It started with hitchhiking in Malawi.
The roots of ZOLA Electric date to 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 had no electricity. Asking his hosts about their lives, he learned that they relied on dirty, expensive kerosene to light their homes. As he returned to San Francisco, he kept wondering why nobody he met had even a small solar power system. Was it really 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 & storage power systems over time from the money they save or money they earn. This reduced not only the upfront cost, but the risk for the customer that the system would not perform as promised, aligning the company and the customer.
After working on the idea for a year at Oxford and raising the seed funding for the company, the founders moved to Tanzania in 2012, launching the company as Off Grid Electric. The idea was not to build technology first, but instead to first understand what customers needed and what they were able to pay for. From those insights, technology could then be developed that exactly met the needs of the customers.
ZOLA Electric Today & 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 has its engineering based in San Francisco, its operations based in Amsterdam, and its team members located from Shanghai to Lagos. The company’s focus is building broad distribution for its products, so anyone suffering from expensive, unreliable or unaffordable power can enjoy 24 Hour Power.
Based on deep customer insight learned by powering over one million lives, ZOLA Electric has developed a unique design and engineering philosophy. ZOLA knows the quality matters above all when customers are relying on their solar & storage power system as their primary source of power. It needs to be easy to maintain and install. The system needs to be modular, have financing built directly into the hardware, and be beautifully designed.
The team at ZOLA sees an enormous global shift taking place over the next 20 years. Rooftop solar electricity already costs less than the national electric grid nearly everywhere. The first wave of distributed solar focused on the developed world, where customers offset their utility bills. The second wave will focus on emerging markets, where customers will directly generate, store and use their own power anywhere, this time using the grid only as a backup. This shift will be driven by fundamental economics 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?