Investec Asset Management Ltd. bought a stake in Mobisol GmbH in the biggest yet round of equity financing for the off-grid solar industry. About a third of the solar developer is now held in an Africa-focused private equity facility that belongs to Investec, which is based in Johannesburg, Mobisol Chief Executive Officer Thomas Gottschalk said by telephone. The value of the transaction was “well above $20 million,” he said without being more specific. Mobisol, based in Berlin, makes rooftop solar systems that generate electricity in places that aren’t connected to the power grid. Their largest product can power lights, mobile phones, a radio, a small TV and refrigerator. The company has 60,000 customers in Tanzania and Rwanda, and recently expanded to Kenya. It’s grown 80 percent year on year in 2016 and plans to move into Uganda and Nigeria in the next two years.
“It provides an affordable solution, the entry-level solar home system doesn’t cost more than what households were already paying for lighting and cell phone charging,” said Mark Jennings, investment principal in private equity at Investec. It’s Investec’s first investment in this industry, he said. The off-grid solar industry emerged from non-existence a decade ago to a market worth about $700 million in 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. There are about 100 developers in the industry, mostly in Africa and Asia. Established energy companies are taking note of the growth with France’s Engie SA and Total SA both investing in off grid developers this year.
“Pay-as-you go solar companies have mostly received investments from impact or strategic investors so far,” said Itamar Orlandi, analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Mobisol’s round with Investec breaks this mold, bringing in a private equity player and signaling that the sector is changing from impact-driven to a purely commercial opportunity.” The biggest off-grid deal before Mobisol was in August when Engie led a $20 million equity round of financing for the U.K.’s BBOXX Ltd. Mobisol is also setting up one or two project-finance structured debt deals for close by the end of 2016. The company wants to tap development finance institutions and fund managers to borrow $5 million, Gottschalk said. “We’re preparing this market for 2017 and 2018 where we will need more debt,” the CEO said. “We want to show the financial world how it could look like by having two special purpose vehicle deals to prove the concept.”