South African Entrepreneur, Abe Cambridge, Talks to us about his Energy Startup Sun Exchange
Abe Cambridge is a serial energy entrepreneur with more than 10 years of deep experience in establishing businesses and projects that use solar energy to effect socio-economic change. In 2014, he founded The Sun Exchange Ltd, a global solar micro-leasing marketplace that closes the funding gap for commercial- and community-scale solar projects in emerging markets. He also came up with the concept of a powerful foreign direct investment model for commercial and community-scale solar projects.
Cambridge is Abe is also a cryptocurrency enthusiast and delivers keynote speeches around the world. In 2012, one of his businesses, The Renewable Energy Co-operative, was nominated ‘International Co-operative of The Year’ in the UN Year of Co-operatives. Sun Exchange has also been named Best Bitcoin and Blockchain Business in Africa two years in a row.
In this exclusive interview, he tells us more about himself and the idea behind Sun Exchange. Enjoy the read.
Q: Tell us about your background; what were you into prior to starting up Sun Exchange?
A: My academic background is in climate science. My postgraduate studies had led me to the realisation that climate change was the most pressing issue of our time and the greatest threat to our planet. Transitioning the world away from fossil fuels and towards solar power was, therefore, the solution and the area of work to which I decided to dedicate my time and energy.
After six years of building and running a solar panel installation company in the UK (no easy feat in a country known for its dreary weather!) I moved to South Africa in 2014 to work as a solar engineering consultant. The absence of solar panels on roofs was striking to me, considering that Southern Africa is one of the Earth’s sunniest regions. Unlike the UK, in a sunny country like South Africa, solar panels are so effective that subsidies are not required to provide a double-digit return on investment. I looked into the local solar industry and identified a lack of appropriate solar finance for businesses and organisations such as schools, retirement homes and clinics as the main barrier. At the same time, I also started to use cryptocurrency to send money back home and realised that it was possible to move money around the world quickly, easily and at a very low cost.
I immediately recognised that cryptocurrency represented a technological and sociological breakthrough, and that sparked the idea for Sun Exchange – universal peer-to-peer solar cell micro-leasing, enabling anyone to buy and own solar cells, and to lease those cells to power schools and businesses in sunny, emerging markets. After two years of developing Sun Exchange in my spare time, I resigned from my job in November 2015 to dedicate all my time to removing barriers to solar financing and connecting the world to the sun.
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Q. How would you describe Sun Exchange and the products/services you offer?
A: Sun Exchange is the world’s first peer-to-peer solar panel micro-leasing marketplace. Our mission is to connect the world to the sun.
Sun Exchange directly connects organisations in Africa wanting to go solar, with tens of thousands of individuals globally who want to invest in solar. Our platform enables these individuals to buy solar cells and then lease them to be installed in remotely-located solar projects powering schools, retirement homes, businesses and other organisations in regions with high solar irradiation.
People who buy solar cells through the Sun Exchange platform get to offset their carbon and receive a predictable income stream equivalent to 10-12% Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for 20 years. The energy consumer (the organisation or business where the solar project is installed) pays only for electricity consumed, with no installation, insurance or ongoing operational costs, resulting in estimated energy cost reductions of 15-45% during the 20-year lease term.
All transactions are done through the Sun Exchange platform at http://www.thesunexchange.com, using the Bitcoin blockchain as a payment rail.
Q: Let’s talk about fundraising; what has your experience been like in this regard?
A: At first, in addition to investing my own money, I raised funds and developed the concept for Sun Exchange with the support of the Microsoft Bizpark programme. Then, in 2015, we successfully raised US$ 35k start-up capital through Indiegogo and also secured financial and accelerator programme support from Techstars (Cape Town) and BoostVC Tribe 8 (the latter invested US$ 60k in startup capital). To date, we’ve raised over US$ 1 million, and are currently in a Series A funding round…
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