Bboxx CEO plans clean gas for cooking expansion in Rwanda, Kenya

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 21 June 2022 06:00

Charcoal and wood as cooking fuels are a threat to forests as well as human health. This picture taken by a drone shows the Oloolua Forest near Nairobi, Kenya, February 21, 2022. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Solar power company Bboxx plans to extend its liquid petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking offer to countries including Rwanda and Kenya, CEO Mansoor Hamayun tells The Africa Report.

Hamayun aims to offer LPG for cooking in Rwanda this year and says it may be possible to do so in Kenya, which already has an active LPG market, in 2023. His longer-term goal is to roll out the solution in all the markets where Bboxx operates.

Clean cooking, Hamayun argues, is an aspect of energy transition which is often overlooked. Globally, a lack of clean cooking capability contributes to 4m premature deaths each year due to household air pollution, according to the International Energy Agency. Cooking with charcoal and wood leads to emissions of greenhouse gases and black soot, as well as accelerating deforestation. “Cities in Africa are eating up forests,” Hamayun says.

Bboxx has piloted the use of LPG as a pay-as-you-go cooking solution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the impact of deforestation has been especially severe. The company added 30,000 new LPG for cooking users in the DRC in 2021. The DRC in March agreed to renew its partnership with Bboxx for two years. The aim is to extend clean energy services to at least 3m people by 2024 and 10m by 2030.

  • Bboxx supplies solar energy to 350,000 people in the DRC, making the company the biggest private utility in the country.

Rising prices caused by the Russia-Ukraine war means that self-reliance in energy has become a more popular theme in Africa, Hamayun says. Even before the war, households and businesses were spending disproportionate amounts of their income on energy, so the price shock is causing disproportionate extra pain, he adds.

  • Across its businesses as a whole, the company is currently seeing record demand and sales, Hamayun says. “Frustration drives demand.”

New partners

Cooking with solar power is not yet possible outside of some specialised cases. Bboxx’s solar power business operates in countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Togo, Nigeria, and DRC. The UK-based company has deployed more than 500,000 solar home systems. In May, the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), agreed to provide $15m in convertible loan notes to help fund Bboxx’s expansion in sub-Saharan Africa.

The reopening of international travel means that the company can start thinking about future expansion again.  Hamayun is constantly evaluating countries where the company could establish a presence and is open to finding new partners who can add value in terms of market access.  Some potential partners are already in the pipeline. “We want to be across Africa.”

The war and Covid-19 have both meant increased lead times for the company to import equipment from China. Battery prices have seen a reversal of their long-term downward trend, but Hamayun expects that they will start falling again. During 2021, delivery lead times were often unknown, Hamayun says. Lead times are now “not great” but at least predictable. “At least we can get back to planning.”

  • The priority, for now, is to grow in markets where the company already operates, but Hamayun says he’s “fascinated” by the potential of the CFA franc region.

Bottom line

The reopening of international travel means expansion is back on the agenda for Bboxx.

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