Off-grid solar sector going digital: the experience of Kamworks in Cambodia
As a growing number of solar companies offer the pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) financing model for customers, the solar sector is going digital. Not only are customers paying digitally, but solar companies are building digital back offices. With support from several partners, including UNCDF CleanStart, Kamworks – a solar company that provides solar power to more than 150,000 rural customers in Cambodia – has developed a proprietary PAYGO and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform.
The PAYGO platform allows people to pay for their monthly installment using mobile money. This facilitates access to energy (making small payments regularly would match their small weekly income) and stimulates the use of mobile payment/banking services.
Banking penetration rates remain low in Cambodia compared to other countries in the region (around 22 percent1 of adults with bank accounts). Yet, there is a high degree of mobile phone penetration and internet usage with around 94 percent2 of Cambodians owning a mobile phone and almost one in three that use the internet. The low banking penetration suggests that there might be a substantial unmet demand for access to formal financial services. Mobile platforms/mobile payment services/mobile banking services might be able to deliver financial services to the poor at a lower cost relative to traditional branch-based banking models. This would match with the already widespread use of mobile phones.
With a GSM chip inside the battery box, energy usage data is sent to Kamworks’ back-end platform every 20 minutes. The ERP allows for remote agent and inventory management. There are several advantages of these features. By analyzing customer usage data, Kamworks can design products better tailored to meet customer-specific needs and usage patterns. Maintenance visits are reduced as Kamworks can troubleshoot problems remotely by looking at the Solar Home System data. Furthermore, as the PAYGO technology can identify early issues with battery performance, it can help identify usage patterns to clients that may shorten battery life.
Going digital has helped Kamworks manage their customers and business in a more efficient and cost-effective way. Kamworks is experiencing a sea-change first-hand having been in the cash-sales business for the past decade. Better yet, it’s up for grabs by other solar providers that want to integrate these solutions into their own activities. In a very short time, already, two solar initiatives have signed up.
With solar PAYGO financing combined with digital, solar is becoming less about the hardware and a lot more about the service. Managing good customer relations and overcoming physical limitations through digital is changing the face of the off-grid solar sector.
1 World Bank, FINDEX, 2014.
2 The Asia Foundation, Mobile Phones and Internet in Cambodia, 2015.
Partnering for a Common Purpose:
UNCDF’s CleanStart and Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) programmes jointly launched the Energy Access Challenge to innovatively lower the affordability barrier for low-income consumers who want to pay for modern clean energy.
UNCDF’s CleanStart programme aims to increase the access to clean energy by innovating support for low-income consumers to transition to cleaner and more efficient energy and, in the process, reveal new markets and build national financing ecosystems ready to meet clean energy demand. CleanStart is supported by the Austrian Development Cooperation, Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Kamworks, established in Cambodia by Dutch solar engineers in 2006, aims at making solar for rural electrification affordable with its revolutionary PAYGO solar home system technology. With PAYGO, operational costs are lower, service is better and clients without collateral can be served.
UNCDF’s SHIFT aims to expand women's economic empowerment through financial inclusion. SHIFT advances financial markets by changing the behavior of market actors to stimulate investment, business innovations and regulatory reform in growing inclusive enterprises. SHIFT catalyses innovative partnerships to accelerate financial inclusion and women's economic participation in the least developed countries of the ASEAN region. The SHIFT programme is jointly co-funded by UNCDF and the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).