Mobile Power designs, builds and operates energy distribution systems for the off-grid energy and e-mobility market in Africa. The company aims to make energy and transport solutions affordable to low-income communities across sub-Saharan Africa thanks to its battery-as-a-service rental model, enabling customers to replace the use of fossil fuel to power their businesses, homes, motorbikes and agricultural machines.
Over the last nine years Mobile Power has developed its rental model for the provision of electricity for households and businesses across multiple African countries, which involves three key technology components. The first component, is the MOPO Batteries that, store and transport energy. The MOPO Hub then charges the batteries and is the base for the agent operations; and the third component is the MOPO Platform that tracks the batteries through the sales cycle and manages all agent activities. This innovative three-part model removes the burdensome credit history checks and regular payment schedules, and gives customers the freedom to access energy by renting batteries on a need basis. Inspired by the success of the pay-per-use rental model, Mobile Power is now replicating the model in the e-mobility, and fossil-fuelled generator replacement sector by leveraging the same technology components.
With PREO’s support over the last two years, including grant funding of £107,000, Mobile Power has been able to assess the product market fit for its e-motorbikes and battery swap model in Sierra Leone. We sat down with Mobile Powers, Director or Partnerships, Jono West to hear more about the company’s trajectory as he reflects on their initial interactions with PREO and what they have achieved through our support to date.
Interviewer asks: Do you feel you achieved what you set out to do with the support from PREO?
Jono West: When the project started in 2020, we already had a successful MOPO battery swap business with our MOPO50 product, but we believed that the pay-per-use battery swap model could enable electric mobility and also displace small generators with a larger MOPO battery. The transport sector is believed to be the largest user of energy in off-grid Africa, but electrifying transport is a challenge in these markets without the right solutions.
We set out to prove that e-mobility could be profitable to us and to boda boda drivers in off-grid markets, both in urban and rural environments. Through the PREO project we brought our MOPOMax Battery to the market in Sierra Leone with electric motorcycles – the most demanding transport application for a modular battery system, both in terms of form factor and power delivery.
The rural field trial took place in a town called Bumpe where two electric motorcycles- called MOPOEVs were charged on a solar mini-grid.
The urban trial was based in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where the PREO support funded 17 of Mobile Powers’ electric motorcycle fleet. In Freetown, the MOPOMax Batteries were charged from a mixture of grid and solar power.
PREO’s funding and technical support was invaluable to undertaking those early field trials. This enabled us to iterate the technology and business model. As a result, we have developed a business model that is attractive to taxi riders (Okada) and is also profitable for Mobile Power as a growing business.
Interviewer: Tell us about the MoPo rental model from a rider perspective?
Jono West: Riders love the MOPO EVs for their simplicity and comfort, which is an important factor when riding for long periods of time, but more important than the riding experience is the simplicity of the model.
The MOPOMax Battery swap station (MOPO Hub) is at the heart of our model, where we bundle fuel payments and vehicle payments into one payment for riders. This reduces complexity for riders, who pay as they ride. It’s also powerful as the MOPOMax swap station is an essential contact point with riders, which reduces the risk of theft/default of motorbikes, as the motorbikes won’t operate without our MOPOMax Batteries. It’s a natural extension of the pay-per-use rental model we are already operating successfully.
Interviewer: As part of the PREO project, Mobile Power tested the mobility business case in both urban and rural areas. What were the key findings relating to each type of location and where you plan to scale up?
Jono West: Commercial motorcycle taxis called Okadas are the main form of transport in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas, the Okada riders generally make more money as the cost of fuel is less than rural areas (in rural areas, the further from a town, the higher the price of fuel).
There are also different categories of Okada riders; those who are licensed to go on the main roads, those only licensed to go on the feeder roads and finally riders who are not licensed and generally stay off the main roads to avoid police checkpoints. Licensed riders are also typically organised into trade unions.
We are currently focussed on scaling in the urban locations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, followed by launching in other African capital cities. In addition, we are currently closing funding to build MOPO Hubs along roads linking major cities. MOPO Hubs will also be built on feeder roads away from main roads and support MOPO EVs even in rural areas, which will culminate in a national e-mobility network. We are leveraging our existing networks of MOPO Hubs providing household energy which will enable us to roll out e-mobility faster.
Having a multi-purpose MOPOMax Battery that can be used in both e-mobility and generator replacement is important for profitable scalability. Non-transport use provides a natural “second life” for MOPOMax Batteries: use cases can be optimised at each MOPO hub swap station, even adjusted seasonally to further optimise revenue. Additional applications for our MOPOMax Battery include tuk-tuks, agricultural tricycles, water pumps, ploughs, refrigeration, milling and household or commercial energy. All of these applications can benefit from the flexibility of our pay-per-use MOPOMax Battery business.
Interviewer: Tell us more about the synergies derived from the household energy business to Mobile Power’s recent e-mobility venture?
Jono West: Mobile Power has almost a decade of experience in battery-swap technology and has operations across Africa. Initially we focused on the off-grid household market with our first product (the MOPO50 Battery). To date we have done over five million battery swaps and this business is now very successful. This created a solid foundation on which to launch our MOPOMax Battery, as we are able to use our existing battery-swap platform and security technology. We have also built subsidiaries in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where our electric mobility solutions are being introduced in addition to our energy access solutions. We are installing larger solar battery swap Hubs with a range of MOPO batteries, for generator replacement for household use, e-mobility and productive use appliances. This enables customers to climb the energy ladder, renting the right size battery to power the solution they need. The same subsidiary companies are building the MOPO Hubs regardless of whether the hub primarily serves e-mobility or household energy. In lots of instances the hubs serve both markets.
Interviewer: How do you plan to scaleup Mobile Power’s e-mobility business in Africa?
Jono West: We are working with various finance partners as we scale up the MOPO business across multiple countries – both with the e-mobility and household energy businesses. However, Africa is a big continent, so we are open to working with e-mobility and finance partners who do not have the technical capability to develop their own battery swap technology and instead want to focus on other parts of the value chain. We are therefore in discussions with several organisations within the e-mobility value chain.
Interviewer: In what ways did PREO’s support help to de-risk Mobile Powers venture into e-mobility?
Jono West: PREO’s support has been incredibly valuable to us for de-risking our battery technology and business model. It has enabled us to grow and increase the rate of scale for the e-mobility business and capture learnings that now form the basis of future technology solutions we have in the pipeline, even beyond e-mobility. As a result of this PREO project and funding, we are now in discussions with several new partners across the value chain, which will be announced in due course. Find out more about projects that PREO are supporting here: www.preo.org…