Profit-making idea: Battery recycling – a spin-off from the small-scale solar boom

M-Kopa has sold its solar energy system to over 450,000 low-income households through innovative payment and distribution tactics. Picture: Georgina Goodwin / M-Kopa

Profit-making idea is a series of short posts, each with a piece of information that we think you might find useful: for investment, for growing your company or to start a new business.

Small-scale off-grid solar energy is a booming new industry, especially in east Africa where companies such as M-Kopa, Mobisol and SolarNow have connected over 500,000 households in just a few years. It has been suggested that the industry could be as transformational for Africa as mobile phones. Most companies offer affordable payment plans on their home solar systems (typically comprising a solar panel, battery, light bulb, phone-charging facility and a chargeable radio) by leveraging mobile money technology.

During a panel discussion on off-grid power at the recent Africa CEO Forum – held in Geneva, Switzerland – stakeholders suggested a potential spin-off opportunity from the household solar industry: the recycling of the systems’ batteries. One panelist commented that it could lead to an environmental disaster if the industry grows as large as many expect, without the proper disposal of old batteries. “It is going to probably become a huge business, as this whole technology moves ahead,” added Andrew Alli, CEO of the Africa Finance Corporation.