In Tanzania, Expanding Electricity Access One Battery at a Time

Fewer than 16 percent of people in Tanzania have access to electricity from the grid. In rural areas, that figure drops below 3 percent. Yet most families deprived of electricity live within a short distance of the grid.

MIT-educated physicist Jamie Yang has been working to address the electricity problem. Three years ago, he founded EGG-Energy* (EGG stands for Engineering Global Growth), which provides rural Tanzanians with electricity via rechargeable battery technology. The battery provides enough electricity to power a few lights and a phone for roughly five days. When the battery needs recharging, clients swap out the battery for a fully charged one at a nearby distribution center.

EGG-Energy’s price point is competitive with what locals currently pay for phone charging and for kerosene. A yearly subscription costs $57 and each battery swap costs less than one dollar. Customers choose from an assortment of payment methods that are flexible depending on their ability to pay.

New customers automatically receive proper wiring at home for lights and sockets in a location of their choice. In the future, if the electricity grid is extended to a customer’s home, the wiring process will already be complete.

EGG-Energy’s battery solution offers a safer and cheaper alternative to kerosene. In addition to having cleaner air at home, customers say they can do things after dark now that they couldn’t before: hosting social gatherings, doing household chores, letting their children read. Jamie says that this newfound access to electricity “allows people to lead healthier and more productive lives.”

Currently, there are three swapping stations near Dar es Salaam and one in Iringa, all of which receive their electricity from the grid or via solar panels. In the coming months, more stations are planned for construction in the Iringa and Pwani regions. All swapping stations also offer solar home stations, which use a solar panel to provide electricity. Although solar home systems obviate the need to travel to the distribution center every five days for a charged battery, the battery package remains more popular because of price.

Despite the promising growth, success for EGG-Energy will depend on making swapping stations profitable. The operation requires significant transportation of materials and field agents. Collecting customer data, educating consumers and managing a geographically spread-out team are also a struggle. Jamie is addressing these challenges and hopes that eventually, a local staff member from East Africa will take over as CEO.

But even with those challenges and at this early stage, EGG-Energy has built a base of 400 reliable customers, fostering hope that they might be able to make the concept work on a larger scale.

EGG-Energy’s long-term goal is to become a distribution utility. Jamie says, “Batteries aren’t the right answer in the long run. However it will help us get a foothold in the country. We are gaining visibility as a trusted brand, and [we have] trained technicians. We are also establishing physical locations in the form of charging stations, franchises, and independent distributors…all of which lead to a distribution network.”

At that point, EGG-Energy will grow their business focusing on solar home systems, continuing its mission to make affordable, clean energy more widely available for those who need it.

* EGG-Energy is a grant recipient of the National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative.