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Zara Solar - Case Study
was a recipient of the Ashden Award for 2007, the World Bank Lighting Africa Award in 2008, and the World Energy Globe Award. It is fully operational and continuing to expand its business.
As of June 2008 Zara Solar had sold 13,866 systems and was selling systems at a rate of around 600 per month. Having demonstrated the viability of solar markets in the Lake Region of Tanzania, Zara solar has induced several other companies to begin providing service in the area.
Success before scale
Donor activities can be complementary
Neutral policy frameworks are OK
What scale-up looks like
The Policy-Enterprise-Technology Balanced Approach
The Enterprise-Customer Connection
2004, Zara Solar Ltd. evolved out of Mona-Mwanza Electrical and Electronics (MMEE), established in 1998 in Mwanza, Tanzania.
MMEE started out as an electronics import store that first began experimenting with solar sales in 2001. Zara Solar was then established in December 2004 as a separate company specializing in solar PV importing, retail and installations. Zara has a staff of about 10, five of them being technicians. It also relies on a network of about 30 electricians who have received solar PV technical training from the UNDP/GEF. About 80-90% of customers are households. Products range from 14 & 15 W systems to 130 W systems with over 80% of sales in 2008 occurring in the 14-15 W range.
The Energy Need:
As the second largest city in Tanzania, Mwanza has a surprisingly low electrification rate of around 6% and no immediate plans for national grid extension. Small diesel generators remain the primary supplier electricity in remote regions. When diesel generation is absent, households rely on kerosene, candles and wood to provide low quality and dangerous sources of light. Each household uses, on average, the equivalent of 10 candles per week or 1 liter of kerosene per month to meet its lighting needs.
$350,000 in three separate loans starting in 2002.
In early 2000, E+Co helped MMEE transition into a solar PV supplier by assisting with a market study, business strategy development and connecting MMEE with suppliers. These services continued as Zara grew, including the planning of each successive phase, the exploration of financing options to “deepen” the market, improvement of product diversity and marketing and increasing Zara’s profile.
Zara Solar was a recipient of the Ashden Award for 2007, the World Bank Lighting Africa Award in 2008, and the World Energy Globe Award. It is fully operational and continuing to expand its business.
Zara Solar has sold
13,866 systems (as of June, '08) since its inception and is now engaged in sales at a rate of around 600 per month. Having demonstrated the viability of solar markets in the Lake Region, Zara solar has induced several other companies to begin providing service in the area.
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1) Success before scale:
The example of Zara Solar illustrates the importance of making a business successful before immediately trying to scale up. Here it can be seen that sales numbers remained relatively low for three years after the first investment of $50,000 and for one year after the second investment of $100,000 before things can be described as really “taking off.” The new solar business, even though growing out of a successful electronics business, had to become established and “prove itself” viable as well as capable of absorbing more capital. This time period usually lasts anywhere from one to several years.
This phenomenon makes a clear argument for both patient capital as well as serial investing, but only when businesses are both 1) successful, and 2) possess still more opportunities for expansion. The
lessons for donors and investors
are the following:
When designing small and growing business assistance programs involving enterprise finance components, make provisions either for a long program that can stick with entrepreneurs through the “valleys of death,” especially when working capital is a serious issue, or arrange to have other investors ready on call to keep funds flowing to the businesses that have demonstrated success and have solid plans for scaling up.
Also, to those looking for impressive numbers to include in final evaluations and annual reports – don't expect a one-off investment of $50,000 to give you too much “bang for your buck.”
Finally, co-investment is neither a given nor an immediate prospect in retail businesses such as Zara; the business must first succeed before becoming attractive to financial institutions and others who theoretically should be interested in the sector and its impacts. Until now (September 2009), Zara Solar has still not been able to access a commercial loan from any local banks. One local bank finally agreed only this year to extend a moderate line of credit to meet some of their working capital needs.
2) Complementary donor activities can be critical to success
The UNDP/GEF in conjunction with the Tanzanian Ministry of Energy and Minerals (MEM) ran a highly successful, 5-year program (2004-2009) training regular electricians in the Mwanza region to install and maintain solar home systems. As a result, Zara Solar maintains a relatively small staff and relies on these trained local technicians to perform the necessary services. Electricians might receive inquires about solar PV systems and refer customers to purchase their products at Zara (or any of a number of solar outlets). Conversely, customers may first contact Zara Solar whose staff will sell them the system and then refer them to a technician who works in their area.
This, along with the awareness raising which was undertaken, were key market readiness measures which helped the private sector - Zara Solar and others - to take advantage of the opportunities which existed.
3) Mostly neutral policy frameworks are OK
As part of the MEM/UNDP/GEF program, it was foreseen that a national framework for off-grid electrification with PV would be created and put into place. These efforts are still stalled, but the PV market is growing and thriving nonetheless. However, it does help there is no VAT nor import duties paid on panels.
4) What scale-up looks like
The Mwanza region of Tanzania gives us a glimpse of what scale-up should look like. Mohamed Parpia, especially after winning the Ashden and Lighting Africa awards, has gained something of a hero status. He is now being emulated by other entrepreneurs, some of whom are UNDP/GEF-trained technicians. Even the original Mona Mwanza electrical supply store from which Zara grew is now entering the PV business proper. Zara Solar, rather than being threatened by the new competition is thriving and moving up the supply chain towards being a larger wholesale importer of PV supplies which then sells to the up and coming distributors.
As the PV sector in Mwanza (and Tanzania as a whole) grows and expands, everyone has an opportunity to "move up" (though obviously not everyone will): Technicians can become distributors in their own right, distributors can become larger retailers, larger retailers become wholesalers, and maybe wholesalers move into manufacturing (no *successful* instances of this are known of at this time; a rigorous competitive analysis would have to be undertaken before anyone would be advised to do so).
This model built around a key assumption: the presence of a capable champion and a sound business model. Being able to locate not only the sectors that are sufficiently profitable, but also the champion in each, is a task unto itself. Empowering that champion and helping him or her to grow to the point where others begin to emulate them is the the subject of this toolkit, and, hopefully, a recipe for success.
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1) The Policy-Enterprise-Technology Balanced Approach:
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2) The Enterprise-Customer Connection:
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