Review of 2019
Happy 2020 to all Sun Exchange members, solar energy users, investors and supporters. With the impacts of climate change becoming increasingly evident, it is heartening to see that the solar energy sector and its global community, of which you are part, is showing such exponential growth. Time is running out to save our civilization from catastrophic runaway impacts of climate change, so let’s make this a revolutionary decade and totally transform the world to clean and affordable energy!
In this first blog post of the year, we’re going to look back on what the Sun Exchange community achieved in 2019 and take a peek at what’s in store for 2020. Before we do that, if you haven't seen it, our final SUNEX video diary episode for 2019, presented by our CEO, Abe Cambridge, provides a month-by-month overview of major developments at Sun Exchange, and of the global solar energy market.
For Sun Exchange, 2019 was a year of tremendously exciting growth:
- Our community more than tripled in size, and currently stands at 12,858 individual members from 155 countries.
- Fifteen solar projects are now producing power, with five under construction, and more crowdsales starting soon. Nine projects are for schools.
- There has been a ten-fold increase in the energy generation capacity of solar cells bought and installed. The electricity we have generated together exceeds 1 GWh (1,000,000 KWh). This is the equivalent energy required to drive a Tesla Model S for 7 million kilometres -- the same distance as travelling to the moon and back nine times!
- Our members collectively earned USD 58, 937 (ZAR 848,728) from leasing their solar cells to Sun Exchange projects.
- Schools and other organisations that we are solar powering, realized 30% savings on their electricity bills. The projects at schools and retirement homes benefited ~5,500 learners and ~150 elderly persons in 2019.
- Overall, our projects have saved over 1,280 tonnes of CO2.
Expanding our project portfolio
In 2019, we hosted 11 crowdsales on our platform, with seven of those for Western Cape Government schools in Cape Town, including Hoërskool Belville, Groote Schuur High School, and Wynberg Girls’ High, Boys’ High, Girls’ Junior and Boys’ Junior schools.
Our first crowdsale of the year was for the 34.17 kW Protea Heights Academy school project. Over the project’s lifetime, 895 students will benefit from solar power every year and the school will save an estimated ZAR 565,000 (~USD 40,000) on their total energy bill, savings to be used to focus on their core mission of providing world class science and maths based education to Africa’s future leaders.
The project will generate about one million kWh of clean electricity - saving almost one million kg of environmentally harmful coal from being burned. For more on how the project has performed, see this short retrospective video.
2019 also saw the start of a collaboration with the global supermarket chain, Spar. We ran three crowdsales for Spar in 2019, for Spar Hoedspruit, Spar Warrenton and Spar Belfast solar projects. And there are many more to come for 2020!
Following on from the success of our first retirement home project with the Welverdiend Retirement Resort project, we were delighted to launch our first project with the Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged (CPOA), who own 25 properties catering to retirees and those who require frail care. The Pinelands Place Retirement Village crowdsale kicked off this partnership in December and sold out within 10 days.
Enhancing our technology
In 2019, our tech team had their work cut out for them with rapid member growth and increasing numbers of projects that were run and that are now being supported.
Our team delivered on several fronts. The whole website was overhauled from a design and user experience point of view, with layout and process improvements for more intuitive interaction. We also improved the solution’s stability and added new features, such as providing VIP users with priority access to projects and improving the way Bitcoin payments are processed to make paying with the cryptocurrency even more secure and stable. We also improved the sign up process, allowing users to sign up in two steps, and implemented a referral programme for approved members.
In 2020, our technologists and software team will be doubling down to enhance the user experience, the first focus being on giving cell owners more detailed information on the amount of energy they are producing against forecasts, as well as developing earnings calculators and carbon reduction trackers.
In parallel, we are working on ‘’Project Ultima’ which will ultimately replace the entire Sun Exchange technical solution. This solution will use all of the knowledge gained about the technical requirements of Sun Exchange as a business, and introduce an improved software stack and a radically different user experience, as well as a lot of new features -- such as the rewards programme built around our SUNEX Token.
Growing our team
Just as we’ve grown our project portfolio and technological offerings, we have also bolstered our finance and software development teams. Saul Wainwright was permanently appointed as CFO, bringing deep finance and senior management experience from Silicon Valley. Banele Mthabela joined our software development team as a Senior Software Developer.
Our marketing capabilities have also been significantly enhanced by a team of passionate and experienced marketing and communications professionals who have joined our ranks as consultants. They bring extensive global experience in traditional and digital business and sustainability communications.
These highly qualified and passionate individuals joined our existing team of seasoned staff and advisors who, collectively, have hundreds of years of deep expertise in building and running successful disruptive businesses.
Developing new partnerships
We also built on our partnership network, and established another valuable industry partnership in 2019, this time with Invictus Capital, a global alternative investment platform that is supported by over 15,000 investors. With our plans for expansion firmly in place (more below), partnerships like this one will be critical to ensure that we can keep up with the huge demand for clean and affordable energy from schools, clinics, retirement homes and businesses.
Notably, we also partnered with the Uprise.Africa equity crowdfunding platform, and 313 investors from across the world invested over ZAR 4.5 million (~USD 315,000). We are humbled and delighted by the enormous support that was shown by investors from across the world, who will now be joining us on our mission to bring affordable and clean energy to emerging markets.
Broadening our international profile
The year also brought noteworthy opportunities to further build Sun Exchange’s international profile.
We were named among the Top 100 Energy Transition Startups (SET100) by the German Energy Agency (dena) and among Fast Company's "Most Innovative Companies" in Africa. Sun Exchange was also voted as the Disruptor Daily “Blockchain in Energy Use Case Awards” winner, and our CEO and Founder, Abe Cambridge was selected as an ‘African Power Elite’ by top African energy industry publication, ESI Africa.
Abe also shared his considerable expertise and experience across the globe, speaking on prominent panels, podcasts and delivering keynote addresses, including Africa Utility Week, World Blockchain Forum, Solar Show Africa, and the World Energy Congress. International press interest in Sun Exchange’s transformative model grew further, with coverage from outlets including Keiser Report, CNBC Africa, CNN, Forbes, and Business Day (SA).
Looking forward to 2020
Looking forward, we have exciting news -- our expansion plans for this year involve exploring new projects in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe, allowing you to diversify your solar cell portfolios and broadening your impact across Southern Africa.
With the growth in the markets in which we operate, we are also developing plans for automation in order to scale and speed up, and create efficiencies in our process for selecting and identifying projects and other processes. This means that we will be able to offer you more concurrent crowdsales, greatly increasing your ability to choose how you want to build up your remotely-located solar plant.
In addition to the three improvements to the dashboard which Abe mentioned in the timeline video, the other exciting prospect is that our secondary market place for solar cells will become functional this year. Once completed, this will allow solar cell owners to buy, trade and sell solar cells among each other.
Thank you to our community
As we look back on these achievements and impacts, and consider our plans for the future, we are humbled by the fact that true transformative work is near-impossible without the support of a passionate and committed community of individuals who share our values.
We are truly grateful to you - the Sun Exchange community of members, off-takers, current investors, new Uprise.Africa investors, advisers, partners and staff who are sharing this journey with us, and without whom our work would not be possible.
We’re excited about what lies ahead for all of us in 2020 and this new, defining decade, as we scale to new markets and new highs, and increase our ability to connect the world to the sun. We look forward to sharing this journey with you!