sunfunder

The Awesome Power of the Sun

Imagine living in a world where there are no lights at night to read, study or do homework. No stove to turn on to cook dinner. No outlet to charge your cellphone. Hard for many to imagine. However, 80% of Uganda’s population has no access to electricity. Kerosene, diesel and firewood are used instead – major contributors to house fires, tragic burns and indoor air pollution. 

SunFunder is dedicated to changing the lives of those 80% of Ugandans, and others around the world by investing in solar energy for them. They are doing it by partnering with companies like SolarNow which provides affordable solar home systems to off-the-grid families and businesses in Uganda. 

PIPs is proud to be partnering with SunFunder and is excited to offer an opportunity to use your hard earned PIPs on this inspirational project – “Switch on Ntungamo.” 

Keep reading

SunFunder closes Series A investment led by Khosla Impact

We are excited to announce that SunFunder has successfully closed a Series A equity investment led by Khosla Impact and including a group of our existing angel investors. This marks a significant milestone for SunFunder and signals the next step on our journey to be the leader in emerging market solar finance.

 

Khosla Impact, Vinod Khosla’s personal investment vehicle for market-based solutions to poverty and development, was formed by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. It provides assistance to entrepreneurs developing products and services for the three billion people at the bottom of the world’s economic pyramid.

This investment from Khosla Impact will allow SunFunder to grow in E Africa and India, expand into new regions, increase our fundraising capacity and help us towards achieving our goal of catalyzing over $1 billion of financing into solar companies and projects in emerging markets by 2020. This investment also validates the opportunity for solar energy in emerging markets, the need for new solar financing sources, and the catalytic impact SunFunder’s solutions are having on how solar companies across emerging markets secure financing.

SunFunder is based in San Francisco and Tanzania with a mission to unlock capital for emerging market solar. We raise capital through the Solar Empowerment Fund, a private debt offering that provides the only opportunity for accredited and institutional investors to invest in a diversified, vetted and high impact portfolio of solar projects in emerging markets. This is complemented by our crowdfunding activity, where anyone can invest as little as $10 on sunfunder.com.

Since 2012, SunFunder has financed 24 project loans with 10 solar companies in 6 different countries. This has already helped over 115,000 people get access to affordable solar energy. So far 6 project loans have been fully repaid, and we maintain a 100% repayment rate. By the end of 2015, we aim to raise and deploy $20 million into solar projects around the world.

Thank you for believing in us. With your help and support, we look forward to reaching many more exciting milestones ahead!

1 in 6 people on earth have no access to electricity. Many are near an electricity grid but it costs too much to tap onto it and even then blackouts and brownouts are the norm. This 500W solar system in a rural village in Uganda can power a home, drive a public broadcasting system, a barbershop and a video hall and generates new income for the business owner, who says, “This solar system is very reliable and affordable, it has changed my life, and I need even more!”. The affordability comes due to available end-user financing, which is otherwise the key barrier to adoption #solar #solarnow #offgrid #sunfunder #uganda #africa #energyaccess (at Kasawo, Kayunga, Uganda)

On the Road in Tanzania

The Rough Road to Matipwili Part 2

Mason Huffine is Little Sun’s laugh-a-minute business and sales manager for Africa and, a few weeks ago, returned to Berlin from another solar light-bringing adventure in Tanzania, a country close to his heart after living there for four years. 

This post is Part Two of his stories and pictures from the road, working with Little Sun’s Tanzanian distributor Strategic Energy, who recently received financial investment from a SunFunder loan. Their work in Tanzania is particularly crucial, with over 80% of the population unable to access electricity. After food, toxic fuel-based lighting expenses rank the second highest in the average Tanzanian household budget. 

Mason hopes his work with Little Sun is changing that.

PART II

When we finally arrived in the village of Matipwili, near the impressive wildlife park, Saadani, on the Indian Ocean, it became very clear to me how different things were to when I was ‘back in the bush’ five years ago: all of a sudden, every shopkeeper we passed on the road, as well as some of the village shopkeepers too, wanted to be Little Sun dealers. 

In the past, solar energy was something to be questioned. Now it was something legitimate to be involved with.

Over 100 homes in the village had light from the mini-grid system and three homes had a television that worked for one-and-a-half hours a day.

But despite the fact that the national grid has now been extended into some of these areas in the five years since I was there, most people were still not connected and even if they were, they still needed mobile lights. Many of the shop keepers with businesses on the road had a connection to the grid but as soon as you leave the roadside and head into the ‘bush’, no one is connected. There’s a huge need for reliable, forms of light that can be taken anywhere. 

Someone had already been in the area selling cheap imitation solar products so naturally people had become very wary of new products.  The German flag on the Little Sun packaging was a big help in gaining trust from the villagers that what we were selling was a quality, German-engineered and designed product.  

Every person I spoke with there was more than ready to buy a system that actually works. And that, of course, is where Little Sun comes in.

Got to run but things are definitely looking promising in Tanzania!


Mason


Read more here about Mason’s upcoming adventures in Zimbabwe in the coming months!

Sunfunder jaaroverzicht 2014

Sinds begin 2013 investeren we een klein bedrag in offgrid solar projecten via Sunfunder. Tot nu toe hebben we aan 14 projecten deelgenomen, waarvan er 6 volledig zijn terugebetaald. De andere projecten lopen nog. Wat we terug ontvangen investeren we automatisch weer in nieuwe projecten. Doordat de looptijd van de leningen vaak een jaar is hebben we met onze investering van ongeveer $250…

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How many SunFunder employees does it take to install a solar system?

By Irene Mayallah (Operations and Outreach Lead, SunFunder East Africa)

On a sunny Wednesday the SunFunder Arusha team enjoyed the view of Mt Meru on their way up the Ilboru rough road to Yohanes’ house to install a Greenlight Planet Sun King Home solar system. Yohanes is a farmer by day and a security guard by night. He has 5 children and wanted to light his home so that they could study in a bright room.

The Sun King home system is manufactured by one of our borrowers, Greenlight Planet, and distributed by another one of our borrowers, Global Cycle Solutions. Today, it was Baraka, the Financial Analyst-turned-Fundi (Fundi is the Swahili word for “technician”) that delivered the complete solar powered light system to Yohanes’ home. It is is fully equipped with three hanging lamps and wall mounts for light switches. It has a 6W solar panel and 2 USB ports for easy charging capabilities.

To set up the home system, Baraka the “Fundi” started by finding a sunny spot to place the solar panel. Elisha and Joshua held the ladder to make sure our Fundi doesn’t fall.

On the inside, Lais installed the Control Panel (with a Battery Meter) by the front door.

(Control panel)

After placement of the solar panel, it was then connected into the main control panel. Joshua went ahead to find the best spot for the first light outside, then connecting it to the control panel.

(Audrey reading the instruction manual carefully making sure the installation goes perfectly!)

The second light was placed in the sitting room; right in the middle of the room. Quite useful for the children to use when doing their homework and studying at night.

(Still counting? I’ve got four so far…..)

We went on plugging in the third light and the light switches. Each light comes equipped with a daisy chain adaptor and two wires; one that you can connect to the control panel and one leading to the light switch. Another amazing thing is that each light has three brightness modes. The battery management technology automatically switches three lamps to low-power mode when the battery is running low, yielding additional hours of light.

(Lais saying, “This switch is good to go! Who wants to light up the room?”)

(Yohanes’ eldest son doing the honor of lighting the sitting room being cheered on by Baraka. Joshua is in the next room doing his magic behind the curtains!)

(The room was not only lit up by the new solar lights, the smiles were even brighter! Audrey and Yohanes’ daughter pictured here. The Sun King home system also comes with a free Sun King Eco, the green portable light- helpful for traveling at night.)

(Well, it was my turn to see how the three brightness modes works…)

You may notice that a light switch and wires already exist on the walls. Yohannes had installed these years ago, waiting for the day that he could access (and afford) connection to the grid. He got tired of waiting and opted for a solar system instead.

[The team pausing for a photo after a hard hour’s work installing the Sun King home system…… From  Left to right top row: Yohanes’ eldest, Alycia (Head of Debt Funds), Yohanes’ 2nd son, Yohanes himself, Yohanes’ daughter, Audrey (COO), Joshua (Portfolio Manager), Elisha (Portfolio Analyst). From left to right bottom row: 2 neighbour kids, Baraka (Financial Analyst) and myself Irene (Operations & Outreach Lead) with Yohanes’ last born. Photograph by Lais (Business Development Associate).]

It took 7 solar finance nerds and one hour to install the system (not counting the hike to Yohanes’ home). However, this was a team building exercise and we can confidently say that the Sun King Home System really only needs 1 literate person and a solid ladder to be installed. The Sun King Home System retails for less than $100 in Arusha.

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Off-grid solar in Africa is bankable. Crowdfunding initiative sets out to prove it.

Access to affordable capital is one of the biggest challenges for expanding a young industry. For solar in Africa, crowdfunding is helping to change that

SunFunder is a crowdfunding initiative that is proving that off-grid solar in Africa is bankable. The project is getting a lot of success (thanks in part to my friend who works for them!) and investors would be smart to shift gears from coal to solar, especially with international pressure to find new solutions to climate change.

1,000 Investors Strong

We hit a huge milestone last week - we now have over 1,000 investors from 41 countries around the world! Over the last 22 months, 991 crowd investors have invested $214k through our investment platform on SunFunder.com and 9 private (accredited) investors have invested $450k through our Solar Empowerment Fund. Together, these investments have helped our 9 solar partners grow and have helped impact 115,000 people in Africa and India who no longer have to depend on kerosene for lighting or have to walk hours to get their cell-phones charged.

The biggest movements have humble beginnings. We started our first crowd investment project at $4k. Today our largest project is already at $200k. Our goal is to catalyze over $1 billion of investments into off-grid solar projects by 2020 and help tens of millions of people around the world with affordable solar power. We keep seeing great validation of the economics of off-grid solar and we want to help prove that it is low-risk and bankable. More and more off-grid communities are leapfrogging the electricity grid with solar energy because it’s cleaner, brighter and, most importantly, more affordable than existing options available to them.

We couldn’t have made this progress without the support of people like you. To celebrate this milestone and to show our deepest thanks, we are running a special matching investment promotion for a limited time. Any investment made in the next 10 days will be matched dollar for dollar, effectively doubling your impact! Please use this opportunity to make an investment today and also send a gift investment to your friends and family and ask them to join us. We would love our community to beat our expectations of how much we can raise in the next 10 days.

For more information about the matching investment, read our FAQ page.

SunFunder Completes $2.5 Million Series A Equity Round With Khosla Impact, Schneider Electric, and Better Ventures

Investment lays groundwork for scaling solar energy finance in emerging markets

SunFunder, an emerging market solar finance company, has completed its Series A equity round with investments from Schneider Electric, Better Ventures, and a private family foundation based in Palo Alto. This follows the first stage of the round led by Khosla Impact and a group of angel investors, bringing total Series A funding to over $2.5 million.

Ryan Levinson, CEO of SunFunder, says that the investments validate the need for innovative financing solutions to unlock solar energy development in emerging markets.

“Over a third of the world lacks access to reliable energy and solar energy is leapfrogging the grid in these markets. Access to reliable finance is the main barrier preventing solar energy providers from reaching scale. In the last 2 years, SunFunder has established a solid track record and proven that the market is economically viable. This investment round will allow us to expand our capacity in local markets and substantially grow our loan portfolio.”

Based in San Francisco and Tanzania, SunFunder provides short-term, working capital and project finance loans for solar home systems, micro-grids and commercial solar projects in emerging markets. It brings strong solar industry and local market expertise and provides reliable financing designed to scale with its customers’ long-term needs. SunFunder raises debt capital through the Solar Empowerment Fund, offering accredited investors a risk-reduced, fixed-income investment opportunity in diverse portfolios of high-impact solar loans across multiple countries and solar technologies.

Sandhya Hegde of Khosla Impact Fund said: “Investors agree that solar is a reliable, clean market-based solution, however solar companies and projects struggle to attract finance. SunFunder’s diligence weeds out risks, and their technology and systems make investments in off-grid solar a mainstream finance product. It’s creating a standard for viable, profitable and ‘bankable’ solutions to attract large commercial investors to this rapidly growing industry.”

SunFunder has financed $1.3 million of solar projects, with 14 solar companies in 6 countries, and maintains a zero percent default rate. This has helped over 140,000 people get access to affordable solar energy. In the next three years SunFunder aims to raise and deploy $100 million into solar projects around the world.

The latest and brightest in solar finance

By Cindy Nawilis, community & operations lead

Here’s a recap of some interesting news and releases in the off-grid renewable energy sector. If some of it is old news to you, then give yourself a pat on the back for being ahead of the game:

  • Power For All, a collective of public and private organizations dedicated to delivering universal energy access before 2030, released a white paper. The paper advocates small-scale, decentralized renewable energy systems to delivery universal energy access and ends with a number of calls to action, some of which SunFunder directly addresses.

  • As this National Geographic blog states, loan guarantees are now being considered for a different kind of application: energy access for the roughly 1.3 billion people worldwide who live in the dark. A loan guarantee is an agreement where the guarantor such as a bank or a private investor assumes the debt for the borrower if that borrower defaults. The essential role for this strategy is to reduce risk in order to attract additional investors. This is yet another type of credit enhancement that would help prove to commercial investors that the energy access sector is bankable. SunFunder currently is already offering one type of proven credit enhancement—a catalytic first loss capital layer—on our Solar Empowerment Fund.

Stay tuned for another one of recaps next month!

First Private Debt Note Series is Fully Repaid

A year and a half after its launch, SunFunder’s first private debt note series with an 18-month tenor is now fully repaid. As of March 10, 2015, four investors received their principal plus a fixed interest return. Below are the solar customers in this series’s portfolio:

  • SunnyMoney
  • SolarNow
  • Fenix International
  • BBOXX
  • Global Cycle Solutions
  • Zamsolar

SunFunder launched Solar Empowerment Fund (SEF) in September 2013 to finance off-grid and grid-deficit solar projects and to meet the rising demand for working capital from solar businesses in emerging markets. Through the Solar Empowerment Fund, SunFunder has financed $2 million of loans to solar product distributors, prepaid solar energy service providers, and commercial end-users in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, India and the Philippines. By end of 2015, SunFunder will increase its total portfolio size to $12.5 million with a focus on the East African and South Asian solar markets.

SunFunder Gifts for Mother's Day

By Cindy Nawilis, community & operations lead

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we have the perfect gift for your mother to show her that you care.

Mothers around the world know that the best gift in life is to see their children flourish. When you send a SunFunder Gift for your mother, you’re spreading solar in her name so that other mothers can have the opportunity to improve their children’s lives. 

Simply select the “Gifts” tab after clicking “Invest” on any project page, and thank her in your own words with a personalized message:

100 More Homes in Uganda On Their Way to Being Solar Powered

By Cindy Nawilis, community & operations lead

Great news, SunFunders! Over the weekend we fully funded Power Homes and Businesses in Kayunga project, which means the Uganda-based social enterprise SolarNow will receive a working capital loan of $25,000 in the middle of this month. This amount was crowdfunded by 318 people, and we thank every one of you for your loan. You have provided the means for SolarNow to grow and scale their operations in Uganda, and as a result, 100 more households in Kayunga district will be able to go full solar and no longer rely on kerosene. 

Be the first to know about another project launch by signing up for an account and opting in to our newsletter. Thank you for your enthusiasm to deliver universal energy access with solar energy! 

Are You Our Next Partner?

We’re kicking off the new year to a great start, and have funding opportunities available to solar companies deploying affordable solar technology to off-grid communities around the world.

To recap, we have so far partnered with 8 fantastic solar companies that have operations in the Philippines, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania:

  • Hybrid Social Solutions
  • SunnyMoney
  • Angaza Design
  • smallsolutions
  • Zamsolar
  • Fenix International
  • SolarNow
  • Global Cycle Solutions

In 2014 and on, we’re looking to add many more to this list and expand to other regions through the work of our solar partners.

If your solar company (or one that you know of) is in need of debt financing for your business to scale, whether you need working capital or project finance loans, we can certainly assist you you. We urge you to check out our basic set of criteria and determine if we are a good fit for your business. We’re in it for the long haul, and we are determined to match your needs at all varying stages of scale. 

For questions, comments, or inquiries regarding partnership, please contact us at partners@sunfunder.com.

SunFunder in the News

By Cindy Nawilis, community & operations lead

We’ve had a good run with the press these past several months that you may have missed. In some of them you’ll hear from our CEO Ryan Levinson about the origins of and future plans for SunFunder, and in others, you’ll find out how our efforts fit into the grander scheme of things like crowdfunding for solar energy and the bankability of off-grid solar for the private sector. They are all great reads and a great way for you to get to know us beyond what you see on our website.

And of course, you can always get to know us by giving us a shout! I’m available to answer any of your questions or listen to your feedback. You can reach out to me by leaving a comment on our blog, by email (cindy@sunfunder.com), or on any of SunFunder’s social media platforms. 

I look forward to connecting with you!

100,000 Lives Impacted

By Cindy Nawilis, community & operations lead

At the end of 2013, we hit a very big milestone: 100,000 people have now benefited from solar energy as a result of SunFunder loans.

We are thankful for everyone in the SunFunder community who helped us reach this milestone. This includes our 8 partner solar companies who work hard day and night to deliver solar to those who need it most, the crowdfunders who put in an average of $244 each to solar projects via sunfunder.com, and the accredited and institutional investors who help scale-up our solar lending activities through our Solar Empowerment Notes program. Every dollar invested has been a significant contribution to reaching 100,000 people with solar energy, and we are excited to achieve more together in 2014.

Impact from ending kerosene use

The number 100,000 means there are 100,000 stories similar to this one of Mabvuto Zulu, who purchased a solar light from our partner SunnyMoney in Zambia:

Mabvuto is a farmer and has five children, three of which are old enough to go to the local school, Kanzutu. Before buying a solar light from SunnyMoney, Mabvuto used kerosene and battery lights to light his home, and his children are now doing two hours of homework a night. “The children would only study during the day but now with the solar light they can study at night.” He added, “I also use [the light] for security. We can now stay for longer hours in the evening when socializing.”

Mabvuto has also noticed a great impact on the health of one of his children in particular. She had bronchitis and after we switched from kerosene to solar lighting, she no longer has the frequent attacks she had before.”

From the reduction in spending on kerosene and batteries, Mabvuto is able to save almost $2 a week; that’s saving him about 15% of his monthly income. The best part? He told us, “I use it for buying books and uniforms for my school-going children.” Read more.

Impact from other solar related activities

For many of the 100,000 people that SunFunder impacted, solar also means more opportunity. Several of our solar partners distribute solar technology through a sales agent network, in which they recruit and train villagers in various off-grid communities to earn commission by promoting and selling solar products. The individuals who participate in these programs have a viable means to earn extra income and create positive impact for their communities. One such individual is Upendo, a Rafiki sales agent for Global Cycle Solutions, which is a partner of SunFunder based in Arusha, Tanzania. Our team had the pleasure of meeting her at her home in December, and this is her story:

Upendo has 3 kids and her husband is a farmer. When we arrived at her house, she immediately and gladly showed us the parts of her house that she is expanding. She said she’s been able to pay for the expansion because of the extra income she earns through selling solar products. 

Upendo has become Global Cycle Solution’s top selling Rafiki sales agent since joining in April 2013. On average, she sells 20 solar lights a month and earns a good amount of commission from her sales. Because of her hard work, she has been able to add an additional $4.80 on average to her daily income, a portion of which she saved and used toward purchasing a cow. Upendo named the cow Zawadi, which means “gift” in Swahili, and started earning more income from selling Zawadi’s milk. The earnings from both her solar sales and Zawadi’s milk help pay the construction cost of adding extra rooms to her house. Here’s Upendo and her family on the left taking care of business with the Global Cycle Solutions Rafiki coordinator after we chatted with her:

Read more.

Lives impacted at the end of 2014

That number is entirely up to you to decide. The more solar projects we can fully fund together, the higher the number grows.  Let’s shoot for the stars!

How We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint

By Thad Curtz, an active SunFunder since January 2013

Last year, my wife Jo and I inherited some extra money and started thinking about what we might do with it to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m a retired professor, so I read books about lowering CO2 emissions like Cooler SmarterHow Bad Are Bananas?, and Reinventing Fire. I spent a lot of time on the web, and I kept trying to estimate what it might cost us to save a pound of CO2 in different ways.

We’ve lived in Olympia, Washington since 1972, when I started teaching at an interdisciplinary college here called Evergreen. We have 228 cloudy days a year (compared to 105 in San Francisco, or 70 in Phoenix!), and solar does work here. Our friends down the street bought a Nissan LEAF and eight panels, and they generate enough power to drive their car 6,000 miles a year. But it’s pretty expensive power, and we’re kind of frugal. We wanted to make the money go as far as we could toward reducing emissions.

We spent some money weatherizing our leaky 1893 Victorian house, which was a pretty good deal. I kept being tempted to buy an electric car, but our twelve year old Prius runs fine and we only drive 6,000 miles a year; I estimated it would cost us at least 67 cents to save a pound of CO2 that way.

I looked at a lot of websites offering deals for offsetting CO2 emissions - planting trees looked great, at 7 cents a pound, but there were problems about what might happen to the trees over time, and the big reductions weren’t going to start happening for twenty years, when they’d be less useful. We did invest a little money in Hannon Armstrong, which finances energy efficiency projects. We put a little money into solar projects in sunnier places through Solar Mosaic; those paid interest, but they came with a long list of risks, and they tied the money up completely for ten or twelve years. 

I think we’re actually the most satisfied about our SunFunder loans. I was already interested in West Africa because of the novels and movies, and helping people close to there improve their health and save significant amounts of money mattered to us.

On the business side of the deal, solar lanterns seemed to save almost as much CO2 per dollar as planting trees. I’d read a lively book called Bright Lights, No City about trying to sell solar battery chargers in Ghana, so I thought I had some sense of the risks facing startup solar businesses in Africa. They weren’t trivial, but I thought SunnyMoney’s track record and business plan were impressive, and thought getting the money back quickly and spreading the loans out lowered our risk some. (We also liked the fast payback period for the lights, because we didn’t want customers to regret their investment if a much better alternative showed up sometime soon.) Since rates on CDs and bonds are so low, and that’s where the money would be otherwise, it didn’t even seem as if not getting interest would cost us much now.

So we started making loans through SunFunder, and our investments this year have helped to fully fund four projects, reduce CO2 and provide health benefits and more income to over 38,000 people in Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda, half way around the world. We’re reinvesting the returns as they come in.

We also got our congregation to send $1,000 from our annual fruit sale for good causes to SunFunder, and we’re touting it to as many people as we get a chance to - including you, dear reader! We think it’s a really nice way to help stabilize the planet’s weather and to help people; next we’re thinking about using SunFunder Gifts to make SunFunder loans to the grownups on our shopping lists this Christmas instead of giving them even more things as presents…

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Thad Curtz agreed to write this guest blog post when we asked him to tell us about his experience with SunFunder. We thank him for his support and his thoughtful response.