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Why Coke Is Bringing Solar Power To Rural Kenya

Store owners in rural Kenya can now receive electricity through Coca-Cola, but it’s not because the company is so concerned with building more solar power.

When American solar entrepreneur Gaurav Manchanda wanted to expand his company’s solar operations in Kenya, he found an unlikely partner: Multinational soft drink purveyor Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola primarily sells their product in rural areas through kiosk owners, many of whom lack electricity. Earlier, the soft drink company entered into a partnership with Manchanda’s firm One Degree Solar, where Coca-Cola would market One Degree’s solar power kits to kiosk owners. These kits would give off-grid rural vendors electricity, meaning they could stay open past sunset, increase safety and visibility after dark—and sell more soft drinks in the process.

As part of the partnership, Coca-Cola is holding workshops throughout rural Kenya with kiosk owners. At these workshops, kiosk owners are introduced to One Degree’s Brightbox product. The Brightbox is a small, bright orange solar-powered box that can power up to four lightbulbs at once or be used to charge phones, radios, tablets, and other devices. Brightboxes sell for approximately $80 and are also available from resellers who offer financing plans.

Coca-Cola held a pilot project in 2012 using 100 Brightbox solar kits that were distributed free of charge to Nairobi kiosk owners. On average, the kiosk owners were able to stay open four extra hours each day thanks to the light provided. Participating businesses also raised their earnings by 15% on average and saved 90% on energy spending—primarily by not purchasing kerosene lamps, flashlight batteries, or candles.

"We presented [Brightboxes] to Coca-Cola as a business case," Manchanda told Co.Exist. "Kiosk owners bought Brightboxes during the seminars and brought them back to rural areas." Solar panels were presented to kiosk owners, some of whom live in their stores, as an easy way to increase business hours, increase profits, and reduce long-term expenses. Brightbox kits were the only solar product sold to participants in the workshops, Manchanda says. Coke and One Degree Solar have a target of bringing solar power to 2,000 rural kiosks.

The 2010s have seen a boom in solar investment from the private sector and international aid organizations all across rural Africa. Thanks to a synergistic combination of new solar technology advances and a peace- and mobile phone-fueled investment rush, solar power vendors have been marketing to rural African customers at a furious pace. Because African governments are failing to bring power to rural customers, the private sector—for better or worse—stepped in instead. To name just a few projects, mobile solar kits, pay-as-you-go solar networks, solar microgrids, and scalable rural solar distribution platforms are all targeting the hundreds of millions of off-grid Africans.

Coca-Cola’s logistics operation is so good, in fact, that one organization is using it to bring medicine to places where Coke is delivered routinely, but medical supplies have trouble reaching. Read more here.

For Coca-Cola, the benefits of the One Degree Solar partnership are obvious. Not only are they increasing profits, but they’re also leveraging their brand’s legendary supply chain. Coke isn’t one of the world’s best known drinks just because it tastes good. Coca-Cola is served by a mammoth logistics and distribution infrastructure operating in nearly every country in the world. By creating a channel for rural kiosk owners to obtain electrical power through Coca-Cola, the company also lays the groundwork for further commercial development. For One Degree, Coca-Cola, and rural store owners, the partnership is mutually beneficial.

[Images: Gaurav Manchanda]