Wetility Is Scaling Up Its Solar Subscription & Lease Offering For Homes & Small Businesses in South Africa
Traditionally, the electricity ecosystem was configured in a way that meant that large utility companies provided electricity to consumers using large centralized electricity generation plants coupled with a transmission and distribution network to serve these consumers. It was essentially a one-way power delivery channel where the provider would provide electricity and the consumer paid for that electricity. As we move towards a more decentralized energy ecosystem, we are now also having a more bi-directional ecosystem where the consumers can also participate in local energy markets through exports of their own behind-the-meter production to their local microgrids or feed into the wider grids. In this ecosystem, consumers are therefore transitioning to become so-called “prosumers.”
Wetility’s vision is to help build an ecosystem where homeowners and small businesses can generate their own electricity to complement what they get from the grid, and then trade any excess power. Therefore, the name Wetility also represents a “new way” or a new partnership/relationship with utility companies, as opposed to replacing utility companies. The company’s vision looks to provide power to over 350 million Southern Africans in collaboration with utilities, and therefore help alleviate energy poverty in the region, starting with South Africa.
Wetility started operating in 2019 with several pilot installations in homes and small businesses to validate its assumptions and business model. Following the learnings from that exercise, Wetility adapted its model in 2020 to focus on providing hybrid solar solutions for homes and small to medium enterprises, under a lease and subscription-based model. Wetility wanted to provide a service to the sector that was most underserved, as the distributed solar PV market in South Africa was focused more on the larger C&I sector. The rush to the C&I sector in South Africa by several players in the solar industry was underpinned by the positive unit economics for grid-tied solar systems without battery storage, where the price per kWh for long term PPAs offered significant savings on the grid tariffs for businesses.
Wetility is now working hard to catalyze the adoption of solar hybrid systems in the residential and small business sectors. Wetility automates and simplifies the customer journey for going solar. Through its online proprietary suite of tools, known as the Rapid Calculator, customers can input their address, ID number, and electricity bill, which helps Wetility automatically generate a preliminary proposal, including a tentative hybrid solar system sizing and pricing. Once the customer accepts the preliminary proposal, Wetility then proceeds to set up a site visit and inspection to generate a final proposal for the customer to sign off on, and then proceed to installations. During the preliminary proposal phase, Wetility is also able to do a credit vetting exercise to qualify the customers for some of its financed solutions.
Once installation is done, Wetility has a remote monitoring and management system as well as a client-facing platform, accessible via the We-X App. On this app, the customers are also able to adjust the depth of discharge of the battery as they wish according to their energy usage profile (within certain limits), on top of the standard energy flow and usage visibility.
Wetility’s suite of software and apps is underpinned by a bouquet of hybrid power systems comprised of backup power solutions (Tier 1 Hybrid Inverter and LFP battery) to back up essential loads during power outages, as well as self-generation packages that add solar panels.
Known as the Wetility PACE, the hybrid backup system is an all-in-one cabinet that houses the hybrid inverters and LFP battery, plus all the associated switchgear. New product options, such as the PACE mini and the Light Protect, have also recently been introduced. These systems cater to homes that have a single phase as well as three-phase supply from the utility.
The customer has the option to pay for the full cost of the system upfront, or to opt for a financed solution. Wetility has carefully curated its financed options to cater to the South African market as well as to help catalyze the adoption of solar in the residential and small commercial sector.
Wetility offers a Pay-At-Pace Lease, which is a lease-to-own plan for up to 120 months. You can also get it for a shorter period, for a minimum of 12 months. Wetility also has subscription options for homeowners or those with long-term leases. The minimum term for the subscription is 36 months. After the initial subscription period, the customer can opt to extend the subscription or to convert to a lease-to-own.
Wetility has now installed its hybrid solar PV system at several hundred homes in South Africa since launching its commercial operations in 2020. The installations are dominated by subscriptions and leases, with cash purchases contributing a smaller share of the sales. Wetility is now post-Series A in terms of funding rounds. It has also worked with some banks to raise some debt as well.
Wetility has its own in-house team of qualified and certified installers, as its operations prioritize the customer experience and it wants to ensure that installations are always done to the highest standards. Some of the advantages of a subscription-based program is a contractual obligation of system performance and uptime, therefore Wetility wants to have control over the ecosystem to ensure this.
Wetility’s systems are already ready, from a tech and software perspective, to take part in any future aggregation, market participation, and Virtual Power Plant (VPP) applications, and therefore once the requisite regulations and settlement platforms are determined and implemented, Wetility plans to be a key player in the ecosystem.
South Africa is in the midst of its worst ever electricity rationing programs due to depressed generation capacity resulting from several factors, including frequent breakdowns at its aging coal power plants. This electricity rationing is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Homes and small businesses are severely affected. Most would not be in a position to get solar for their homes and businesses by making a large cash upfront payment. Subscription and lease-based options with no upfront installation costs through services such as Wetility’s Pay at PACE offering lower the barriers for adoption.
Images courtesy of Wetility
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