Christof Henz, VerySol: “Solar energy solution for high fuel prices in Nigeria”

Recently we started the ‘VC4Africa Booster Program,’ a unique opportunity for a select number of VC4Africa registered ventures. As part of this programme, entrepreneurs receive feedback on their business plan, coaching and dedicated access to the VC4Africa network of investors. VerySol is part of the first group of ventures to participate in this program. We spoke to entrepreneur Christof Henz, founder of VerySol, who is setting up his company in Germany and Nigeria.

Where did your interest in solar lighting originate?

“My interest in ‘solar’ started after my university studies when I worked for a Spanish solar module manufacturer in China. There I got an insight into all different aspects of the renewable energy business. Besides solar panels I became familiar with concentrated solar power, concentrated photovoltaic power and solar lighting products. I was immediately attracted to the idea of a green future.

The solar lighting situation in China was rather bad as there were no high quality and good functioning systems on the market. After establishing my own renewable energy trading company in Hong Kong, my business partners and me decided to close the market gap of insufficient solar lighting products. That’s why we started to manufacture them in Germany.”

Tell us about your company VerySol?

“Founded in 2009, VerySol GmbH, specializes in the manufacturing and distribution of popular solar street lights with LED technology. Since late 2007 have we been involved in intense research and development as preparation to create this new company.

We have combined the knowledge and manufacturing skills of two companies to form VerySol in Germany. One of them is specialized in solar products, mainly solar modules and solar lighting. The other company is specialized in the processing of metal and plastic parts, surface treatment and mechanical processing.

VerySol has outsourced the main production to German companies in order to keep costs low and flexibility high. We have a powerful cluster of German companies and institutions specialized in solar, LED and its applications. Therefore our supplier infrastructure is very supporting and flexible. Because we are constantly investing in the development of the lamp-head we are at the frontier of new lighting designs and LED implementation.”

What makes your products unique?

“We are designing the products in a way that they will have a long life-span. For instance we have an active fan in the lamp head so the system doesn’t overheat and in addition a 5 Kilo heat sink. The LEDs inside the lamp head are arranged in a curved shape, so that the illumination area increases and the uniformity of the light on ground is excellent.”

Please explain about the products you are selling?

“Our proposition is currently mainly ‘business to business’, but the mid-term plan is to provide also single households directly with our products. Though we have not decided whether we do it directly or set up a network of resellers and distributors, who normally have better access to private households in their communities.

VerySol’s product range includes solar streetlights and solar power systems for different purposes. Our products are known as very reliable and of high quality in every detail. We have been quite successful in various countries including very hot places like Nigeria and fairly cold locations, such as North Germany. Our products are able to withstand all climates and weather conditions. Our mission is to bring light and power to remote areas all over the world to improve infrastructure, general lighting demands and overall security.”

Why did you choose Nigeria as one of your focus countries?

“A couple of years ago we were approached by a Nigerian businessman who is living in Nigeria. During trips to Nigeria he introduced me to different people and we decided to set up a company in Abuja. See the video below to get a sense of what it is to live there.”

“Later this year I will set up the company there. We will import, manufacture, sell, install and maintain solar lighting and power solutions. The idea behind our company is that we add value to the countries we are active in. That is why we want to produce parts of the products locally. As we have proven the concept in Nigeria we want to move into other countries in West Africa, such as Ghana, by replicating the steps and procedures from Nigeria.”

What are the main opportunities and challenges for solar lighting in Africa?

“We are fighting the bad reputation of solar products in Nigeria and other countries. This is due to low quality products that are in use right now, mainly from Asia. We are trying to convince households and businesses to invest in a reliable and environmentally friendly power back up, that increases environment protection, health and overall circumstances.

Up to now the biggest obstacles for investments in solar energy systems were the high set-up costs. Customers had to perform long-term thinking in terms of return on investment, break-even duration and cost comparisons to conventional power systems. But recently the prices for solar components went down massively, so these systems become more and more attractive for potential customers. Showing Nigerians our solutions instantly convinced them and increased the believe in Solar Power again.”

Do you see a growing interest for solar energy products in Nigeria?

“Latest developments in Nigeria made the growing request for renewable energy products imminent, as fuel subsidies have been partly removed and fuel costs have risen drastically in the last weeks. That has a huge effect on the costs of power production for households and businesses, as they power their facilities with generator-sets during black outs, solar streetlights even on a constant basis with generators. This process makes solar products much more affordable and reasonable to use on a daily basis, replacing generators and protect health and the environment. The current role of Nigerian solar businesses is rather small, due to the fact that the skills and knowledge about the design, installation and maintenance of solar power systems is only basic or not existing at all.”

How do you see the next 10 years in Africa with regards to solar lighting/energy?

“All countries, whether industrialized, middle-income or low-income, place a high priority on providing their citizens access to electricity. Despite this policy and the expenditure of billions of dollars, more than 1.5 billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, remain without access to electricity services today. With the commercial maturation of various small-scale, renewable energy–based technologies – from solar photovoltaic systems to small wind generators and micro hydro power – along with the evolution of innovative service delivery models, off-grid or stand-alone service provision has emerged as available alternative for increasing electricity access, especially in remote and dispersed communities. But the long-term sustainability of off-grid electrification depends on more than technology. It requires effective prioritization and planning to enable economic choices of technology and appropriate infrastructure to ensure that services are provided over the long run. There’s also a need for sustainable financing to make these capital-intensive technologies affordable.”

How can people contact you? “In Germany anyone can contact us by phone and email or visit us directly. We have set up a new company in Abuja, Nigeria to also have a contact place for Nigerian customers. The best way for now is writing us or to call our office in Germany to get further details about our products and us. I can also be reached via my VC4Africa profile.”