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Success Story: How FRES Upgraded Their Non-Paygo Systems to Paygo



Overview


Pay-as-you-go (Paygo) allows consumers who are unable to afford an asset or service at once, to pay for it in instalments, flexibly over time, thus not only being able to get access to solar energy solutions, but gaining access to financial services for the first time in their lives. This enables them to build a credit history. Given the flexibility of the model, consumers are also able to climb the energy ladder and access more products that are literally changing their lives. Products, such as cooling devices, mobile phones, clean cooking, water access and even agritech solutions, are providing new financial opportunities for larger communities.


Since 2000, Foundation Rural Energy Services (FRES) has been providing people in rural Africa with affordable solar energy under the energy-as-a-service model, currently helping more than 20,000 customers and 100,00 beneficiaries climb the energy ladder, with more than 17,000 SHS installations completed to date. Starting in 2020, they set off to enable Pay-as-you-go capabilities for all of their distributed SHS across their four countries of operation (Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau). Prior to Paygo being introduced, payments were collected in cash on a monthly basis. Managing arrears with customers was problematic, with few options in the event of non-payment except to repossess an entire system.



Challenges



Paygo-enabling the whole fleet of SHS devices distributed by FRES without making major modifications to the hardware in place.



Achieving acceptable payment rates, an essential aspect for the sustainability of FRES’ operations and security of their investments.



Avoiding FRES’ field agents (debt collectors) from carrying large amounts of cash in remote areas.



The growing size and complexity of FRES’ customer databases, the increasing reporting required, along with the upcoming Paygo component of the products, required a robust IT solution tailored to such requirements with broad experience in Paygo product distribution.

Solutions


Taking advantage of the component-based aspect of solar home systems, FRES upgraded their fleet of SHS by retrofitting a state-of-the-art Paygo smart switch designed by Solarworx, the SHS manufacturer. Given the novelty of the solution and the unfamiliarity around it from the customer base, it was necessary to educate and sensitise customers on the Paygo model and with the use of Mobile Money payments. This was achieved by providing technical training to the FRES teams, on a country by country basis beginning in Burkina Faso, in Q2 2020; and Uganda, in Q4 2020. These training sessions followed a ‘training-the-trainer’ approach by initially training the management teams, who would then train the field agents and customers.


The Solarworx Paygo Smart Switch is used in SHS devices that consist of a standard configuration of a charge controller, an external battery and a solar panel. The switch is placed between the charge controller load terminal and the actual load. The device relies on protection features like undervoltage and overcurrent of the charge controller. As long as the timer has not counted to zero the device switches on the load and will cut out once the timer reaches zero. The timer also continues counting even when the SHS has switched off the load.​