which he knows is bad for his children’s health. A father of five, the lights mean that Mberabagabo’s older kids can read and study into the night, and go to bed later. “Now, there’s plenty of time to do whatever we need to do,” he says.

他家里的四盏灯增加了他们的安全感,不用太担心有人闯进家来。他很感激不用再使用会冒出烟的蜡烛和油灯,他知道那对孩子的健康不好。他有五个孩子,电灯意味着年纪大一点的孩子晚上可以读书学习,晚些睡觉。"现在,我们有很多时间做重要的事,"他说。

13-year-old Claude, his eldest child, says he “loves” the television that his family rents along with the box itself – their first TV. For optimal viewing, Mberabagabo set it up in a sort of home cinema room, windowless, cool and completely barren save for the TV and the benches located opposite for watching. Though transfixed by a Brazilian football match on a recent afternoon, Claude – who would like to be a teacher when he grows up – insists that the news is his favourite programme. Shy and polite, he stands by this unexpected answer, even when a foreign journalist asks him if he’s sure sports and cartoons aren’t his favourites.

梅贝拉巴格伯最大的孩子是13岁的克劳德(Claude)。克劳德说,他喜欢家里和太阳能设备一起租来的电视机,这是他们家的第一台电视。为了最优的观看效果,梅贝拉巴格伯把电视放在家庭影院般的房间里。这个房间没有窗户,很凉爽,除了电视机和对面的长凳以外空无一物。最近的一个下午,克劳德聚精会神的观看巴西的足球赛。他说自己最爱看新闻节目,长大后要做老师。他很害羞,很礼貌,坚持说他的愿望是成为老师,尽管外国记者问他是否确定最爱的节目不是体育和动画。

“Now I’m able to know who is who in the government,” he explains. “I can ask better questions at school.”

"现在我可以知道政府官员的名字了。"他解释道,"我在学校可以提更好的问题。"

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