ZOLA Electric gets support from Tesla in solving Africa’s energy problems

ZOLA Electric gets support from Tesla in solving Africa’s energy problems

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While efforts are being made to expand access to electricity in Africa, population growth outpaces these efforts. Some African regions have a high rate of connectivity. According to Afrobarometer, Nigeria has a 90% connection rate, South Africa has 95% connection rate, and Egypt has a 100% connection rate.

As Africa’s population and economic growth requirements increase, the demand for a reliable and sustainable energy source also increases.

Nigeria’s high percentage of access contrasts sharply with its supply rate of 17%, this means electrical connection to people’s homes and businesses do not imply a continuous supply of electricity.

Unfortunately, in the majority of Sub-Saharan Africa, there are either high connection rates with insufficient supply or low connection rates with adequate supply, or both – an example is Burundi, with a connection rate of less than 25% and a supply rate of less than 19%.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) Africa predicts in its Energy Outlook 2019 that the continent’s population will surpass China’s by 2025, making it difficult to meet up with the continent’s energy demand.


ZOLA Electric is among African companies that are developing technological solutions to solve the continent’s electricity problems.

Xavier Helgesen co-founded the company with Erica Mackey – who had worked in Tanzania, and Joshua Pierce – a renewable energy expert. They devised a plan to provide affordable solar solutions for Africans, and in 2012, they launched M-Power as Off-Grid Electric (ZOLA Electric) in Arusha, Tanzania.

The company’s CEO, Bill Lenihan, tells Techpoint Africa, that the drive to create the company came from the Co-founders passion “to solve a big problem [since] 2.2 billion people across the globe have no access to reliable energy and those people tend to be the ones that need it the most.”


In comparison, ZOLA Electric develops intelligent batteries that manage all available power sources. Basically, everything passes through the battery as it intelligently switches power sources.

ZOLA Electric’s Infinity product harvests energy from solar panels, power grids, and other sources. It then switches to the most readily available energy source while storing energy simultaneously via installed software.

Infinity can detect changes in the environment if the power source is solar, or power surges if the power source is an electrical grid, as demonstrated in ZOLA Electric’s video demonstration.

Lenihan describes it simply as an energy management system that functions similarly to a storage system but performs additional functions.

“It takes data and manages it to whatever is the priority of that homeowner,” he added.

ZOLA Electric sells its products through its partners, who, while playing a distributive role, interact directly with customers.

They install the ZOLA Electric solutions and help with maintenance. Essentially, it’s a business-to-business (B2B) model.

The process began in rural Africa, with an assessment of what people truly needed and the most sustainable way to provide it.


Tesla is currently the company’s second-largest investor. This is because California-based solar company, SolarCity, invested in ZOLA Electric about five years ago.

SolarCity was acquired by Tesla a few years later, making Tesla ZOLA Electric’s second-largest shareholder.

Lenihan outlines his vision for the distributed digital energy industry.

“I see a renewed global focus on energy equality and access, and I hope that the momentum that exists today to assist emerging markets in developing an energy infrastructure continues.”

“And I believe distributed digital energy is the way forward for emerging markets.”

Currently, the company supplies electricity to over 1.5 million people in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

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