(Eco Stories is a special monthly feature of Africa’s best environmental initiatives. Every 1st Monday of the month, we publish exclusive interviews with people doing inspiring things for the environment in Africa. Do you think you have a worthy story to be published here but we haven’t noticed you? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to get your story featured on Eco-Stories.)
Eternum Energy Ventures (EnVent) is a solar socially oriented for-profit business that is dedicated to providing affordable solar technologies and phone charging solutions to low-income rural households. EnVent was founded as DUNGO Energy Solutions in October 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and registered as Eternum Energy Ventures in October 2013. EnVent found that “the current market in Ethiopia is filled with cheap and low-quality products with no support system”. Their mission is “to improve the living conditions of Ethiopia´s deprived and underserved population through responsible commercialization of solar energy products”.
We were able to chat with Yoseph Berhane, the founder and general manager of EnVent. Yoseph was born in Assela and grew up in Adama, Ethiopia. He got his Bachelor’s degree from Addis Ababa University in Sociology and Social Administration. After working in the area of social work for six years, he changed his career to environmental communication five years ago. He recently completed a master’s degree in Environmental Communication and Management from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. He believes it is important to “communicate environmental messages to the public, advocate for change, raise awareness, change behavior, and collaborate with public agencies; the media; and commercial ventures to address environmental and climate change issues”.
Since their commercial launch in 2012, they have brought and distributed solar lamps, chargers, generators and home systems to 528 people. EnVent currently has 6 employees and plan to work in some parts of South Sudan in the near future. EnVent is also contributing to the achievement of the government’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy objectives, which is to increase access to modern, affordable and reliable energy services through increased usage of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies”. VILLAGEBOOM GmbH, a German based social enterprise currently provides EnVent with the Money Saver ™ solar lamps they distribute. They have also implemented the VILLAGEBOOM Solar Light Business Model. EnVent also plans to import the VB parts and assemble the lamps in Ethiopia. In general EnVent is a distribution company. At the moment due to lack of foreign currency to import the lamps they are forced to take the lamps from well-established importers in Ethiopia and distribute them to rural households by getting a small amount of profit.
One thing you wish you knew before starting EnVent?
The one thing I wish I knew before establishing EnVent is the intention of government of Ethiopia with regard to renewable energy and the role of the private sector. Ethiopia has made it clear that renewable energy will be a key economic driver, emphasizing green growth and clean energy as integral to its growth and transformation plan, a five-year strategy to reduce poverty and spur national development. However, three years on, the government has not given focus to technologies like small-scale solar for off-grid communities. In contrast, the government of Ethiopia seems to give focus to large-scale technologies such as wind and geothermal which raises crucial questions about the future of electricity access.
His advice to young solar entrepreneurs:
As solar lamps are a relatively new technology for rural households a lot of work has to be done on raising consumer awareness. There’s a growing interest but like everything it takes time to round that up. In Ethiopia the concept of social enterprise is at a very early stage of development. The govt. takes social enterprises as private business enterprises. There are very few companies like EnVent who are partly social and partly profit oriented. Even though the Ethiopian govt. has passed a regulation for zero duty on solar products in December 2009 we still have to pay duty. This makes the final retail price higher than many low-income households can afford. Anyone that wants to work in this sector need to realize that it will take time to escape from our old ideas and our paramount responsibility should be to develop new ideas in order to help the deprived and underserved rural families. About 1.5 million people in Africa use solar lamps. That’s a huge number but still less than 1 percent of the potential market. More than half of Africa’s population lives without electricity. “The need isn’t designing a great lamp, great lamps are out there…it is designing a great business model”. The major challenge for selling to rural households is supply chain and logistics, “how do we sustainably deliver products and provide after-sales and warranty services?”
Eco Stories is a special monthly feature of Africa’s best environmental initiatives. Every 1st Monday of the month, we publish exclusive interviews with people doing inspiring things for the environment in Africa. Do you think you have a worthy story to be published here but we haven’t noticed you? Send an e-mail to email@example.com to get your story featured.