Access to clean and affordable energy lies at the heart of the sustainable development goals and is a prerequisite as well as a footstep for inclusive socio-economic transformation. Roughly 30 million Ugandans still lack access to affordable electricity and about 84% live in rural areas and are predominantly low-income earners. Despite several off-grid solar connections and investment in Uganda over the past years, rural electrification has been slow. Local energy utilities like mini-grid developers and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar home system installers lack remote monitoring systems for securing their energy assets. This discourages many to address under-served rural and last-mile markets, leaving millions of households still unconnected.
With a mission to increase access to electricity in hard-to-reach and underserved markets, PEEC energy Uganda was among the finalists and won the 2020 Greenpreneurs program for their team innovation, “Remote monitoring and metering systems for pay as you go solar home systems (SHS) and mini grids”. It’s a revolutionary new approach that brings uninterrupted and affordable solar electricity to everyone and mitigates the conundrum. This model has helped SHS companies and local mini-grid developers sell energy in off-grid locations, remotely monitor their utility assets, and collect bill payments over a central software. It has considerably reduced untimely battery/system failure that distorts customer payment plans and causes economic loss to SHS companies. Furthermore, the solution is envisaged as a potential preventive measure to the spread of the COVID-19 because it facilitates predictive maintenance and limits the unnecessary movement of persons to households.
We recently caught up with Phillip Kyeswa, the founder and CEO of Peec Energy to ask him about his experience with the Greenpreneurs program.
Phil, you have just won the Greenpreneurs Award 2020, Congratulations! How did it feel when you found out you had won one?
Thank you. It was a mix of excitement, joy, relief and nervousness all mixed in as one. When the Director General announced our company, we were still nervous (the wait) and relieved at the same time, relieved that our hard work had been recognized and paid off. It is difficult to describe that feeling, but this is how we can describe it at best.
Tell me about your background and how it relates to what you do?
My name is Phillip Kyeswa, I am the founder and CEO, of PEEC Energy Limited. I am 27 years old and an electrical engineer by profession. I studied at Kings College Budo for my high school where I majored in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and French (PCM/French). For my university education, I won a scholarship to study in Europe at Cyprus International University where I graduated in 2017 with an Electrical and Electronics Engineering degree and later a graduate degree at the same university. This training has enabled me design remote solutions to energy access in solar technologies, biogas technologies as well as security systems.
How did you get to know about this competition?
I came to know about the competition through a long-time friend, Brian Kakembo who also happens to be a GreenPreneur alumnus and finalist. He always encouraged me that my project would be fit for the competition.
How did you find your overall Greenpreneurs program experience and what was your favorite part?
The overall experience was insightful. Over the 12-weeks, our team acquired a lot of business skills, which every entrepreneur ought to acquire to build a business. The skills not only focus on revenue generation but also social impact. Our favorite part of the program was the aspect of subject matter experts, it equipped us with explicit knowledge on how to overcome certain challenges – something that we had not experienced with other accelerator programs.
What inspired you to develop this solution/innovation?
My brother and I started out as solar entrepreneurs focusing on solar system installations. However, we used to face challenges whenever we installed solar in rural and last mile areas. Sometimes when there is a failure, it would take a long time for us to go and fix it – leaving these end-users without energy for long periods at a time. We decided to pivot our business after realizing this gap in the industry. We decided to focus on solving challenges which local energy suppliers face in reaching unconnected rural and last mile areas. Having had a background in electrical engineering, I decided to build a solution to allow remote monitoring for solar systems and mini grids. Through our systems we can predict and prevent maintenance issues, ensuring continuous service for the end users.
How does your solution Impact end-users or beneficiaries?
Our solution has opened opportunities for women and youth as sales agents and distributors of systems and solar products. The awareness about solar home systems and remote monitoring has increased adoption of solar energy by SMEs, for example, phone charging, cold beverage and maize mills. These provide employment to both skilled and unskilled labor.
What is the major challenge you have had shaping your business idea?
The biggest challenge we face is startup capital to create more impact. For our kind of business, substantial research and development of technology is required, which calls for a lot of upfront investment. However, we have had limited financing thus taking a longer time to create solutions and delaying the impact.
How do you intend to use your prize money?
For this phase of growth, we are focusing on R&D, business development and scale out. As such, our prize money will primarily go to R&D to increase the full-scale manufacturing of remote monitoring hardware.
How can we get more youth to benefit from “greenpreneurship”? How many green jobs can be created by your social enterprise in the next five years?
Capacity building and mentorship is the most effective pathway to getting youth along to harness the benefits of greenpreneurship. We hope to create at least 100 direct jobs by employing engineers, field technicians, accounts as well as interns in the next 5 years. Since we are working on creating an R&D lab for full scale manufacturing locally, we look forward to employing and training more youth in the field of technology.
What are your views on how we can strengthen the GreenPreneurs program in Uganda?
The Greenpreneurs program is a globally competitive. I therefore advice Greenpreneurs in Uganda to mentor each other, share challenges they face and opportunities there are. I am so far impressed by the Uganda Greenpreneur alumni platform already in existence and I am explicitly indebted to Ms. Dagmar Zwebe for this initiative. For the prospective Greenpreneurs, I implore them to create impactful solutions that will change people’s lives while conserve the environment. Additionally, they should make sure they acquire as much knowledge as possible from different experts in the field they are working around. By doing so, they will keep Uganda’s legacy in the competition and achieve impact beyond the Greenpreneurs program.