In this column we usually look at opportunities for brands. But just for a change, I would like to encourage as consumers to think about a chance to exert their power. And (ironically) do so in the energy category.
Here in East Africa, energy is at a premium. This is one of the most expensive places on the planet to burn a light bulb. Even with investment in geothermal, wind and hydro generation when have you ever heard any utility company executive hint that electricity prices will reduce? And have you ever gone a week with uninterrupted power supply at home or work? Even if you were fortunate enough to live within the grid?
After the Kibaki initiatives, 60 per cent of Kenyan households are said to have mains power, but in Uganda and Tanzania it may still be some time before such access is available. So, at present we all have to improvise. Those of us off-grid use paraffin and charcoal - the latter very environmentally undesirable but… what to do? Oil companies have helped make cooking gas available in smaller, more affordable sizes. Businesses and richer households invest in inverters and generators. I remember a nightmare time some 15 years ago when we powered our advertising agency with rows of car batteries lining the corridor. It felt more like being in a U-Boat!
But help is at hand. In fact it has always been there, on this continent with abundant sunlight. The barrier has been how to access solar power. It is probably been more effectively marketed to rural people than to townies. An assortment of refugees from the NGO world has teamed up with people who mix compassion with business sense to create low or non-profit enterprises that benefit the bottom of the market. They have focussed on solar lighting because it is easier to deliver in small packages, and the societal impact of having 18 hours of light instead of 12 is significant. More time to study; better security; a fuller day. Brands like D-Light are reputed to exemplify such enterprises. That said, I emailed them a week ago to find my nearest supplier, and I remain unenlightened in every sense.
The next solar door to open is Solar Water Heating. But to open it wide demands the combined efforts of the solar industry, governments, and you the consumer. And here is how.
The solar industry needs to stop treating solar as a series of components to bolt together. It must professionalise the way it specifies and installs. Then perhaps we can all begin to look at solar as a solution we can trust, instead of a Heath Robinson experiment we could rig up better ourselves. I also think that there is a serious market education job open to the more accomplished solar marketers.
Government can help my mandating solar installation on the grounds of social betterment, environmental impact, and the eking out of limited resources. The Government of Uganda has been toying with grants for installation, but I have not yet met anyone who says that is working. In Kenya, the government promulgated The Energy (Solar Water Heating) Regulations as far back as 2012. I am not sure how aware Kenyans are of these, but in a nutshell they require that:
- All premises with hot water requirements exceeding one hundred litres per day shall install and use solar heating systems;
- Within a period of five years from the effective date of the regulations, all existing premises with hot water requirements exceeding one hundred litres per day shall install and use solar heating systems; and
- An owner of premises, architect or engineer shall incorporate solar water heating systems in all new premises designs.
So that is an example of a government doing its bit.
But what can you, as a consumer, do? Well, a bit of marketing of your own. You see, the solar companies of the near future will be looking to grab market share as efficiently as possible. This means they will be keen to acquire bulk business, which in the domestic market will be streets of houses, or gated compounds, or some similar agglomeration of dwellings. So, if you want to be ahead of the solar curve and get the best deals, collaboration is the order of the day. See how many of your neighbours you can gather together, and invite solar companies to tender for your business. You will be doing your bit for your ‘hood, for your nation and for your pocket. Now, won’t that feel nice?
Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. www.thebrandinside.com
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