2020 Energy Laureate Jaza is creating solar charging hubs throughout Africa. GWMP checks in with CEO Jeff Schnurr to discuss the origins of Jaza and what they hope to accomplish in the future.
The Keeling Curve Prize is all about awarding climate solutions. Our laureates don't just see problems, they see solutions and take action to implement them. Jaza Energy, one of this year's Keeling Curve Prize winners in the Energy category, gives us an example.
Jaza's germination began when Jeff Schnurr, CEO and Founder of Jaza Energy, was planting trees in Tanzania. Through that work, Jeff experienced how people can create widespread environmental change. So, when someone quipped to him, "Jeff, trees are great but where can I charge my cell phone?", Jeff saw the need for access to energy in Tanzania's beyond the grid communities. He reached out Sebastian Manchester (Jaza's Chief Technology Officer) and Tanzanian friends, Radhina Kipozi (Jaza's Director of Marketing) and Fatime Kombo (Director of Operations). Together, they started a business to meet these rural energy needs with carbon free sources.
Starting in 2017 with recharging motorcycle batteries using solar power, Jaza quickly evolved to its current model of solar powered energy hubs that charge portable lithium ion battery packs. These packs are being used by households in last-mile communities to replace kerosene lamps and power small appliances powered by diesel generators, and can be rented for less than the cost of the fossil fuel they replace. Today, Jaza operates almost 100 energy hubs serving nearly 40,000 people with some 55,000 portable lithium powered battery packs. By the end of the year, Jeff hopes to serve 100,000 people.
In 2021, Jeff sees Jaza expanding its services to Nigeria and Uganda, but their long-term goal is much broader. There are currently 600 million people without access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. The earth just can't tolerate a population that size electrifying the way that previous populations have. Jaza can enable these areas to leapfrog from no energy access straight to clean energy. "Our job won't be done until 600 million people are powered by Jaza" Jeff asserts.
While the fundamental goal is to address climate change by eliminating emissions in rural Africa, Jaza's energy hubs are doing so much more for these communities. Replacing kerosene as a power source is not just healthier for the planet, it's also healthier for each household. Switching to Jaza's batteries eliminates the fumes released by burning kerosene, making Jaza powered homes safer for their residents. Each of Jaza's energy hubs employs 2 local women, providing them with income, empowerment and education. The hubs themselves are serving as community gathering places, where people come to congregate, share, and trade, and are becoming the "connective tissue," as Jeff puts it, between these last-mile communities and the rest of the world.
What has winning the KCP meant for Jaza? They are putting the prize money to good use developing new, smaller batteries, so it can offer a lower priced product to the 70% of households in its service areas that can't currently afford Jaza's battery packs. Beyond the direct benefit to Jaza, Jeff noted that KCP is providing exposure to the people around the world working to fundamentally change how we work and live, which can serve as a path for others to follow. "People almost need a model to understand what is possible - I think that's what's so great about the Keeling Curve Prize."