African Clean Energy (ACE) is a South African-Dutch social enterprise specialized in enabling sustainable energy access in off-grid, underserved communities of the developing world. We are particularly focused on residential access to thermal energy, a sub-sector of the industry with serious negative repercussions in areas of health, gender equality, household finances, and the environment. Our flagship product is the ACE One, a hybrid energy system giving access to clean cooking and basic electricity on an affordable microlending plan.
Uganda has a highly underdeveloped energy infrastructure. The country has a population of 43 million, of which over 95% cook on 3-stone fires or rudimentary stoves using biomass fuels. The unsustainable level of biomass consumption, coupled with a high population growth rate (3.3% per year) is causing Uganda to lose 86kha of tree cover every year. If deforestation continues at its present rate, there would be no forests left in 40 years.
Due to these poor cooking practices, over 10,000 Ugandans die prematurely every year from illnesses attributable to Household Air Pollution (HAP), and rural households spend up to 6 hours collecting fuel daily. These issues disproportionately affect women, who are traditionally responsible for household chores.
The thermal energy market is underdeveloped in Uganda. The most popular solutions are low-cost cookstoves burning charcoal, a highly detrimental fuel since its production consumes 8-12x the charcoal weight in wood. Cooking habits are notoriously difficult to change, and the solutions promoted must be well suited to facilitate families to cook staple foods. There is an opportunity to introduce a thermal energy product that actually meets consumer needs.
Developing the clean cooking sector would create many employment opportunities for women in commercial and management roles. Currently, the Ugandan energy market employs only 22% women, despite studies showing that employing and empowering women helps clean cooking businesses thrive. Woman-to-woman marketing drives higher sales and women usually give access to more networks of customers.
Supporting the growth of the thermal energy sector will help create significantly more employment opportunities for women while reducing the pressure of natural ecosystems and helping households protect their health from HAP. There is a total market potential of 6.2 million households, and a lot of young talent lacking employment opportunities in rural and peri-urban areas of the country.
The project will catalyse the growth of the thermal energy sector in Uganda by strengthening rural distribution & after-sale service capacity. This will result in 440 additional jobs created for youth and women, and 180.000+ energy systems sold to rural households in the next 3 years.
The ACE One will help Ugandan households protect their health from HAP. The Berkeley Air Monitoring Group found that every 25,000units distributed avert 40 premature deaths and add 1,295years of healthy life from reduced cook smoke exposure. In laboratory tests the ACE One consistently achieved IWA-ISO Tier 3-4 standards for emissions and efficiency.
Avert the use of dirty wood fuels
Ugandan households will avert the use of 280.000-656.000 tonnes of dirty wood fuels in the first 4 years. The Berkeley Air study found that households cooking with charcoal on the ACE 1 reduced their fuel use by 53% , and internal tests estimate firewood reduction at 70%.
The ACE One
The ACE One is a dual-energy product: users not only save on fuel, but they also gain access to solar electricity for charging and lighting. This is essential because the energy cost burden is actually on the electricity side: households make incremental purchases of kerosene, candles, batteries, and pay to have their phones charged, which all adds up to a high monthly fee. By alleviating these costs, the ACE One helps families save significantly more. Our data shows that customers save 83% on energy costs, and 94% of users have stopped buying kerosene. Therefore ACE comprehensively addresses the complete energy needs of financially disadvantaged households making such a sophisticated product affordable.
Hiring and expanding
By the end of the project, ACE will galvanise the growth of the thermal energy sector by creating 529 jobs for youth & women. The company is ready to execute the intervention: we have a clear track record of hiring youth (88% of staff) and women (57% of staff). We’ve tested market feasibility by expanding to 2 locations in Mbale and Gulu, showing that it can be done fast & cost-effectively.
The value for CFYE is the guarantee that ACE will create meaningful, long-term employment for every recruit that joins our team.
Let’s take the ‘Gulu case’: In October last year, we expanded to Gulu and hired 15 employees in less than 6 weeks. Demand picked up immediately, and soon enough we were hitting targets of 50+ products per week. This shows that we have what it takes to make this project a success: a great product, a market that needs it, and a pool of local young talent that wants to help us achieve our mission. The only missing puzzle piece is access to capital, so we can hire and expand faster. CFYE’s support will unlock a new era of growth for our company.
With CFYE support, our projections show that we will hire 529 youth and women in the next 3 years. Without support, we would only hire 89. This creates a NET difference of 440 direct jobs created additionally if we receive the support of CFYE to carry out our scaling project.