South African Solar Energy Company Pays Crypto Investors

Sun Exchange funds the installation of signs in schools and farms.

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(Bloomberg) – When Abraham Cambridge flew to South Africa in 2014, he was struck by how few solar panels he saw in a sunny country with unreliable electricity. Soon after, he started Sun Exchange Inc., a company that finances panel installation, eliminating the need for customers to raise the often prohibitive amount needed to purchase and install equipment.

“You need to install solar panels where you have the most environmental and social impact,” says Cambridge, who previously ran a panel installation business in the UK. “It drew me to South Africa, where there is fantastic solar radiation and growing energy problems.” He focused on schools, nursing homes and shopping malls as potential customers, places that often find solar energy costs prohibitive.

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Sun Exchange invites investors to purchase solar cells, a building block of panels, for as little as $4, in a project of their choice. Customers who receive renewable energy still pay a fee on a 20-year contract, but the cost is lower than what would have been charged for grid electricity.

Part of the revenue goes to Sun Exchange, which can fund installation and maintenance and make a profit. The rest is paid to investors. They can choose to receive South African Rand or Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency enabling easy cross-border payments to the more than 35,000 people in 180 countries who have participated so far. “I bought some solar cells for a Sun Exchange project in 2018, the installation at Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg,” says Nick Hedley, a 34-year-old communications consultant and writer from Cape Town. “The income generated since represents 23% of my initial investment. It’s an awesome operating model.

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South Africa has seen its worst blackouts this year as debt-ridden utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., which generates almost all of its electricity from coal, struggles to keep its aging plants running.

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Until recently, there were few alternatives for small businesses and homes to fund their own solar power. “What this business model does is basically use every available roof for solar power, to enable everyone to invest in solar power,” says Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the non-profit research association RMI.

Sun Exchange has installed signs for more than 60 agricultural businesses, schools, nursing homes, shopping centers and facilities for the visually or educationally impaired in Southern Africa.

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One client, Eric Brown, owns an isolated farm in the semi-desert Karoo region that is not connected to the grid. It used to depend on diesel generators, but in September switched to solar. He expects his electricity costs to drop by more than 60%. “The biggest infrastructure problem is the electricity supply, because you can’t pump with diesel, it’s just too expensive,” he says. s.

Cambridge’s first project, in 2016, was the Stellenbosch Waldorf School, which caught the attention of investors in the United States. Initial funding of $60,000 came from Boost VC in California. Subsequent rounds have grossed over $8.3 million. It took just three days for Sun Exchange to raise the 9.5 million rand ($525,282) needed to install signs at Pioneer School in Worcester, 70 miles east of Cape Town, which teaches approximately 120 blind or visually impaired students. “It’s cleaner, cheaper energy, and we sell any excess we don’t need back to the municipality,” says Michael Bredenkamp, ​​director of Pioneer. “We’re saving around R10,000 a month and helping the environment.” —With Eric Roston

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