When ARC Power brought electricity to the Rwandan village of Rutobotobo in 2019, there were just 207 houses. Fast forward to today and Rutobotobo’s size has more than trebled with people having been attracted by reliable, cheap power and to a place where they can now successfully raise a family and start a business.
As ARC Power’s CEO and founder Karl Boyce says: “Once you bring power, infrastructure follows. It changes everything.”
It’s a fact that you can’t have economic development without energy and this has never been truer than in Africa. There’s a huge disparity in energy availability in the continent’s 51 countries and as a consequence in economic activity too.
London-based ARC Power has ambitious plans to level this playing field for some of the poorest, initially in Rwanda, Malawi and Mozambique. It develops, builds, and operates decentralised mini-grids via a modular solar-powered system which brings affordable, reliable, and clean productive-use energy.
This enables communities to benefit from the associated sustainable impact of power and the secondary benefits of improved health, education and economic development. With ARC Power there is no connection fee and people can pay through their tariffs meaning everyone can have access to power.
Karl, a former London stockbroker set up ARC Power in 2017 and the company began trading in 2019. He has quickly developed strong partnerships with key organisations specifically around training, micro-financing, greener industrial spaces, and clean cooking initiatives.
He said: “I spent a lot of time in Rwanda and I saw first-hand how the lack of access to energy was holding the country back. Lots of African countries have old grids which you can’t easily plug in to because they wouldn’t be able to cope and that’s why I started researching distributed power.”
Receiving a 2022 Queen’s Award for sustainable development is the latest milestone for a company that started with just four people and now numbers 55 in the UK and this scales to around 250 in Rwanda and has captured 80 per cent of the Rwandan market.
Now, Karl is hoping that the award will help take the company to the next level: “We are a leader in the African energy revolution and this award will give us even more credibility. I’m anticipating that one of its key benefits will be generating greater investment which has always been the biggest challenge.
“In the mini grid sector it’s well known that we have the lowest cost per connection across the entire continent and that’s because we have reached this stage without grant funding and subsidies. We run a very efficient operation.
“Our aim is to be the best in class distributed renewable energy company in Africa. The next few years will be really key. There is so much potential that is untapped here and a big market and we have a model that we can scale significantly.
“For universal access in Africa it’s estimated that it will cost $350bn between now and 2030 so massive investment is required and to be a part of that, to give people access to productive use power, and to help decarbonise economies would make us feel like we have really succeeded.”
Even two years plus of Covid-19 has not been able to slow ARC Power’s progress. Just before the pandemic hit the world, the company completed Rwanda’s first solar business park in Rwanda in Bugesera District.
Karl said: “Our shareholders were very supportive and we managed to retain a full team throughout Covid and support our customers at the same time by introducing a Covid Relief Tariff. We were determined to prove a business model supporting productive energy use that we could replicate and scale.”
Karl also firmly believes that Africa could show the world the way forward: “The countries we work in are ambitious, optimistic and supportive and there is a massive drive towards decarbonisation of economies, which is why we need renewable power and solar is perfect in Africa.
“Africa could become a world leader by leap-frogging traditional infrastructure, with a new distributed renewable energy model, in the same way it has with the mobile telecoms market.”
All power to Africa then and those like ARC Power whose expertise is leading the way.