Portfolio Spotlight: Sunfunder in East Africa

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Inadequate access to clean energy drastically impedes economic development and presents a major obstacle for entrepreneurs and small and growing businesses throughout the developing world. According to the International Energy Agency, 17% (over 1.2 billion people) of the global population lack access to electricity and nearly 34% (2.5 billion people) have unreliable access to electricity. Sunfunder, a solar finance business based in San Francisco and Tanzania, is looking to change that. Founded in 2012, Sunfunder unlocks capital for solar energy in emerging markets and improves the lives of those living without reliable access to electricity.

MCE Social Capital (MCE) is proud to be one of the anchor investors in Sunfunder’s new $50 million “Beyond the Grid” (BTG) Solar Fund, along with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and The Rockefeller Foundation. Sunfunder raises capital primarily through its unique Solar Empowerment Notes. They then use this capital to provide inventory and working capital loans and project financing to manufacturers, distributors, and other solar energy companies to scale deployments of solar energy systems and catalyze growth in the sector. The BTG Solar Fund will expand Sunfunder’s debt finance solutions for solar projects and companies in emerging markets, which will eventually benefit millions of people in need of electricity.

For example, Yohanes, a farmer by day, security guard by night, and father of five children, wanted to light his home in Arusha, Tanzania so that his children could study after dark. In July 2015, Sunfunder helped him achieve this goal. A team of Sunfunder employees hiked to his house to install the Sun King Home System, a solar powered light system manufactured by Greenlight Planet and distributed by Global Cycle Solutions, both borrowers of Sunfunder. Now, Yohanes’ home has three hanging lamps, powered by a 6W solar panel on his roof, along with light switches and two USB ports for charging capability. Each light has three brightness modes, and a low-power mode that is automatically triggered when the solar battery is low. His children (eldest son in red pictured below with Sunfunder employees) can now study after dark and enjoy reliable, clean energy access.

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Since 2013, Sunfunder has made over 80 loans to 30 companies in Africa and Asia, amounting to $13.8 million in solar energy investments. Their current focus region is East Africa, but their portfolio extends into West Africa and Asia as well. As a result of their work, over 2.5 million people now have clean and reliable energy access, replacing kerosene and diesel. MCE is proud to work alongside OPIC and The Rockefeller Foundation to support Sunfunder’s “Beyond the Grid” Solar Fund, which will help multiply Sunfunder’s impact and demonstrate the importance and benefits of solar energy in the developing world.

(Images courtesy of Sunfunder and Power Africa, a USAID clean energy initiative and partner of Sunfunder.)

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