It started with hitchhiking in Malawi
ZOLA Electric’s roots start in a trip co-founder Xavier Helgesen took in 2007 to Malawi. After visiting literacy projects supported by Books For Africa, Xavier went hitchhiking. He ended up in a fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi and was invited to a local family’s house for dinner. As he walked through the dark city streets by the dim light of a kerosene lamp, he realized that the whole community was without electricity. He learned that his hosts relied on dirty, expensive kerosene to light their homes. He began wondering why nobody he met had even a small solar power system. Was this a technology problem or something else?
Five Years Later, ZOLA Electric Was Launched
Xavier attended Oxford University’s MBA program and set out researching exactly why solar adoption was so slow in places where it was needed most. At Oxford, he met future ZOLA co-founder Erica Mackey. Erica had worked in Tanzania for a decade and deeply understood the African market. Joined by a renewable energy expert, Joshua Pierce, they worked together on a business plan that would allow customers to buy their own solar and storage power systems over time with the money they earn. This approach could reduce upfront costs and the risk for the customer that the system would not perform as promised, aligning the company and the customer.
The founders moved to Tanzania in 2012 after working on the idea for a year at Oxford and raising seed funding, they launched a company, then called Off Grid Electric. The idea was not to build technology first, but instead to first understand customers’ needs and what they could afford. From those insights, the team could then develop technology that exactly fit customer demand.
ZOLA Electric Today and Our Vision for the Future
Today, ZOLA is the leading solar brand in the markets it serves, offering a full energy ladder that can scale to solve any energy problem. The company’s engineering is based in San Francisco, its operations are headquartered in Amsterdam, and its team members are located from Shanghai to Lagos. ZOLA’s focus is on building broad distribution for its products so anyone dealing with expensive, unreliable or unaffordable electricity can enjoy 24-Hour Power.
ZOLA Electric has developed a unique design and engineering philosophy based on deep customer insights learned by powering more than 1 million lives. ZOLA knows that quality matters above all when customers are relying on the company’s solar and storage power system as their primary source of power. The system needs to be easy to maintain and install. It must be modular, have financing built directly into the hardware and be beautifully designed.
The ZOLA team sees an enormous global shift taking place over the next 20 years. Rooftop solar electricity already costs less than national electric grid rates nearly everywhere. Solar’s first wave focused on the developed world, where customers offset their utility bills with distributed systems. The second wave will concentrate on emerging markets, where customers will directly generate, store and use their own power while using the grid only as a backup. Fundamental economics will drive this shift as the cost of energy storage and solar continues to decline. If generating your own power is cheaper and more reliable than buying it from the power grid, why wouldn’t you do it?