My short bio: I am the founder of Power:On. My startup built an independent electric grid for 3000 people in 2015 and now we want to upgrade to solar energy and replicate what we did to solve the electricity access crisis for millions of people. Eva Green narrates our story in a short film that was acclaimed by huge stars such as Samuel L. Jackson, Mads Mikkelsen, Omar Sy...

EDIT1: If you wish to support, just watch the film and share! I need 20,000 email sign ups to be able to launch a crowdfunding campaign!

EDIT2: A lot of people are raising legitimate questions about the charity business and the project's sustainability. Please note this is precisely why we chose to make Power:On a startup and not a NGO! Please read questions and answers about that, and I'm off course happy to give more details!

EDIT3: Dear Redditors, I wanted to thank you all for being so many to ask questions. I truly did not expect such a success (we even were on the front page at one time)!! As a thank you, I wanted to offer you a free copy of an ebook, just for you guys. It's a collection of our "Humans Of Igbérè" series (inspired from the famous "Humans Of New York"). You'll get to walk a mile in the shoes of the inhabitants from the village where Power:On built its first electrical grid, and get to hear what they have to say. These stories are what motivates me to do what I do, and I truly hope you will enjoy them too. To get the ebook, you will only have to sign up with an email. You will be able to unsubscribe at any time (I hate spam as much as you do), even though I hope you will stay with us and be a part of our journey to keep posted of what we do. Enough talk, click here to get your free ebook just for you Redditors I'll still be here if you have more questions! Thank you again for your interest and support!

My Proof: Our website https://en.turnthepoweron.co and social accounts with a picture of me right now :) https://www.facebook.com/turnthepoweron/ https://www.facebook.com/tristan.kochoyan https://www.instagram.com/tristan.ko/ https://twitter.com/Pwr_On

I'm Tristan!

Comments: 606 • Responses: 80  • Date: 

Clocktease813 karma

I'm a welder and an ex commercial electrician. Is there anything I can do to help with this? I've always wanted to get into something like this but have no idea where I would start.

uhuhshesaid967 karma

Training.

The worst thing that westerners do is come to Africa and do these jobs. The amount of well meaning people that come and paint churches or build orphanages - they just take jobs away from local painters and builders. Electrification and welding can be done by locals, but perhaps some need training. Provide this at a local or rural college to make a difference, donate supplies or help organize large training workshops in larger towns nearby. A big one would be safety equipment as I've seen electricians here work in ways that make me extremely worried for their safety. But do not do the jobs for them. That's critical. Let them train, do the work, and get paid for it.

tristan_ko481 karma

I fully agree.

That's why Louise, my co-founder, is Beninese, and so is our local Manager in Igbérè. You can see them both in the film. Also, Jacques, who came to help us build our grid, is precisely a professional trainer. He showed us how to build, and we learned (I don't have a technical background myself). The grid was built by the locals (it's said in the film as well). As Power:On grows, we will hire more people to build our team. There are plenty of local technicians and engineers.

Finally, the point is not to build grids for the sake of it. We do it so the villages can trigger economic development. It's a tool for local entrepreneurs to launch and grow businesses. This is our core mission. Our major impact will not be to train people to build electrical grids. It will be to give entire villages the means to thrive.

Your point is valid, but this project is not like what you may have seen before. We're on the same page. I hope you'll see that if you visit our website, watch our film, read our manifesto

Drak_is_Right115 karma

All sorts of economic opportunities open up when a village has semi-reliable power for even a few hours a day.

henryguy40 karma

Especially if they are ready for it and want it. It helps no one to cram new ideals down their throat if they don't want it. It's honorable whay these guys are doing. They are providing a life long career to people who didn't realize they could do these things.

By growing our neighbors we close off avenues for scummy non profits but most of all we focus our contributions on growth over seizure.

tristan_ko7 karma

I 100% agree with your first point, and I'm glad you understood we are not forcing anyone to buy our electricity, and are very careful not to impose anything people don't want.

I would not be so severe with NGOs, though. Even though we decided to take another path towards entrepreneurship, I still think there are areas where it would not have been possible. For instance, NGOs working in the electricity access area are still needed in response to natural disasters contexts or humanitarian crises. In the areas of justice, education, human rights, etc., I think NGOs are the only viable option too (I don't think a company could find a sustainable model there).

hsaund2168 karma

Yes! Watch Poverty, Inc. or read Toxic Charity

tristan_ko15 karma

Also watch our film :) You'll see we're on the same page If you want to go further, we also have a Medium blog: https://medium.com/turnthepoweron

tristan_ko2 karma

You could do like Jacques, a friend of mine who helped us build the grid. My advice would be to look for a similar project working in an English Speaking country (Benin is French speaking)

StattusKuo207 karma

How did you manage to get Eva Green to narrate? Awesome job!

tristan_ko230 karma

It took a lot of persistence, some guts and a little luck! I really wanted to have her narrating. I reached out to several of her agents. Most did not reply, or told me she was not available. At the last minute, one of them replied: she was in! It's really a dream come true. She's very nice for doing this!

nagakarthijk83 karma

How do you fund your projects?

tristan_ko141 karma

Right now, love money from family and friends (around €70k). I was very lucky to be able to count on them. In the near future, we will launch a crowdfunding campaign to upgrade to solar

nagakarthijk42 karma

Have you looked at any solar OEM to tie up with? Will it be a pay as you go model or something that the crowdfunding completely pays for?

tristan_ko68 karma

partnerships are incredibly hard to land when you are only starting up. Maybe this will be an option in the future, since we gained a little recognition thanks to that film.

The model is indeed pay as you go. The villagers only pays for the electricity they use and this allows us to pay a salary to our local manager, fuel and maintenance, and hopefully profits that we will reinvest in other grids.

The crowdfunding campaign will help us pay for the investment for solar panels, etc. In the future, we expect to be sustainable and profitable on our own

nagakarthijk30 karma

Nice.

Here is one I'm raising funds for!

https://milaap.org/fundraisers/lightupladakh

Yes, there is a huge market in India. You should try and get in touch with IEEE smart villages to help you!

tristan_ko16 karma

Thanks for the advice! Good luck on your funding. You will most likely make it since you still have 36 days to find $264! Good job!

nagakarthijk13 karma

I am participating in this one, but I really hope to find an opportunity to startup myself.

tristan_ko13 karma

I encourage you to do so!

icewewe15 karma

While I doubt Victron would be willing to donate equipment to you, definitely give them a call when you're designing the PV system. Their CEO (https://github.com/mpvader) is incredibly down to earth and super interesting to talk to.

tristan_ko6 karma

Thanks for the advice! I'll definitely try to get in touch! You never know!

mfb-2 karma

How much do they pay compared to the cost of installing and running a grid?

You said it is for profit in a different comment chain, how far into the future is that?

tristan_ko9 karma

Installing a hybrid solar PV-batteries-generator grid for a ~3,000 inhabitants village costs around €200,000. The village would never be able to pay it upfront. Instead Power:On invests and builds this local grid, and sells electricity to the families, entrepreneurs and public services. We expect to have paid back the investment after 3 to 5 years, maybe a little more, depending on how fast the village is developing.

nagakarthijk5 karma

Would you be interested to expand to such projects in India?

tristan_ko12 karma

Unfortunately, India is a bit far for us (we are in Benin, West Africa). But similar startup exist in India, which is the world's biggest market for electricity access

MrSnowden4 karma

I helped fund a kickstarter for a similar non-profit in Africa a while back. Might want to consider that route. It has since become more commercially oriented, but started out with a lot of non-profit ideas.

tristan_ko3 karma

How much did you raise? It's exactly what we're going for now

MrSnowden7 karma

I was just a supporter. The dude was developing mobile apps for data collection to be used by other non-profits. I think he raised like $50k. We all got local beads from Africa for our contributions. That was when Kickstarter was just starting out, so things may have changed.

But with your video and story, I would think you could do well, perhaps with a Tranches e.g. raise enough for one village solar install. Make a video of that and the results, then raise money for many more.

tristan_ko3 karma

Thanks for sharing this! what do you mean by Tranches?

MrSnowden4 karma

I am not sure how much you think you need to raise. I had meant that you could either try to raise it all at once, or raise a part of it, demonstrate you can build out at an initial site and then come back and raise more with a better story and better idea what you need.

Happy to help if you want.

tristan_ko4 karma

Ok got it. To upgrade our existing grid and go solar hybrid, we need around €150k

Trailslayer2257 karma

Is this a non-profit or do you plan on making money off this?

tristan_ko105 karma

It's for-profit, however I'm not making money from it yet (not since 5 years). It's basically philanthropy right now.

The reason we are for profit is that I want to we prove that we can bring electricity to the remotest villages on the planet in a sustainable and profitable way. If I succeed, I'm convinced this issue will be solved very quickly. I wrote a post about that: https://medium.com/turnthepoweron/ngos-fail-1fc03aa1f917

ttlyntfake32 karma

Your website looks like a classic charity contribution site. Do you think about sharing financial projections and how someone's €1 contribution generates profit and ultimately have €5 worth of impact? (whatever the numbers are?)

Are the access fees just to cover operating costs and you treat the initial installation as a donation, or can the whole concept be profitable?

edit: wording

tristan_ko41 karma

Yes, a impact assessment team is actually bound to the village next week. They will help us really understand how electricity is changing the lives of the people, how it creates wealth, etc. This will be very interesting data.

As of today, the grid is only live from 7pm to midnight each day (because we are using a Diesel generator, and we did not want to burn fuel 24/7). But we expect to be profitable once we upgrade to solar: we will be able to generate 24/7 clean and cheap electricity.

By selling electricity to business clients during the day, we expect to create a virtuous circle. Electricity will allow them to generate more revenue, develop their business, and consume more electricity, and so on. This is really our core mission: trigger economic development in the villages

pocketknifeMT8 karma

Did you think to collect any before data?

tristan_ko17 karma

Of course! An impact assessment team was in the village two years ago. A new one will arrive next week! We will keep everyone posted, just sign up to our website!

hegbork3 karma

upgrade to solar: we will be able to generate 24/7 clean and cheap electricity

Eeeh. How are you planning to make solar generate electricity 24/7? Especially that bit about 24. One of the main points of your film was that they didn't have sun 24 hours a day.

tristan_ko5 karma

Yes I actually mean solar + batteries (and we'll keep our existing generator as a back up)

Yasupposea50 karma

Looking for any help? I'm a Journeyman Electrician in state of MN and CA, and I would love to help out. I've done 4 years of solar.

tristan_ko31 karma

This is the kind of offer that keeps our motivation up! You would have to speak French though to help on the ground...

Karamzungu916 karma

I know I'm late but my family members in Kotido have some access to power via solar panels but what is preventing actual electricity is the Ugandan government. Are any policies or government entities making life difficult?

tristan_ko15 karma

Benin is working to facilitate projects like ours. Local authorities are aware of what we're doing, and I hope we'll soon be able to work more closely

justhisguyouknow2 karma

What about an Electrical Engineer who speaks some French?

tristan_ko2 karma

Are you fluent?

p1ratemafia35 karma

Have you ever read "A Good Man in Africa?"

How do you feel about the white savior syndrome aid workers appear to suffer from?

Im saying this from a point of love as I am a disaster aid worker.

tristan_ko42 karma

I am aware of that syndrome. It's partly because of this that Power:On is a startup, not an NGO. We are selling electricity services to clients, not beneficiaries. If we don't do a good job, they will simply stop buying it, we'll go bankrupt and somebody else will take our place. I think it's a really good thing: it keeps our interests aligned with our users. Also, Louise, my co-founder, is Beninese, and so is Jean, our amazing employee.

With that said, I really respect aid workers and NGOs in general. Some issues still cannot be addressed by enterprises (education, justice, human rights, famine, natural disasters... and so on).

p1ratemafia9 karma

I plan on watching the video later, but I appreciate your reply. Since you are aware of it, have you done local economic impact reports on your ops? What are your long term training strategies to make sure you are creating industry in the communities you work and not just extracting wealth?

If this is in the video, I'll learn after work, but I appreciate your replies!

tristan_ko4 karma

I'm happy to reply :) Yes I mentioned impact analysis on another comment. This is essential

curiouscat69521 karma

Oh I have soooo many questions. So the first question I want to ask is How do you keep yourself Indpired and Motivated, because I know the road is not always smooth, there are obstacles, disappointments, sometimes we lose hope, sometimes things don't work. So amidst all that where does the will to be persistent comes to you? What motivates you ?

tristan_ko19 karma

This is a very good question, as as any entrepreneurs you have ups and downs. My main source of motivation is what people from remote villages tell me. We have a series on our social media accounts called "Humans Of Igbérè", inspired from the famous "Humans Of New York". It's a series of portraits of people from Igbérè, the village where we are working. They tell their stories, what they do, how electricity changed their lives and what are their plans for the future... It's really inspiring!

Seeing the film and the impact electricity has made on the entire village is also very motivating.

And off course getting support from artists I love such as Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Mads Mikkelsen, Omar Sy, Lionel Loueke... and many others definitely gave me an amazing boost!

I'm not even mentioning support from family and friends. I would have quit a long time ago without them!

curiouscat6957 karma

So is it safe to say that you are emotionally motivated ?

tristan_ko14 karma

oh yes. I think you have to be. If you don't really believe in what you are doing and if it doesn't make you happy, it's not a good sign!

tenyuukun3 karma

I'm stealing this.

tristan_ko2 karma

please do ^

rethra20 karma

Were all the villagers welcoming of electricity and the technological advancement? Did you have any push back?

tristan_ko19 karma

Yes, most people have family or friends in the city and they know what electricity is. They often blame the government because they feel abandoned and left in the dark. When we first came in the village to present the project, people were very happy.

When the system was finally operational, though, we observed three kinds of people. Some became regular consumer rightaway. Some took a little more time. And some still do not use electricity, or very rarely. I'd say it's a third each, approximately. It takes time for an innovation to spread!

DragostePhile2 karma

What tangible benefits do you see the regular and irregular consumers gaining from using electricity? Electricity is integral to my life, and I consider it to be very useful. I'm curious how it is used in societies in which it has been recently implemented.

tristan_ko2 karma

An impact assessment team will get to the village next week to answer that question pricisely! In the meantime, you can read what the villagers say themselves here: https://www.facebook.com/turnthepoweron/ or here: https://www.instagram.com/tristan.ko/

pocketknifeMT2 karma

Is there a demographic split? Old people not using it more than younger. that sort of thing?

tristan_ko2 karma

Actually no! Some very old people were among the most enthusiastic users. Look at this man for instance: https://www.instagram.com/p/BG4Efy1uCmc/

youngandwild6415 karma

How did you start your work ? Did you have a team back then or were you alone ? Did the government take an initiative to help your work ?

tristan_ko14 karma

I started alone, which I actually really not recommend. But I chose Benin for this project because I already knew the country (I had worked in a NGO there) and most importantly I knew Louise, who became my cofounder (you can see her in the film). We now also work with Jean, our local manager. He is very committed to our mission and we are lucky to have him.

The good thing with this kind of project is also that many people genuinely want to help. Jacques is a friend who knows all about electricity and he played a big part in the beginning of this project!

The government was always curious and let us work, nothing more (yet). This is good enough for me, for now!

koreanwizard15 karma

Are you competing with Akon?

tristan_ko19 karma

Akon is mostly distributing solar lamps for public lighting and solar kits for domestic use. He is absolutely loved in Africa for this, and it's nice to see someone like him commit to such a great cause. However what Power:On does is building real electrical grids that can address domestic needs, but also trigger economic development. The villagers can use whatever they want, just like people in the city. This is real electricity access

curiouscat69513 karma

What all things you've had to sacrifice to be where you are right now ? What do you actually want from life in general ? What is your philosophy ?

tristan_ko33 karma

The most basic thing I had to sacrifice was the last 5 years of my life without a salary. My friends all have jobs but I still live as if I was a student. But this was a conscious choice and I'll do it again. It was no accident I ended up doing this. I really want to work on something that has a meaning. I even wrote a manifesto about it on my medium account (https://medium.com/turnthepoweron/why-i-am-an-entrepreneur-5e3246473ae1)

If I make it, I'll be able to make a living out of this project though. That's the goal

curiouscat6956 karma

You sir, are very inspiring. One in a million. I guess this is just the beginning.

tristan_ko11 karma

ahah thanks! I hope you're right!

osamabinalex2 karma

Sustainability also applies to your ability to stick around and be happy... and paid. There are many very wealthy westerners who retired to international development that would be more than willing to show you how to fundraise and make sure you get paid.

tristan_ko2 karma

You are absolutely right. That's the plan indeed, as for any enterprise. I need 10-20 operational grids to get paid a westerner's salary. I had to start small and hope to find partners along the way

Chaosritter9 karma

How long do the grids and power stations usually last? I can't really imagine the villagers being able to properly maintain them.

tristan_ko6 karma

In France, they are made to last at least 40 years. Some electrical cable are still functional after a century! Once they are buried, they can stay there in good shape for a very long time!

Our grid is also buried. Jacques, my friend who helped us build the grid, is a professional in that area and wanted it to be buried. I think it was a very good call.

I don't expect our system to really last as long as in France, but I'm confident it will last for quite some time. Also, the key to our model is that the villagers actually pay for the electricity they use, which allows us to maintain the system ourselves over time (just like the electricity companies do all over the world)

boo_baup2 karma

What has kept traditional utilities from doing this? Simple will?

tristan_ko4 karma

Money, and yes political will from States. This is changing now, fortunately

RowdyWrongdoer6 karma

Are you aware of /u/TheBigPygmy Justin Wren? He is trying to help solve the clean water crisis in that part of the world as well. I think you 2 should know about each other if you dont already. https://www.water4.org/

tristan_ko4 karma

Thanks for the information! I did not know about him but this is very interesting indeed!

curiouscat6956 karma

Okay last question what is your biggest fear in life in general and what advice you'd like to give to young entrepreneurs to overcome theirs (since we are all humans and we all have fears ) ?

tristan_ko10 karma

My biggest fear would be losing people I love I guess...

As for young entrepreneurs, I'd say this: it's not as risky as you think. Worst case scenario: you lose a little time. Nowadays most startups can be founded with very limited funds (I'm the exception). Start small, and go big!

If you don't know them, you should check out The Family especially if you live in Europe. They have lots of free content for you, and it will definitely help you figure out if you really want to be an entrepreneur

jakefromstatefarm105 karma

Why, in your opinion, can Africans not do it themselves?

tristan_ko10 karma

They can! Louise, my co-founder, is Beninese! So is Jean, our amazing manager in the village. Without them, there would be nothing.

Felon4 karma

Africa is a huge continent, where specifically in Africa are you working?

tristan_ko3 karma

Right now we're in Benin. We hope to be all over the continent someday

Fudzy4 karma

Great work guys, out of interest what technology partners are you using for metering and telemetry?

tristan_ko4 karma

We're using smart meters allowing to sell pre-paid contracts. When credits run out, lights go out and you need to recharge. This is key to our success. In the past, many projects failed because people were not able to pay when the electricity bill came at the end of the month. And if there is no money, you can't maintain the system and pay the people in charge of it.

Belfura3 karma

Hi Tristan, I love what you're doing. Great project! How do you envision bringing green energy to remote places? Is there also a way to use the strong currents of some rivers to generate more?

tristan_ko4 karma

Hydro is the best and cheapest option if you have a river. But you have to have a river! In most cases, you don't. But in Africa, solar energy is also a good option. That's what we are going for!

Belfura3 karma

Ah that's true, not many places in African countries have a good river with a strong flow. In the case of solar energy, won't the heat generated by the panels be a problem?

tristan_ko5 karma

the PV panels optimal working temperature is 25°C so yes (under the sun, it can easily get to 40, even 50°C). But it's not a really big problem. I'm not an expert but I think it's best to install a solar photovoltaic panel under these latitudes, even at these temperatures, than in Northern Europe for instance

that420highguy3 karma

Do you think you would be interested in partnering up with modern agriculture? I'm involved in an aquaponics system being built and tested at my university and I feel we share a common goal. To provide a life changing service to those in need. We handle the food sovernty with fish an produce, you keep our fishie's happy with a couple of small pumps.

tristan_ko3 karma

If you want to come to Benin and develop your system, be my guest! I'm sure the villagers would be interested

asutch123 karma

Since you said this is for-profit, how do you plan on competing with much larger companies in the private sector and those backed by foreign aide/governments?

How do you plan on keeping up with the ever growing demand of electricity?

tristan_ko4 karma

That's the same challenge for every startup, in every sector. We'll just focus on making our clients very happy and building our company around that

Taladar143 karma

Would you say the biggest challenge is technical? Or something else entirely? Keep up the good work!

tristan_ko6 karma

When I first started working on this project, I really thought the biggest challenge would be technical. How to generate electricity in the cheapest way in remote areas, so the people living there can actually buy it.

But as it turned out, this is not a problem at all: in remote villages, people already pay way more than us for energy. That's called the poverty tax. I wrote about it here, if you want to learn more: https://medium.com/turnthepoweron/into-darkness-the-tax-on-poverty-you-dont-know-about-c9d5b5762f23

This is why they can pay our electricity even if we are using a sub-optimal Diesel-based solution.

The biggest challenge is rather to show people why electricity is better than buying batteries, candles, kerosene lamps, small gasoline generators, etc. Basically, we show them it's cheaper. That's why we sell pre-paid contracts: so they can compare. For instance, before we got to Igbérè (the village), simply charging a phone at a local store using a small gasoline generator cost FCFA200 (around €0.30). Today, one of our most popular contracts offers 5 hours of light AND a mobile phone charge for FCFA100 (€0.15). We do that for everything (light, TVs, fridges, etc).

Sometimes it's bit trickier, because a lot of families are polygamous. So the husband thinks that if he pays for one of his wives, he will have to pay for all of them. And he ends up paying nothing, letting everybody in the dark... It takes time sometimes to find the right argument...

Our big challenge beyond that first project is also funding, as I said earlier. It's really the main thing preventing us from moving faster

SuspiciouslyElven3 karma

Do you also educate on efficient energy use and safety? I had it drilled in my head to never go near downed power lines and turn off lights when I leave a room in elementary school. Sorry if this comes off as... idk... demeaning their intelligence, but if they aren't taught those things, you could be wasting energy or have a "bored kid sticks metal into electric outlet" scenario.

tristan_ko4 karma

It's a good question! It's indeed important to explain some basics, as we do in developed countries. It's even more important when you are operating with limited resources: our grid is self sufficient, so we can't rely on the main grid if there is a demand spike.

Safety is also a very big concern. The villagers know not to fool around with electricity (as I said, they know what it is as they sometimes go to nearby cities). But it's important to install the proper securities (fuses, circuit breakers, etc) and explain how to use everything.

durwood643 karma

I work for a company that builds massive electrical generators powered by a turbine engine , Recently shipped one unit to Aliko Dangote for evaluation. Is this project affiliated with him?

tristan_ko5 karma

Nope, but if you know him, tell him about us :)

blinky642 karma

Why are you bringing electricity to Africa?

Wouldn't it be awesome if you could bring clean water to Detroit?

tristan_ko2 karma

I guess it would be awesome too I'm not American though, so I don't know if I have the right to work in Detroit

therealBoomboy2 karma

What's the most dangerous experience you ever had while working there?

tristan_ko2 karma

Benin is a very safe and welcoming country, so I never experienced really dangerous situations. The most dangerous things would be road accidents. Most people drive motorbikes in Benin, and even if helmets are mandatory most people don't have any when you get away from big cities. This is obviously bad! The roads are also often in bad shape, with huge trucks going very fast alongside small motorbikes (it's frequent to see an entire family on one bike).

codelearning2 karma

Bonjour Tristan, On ne s'est pas rencontrés, mais je suis aussi allé à Natitingou l'année après toi, en 2010. Es tu toujours sur place, es tu toujours en contact avec Louise?

Ce voyage a marqué ma vie, je tiens à te féliciter pour ton travail et ton engagement pour cette cause!

tristan_ko3 karma

énorme :) c'est quoi ton nom ? Louise est ma co-fondatrice ! Toi t'as pas regardé le film hein !

ux-guy2 karma

What are your funding targets, and what are those targets based on? I'll PM you for additional questions.

tristan_ko2 karma

We need €150k to hybridize our grid with solar and batteries.

H13133032 karma

What made you choose Africa over other places?

tristan_ko2 karma

I discovered Benin when I was a student. I was working with an NGO focused on education and microfinance, and this is when I met Louise, who is now my co-founder (you can see her in the film). I really loved the country, had made some friends there, so I decided to start Power:On there.

maxificus72 karma

Great work Tristan! How old are you?

tristan_ko2 karma

Thanks a lot! I'm 30!

Dubstep_KING2 karma

What made you start this organization?

tristan_ko2 karma

I really wanted to work on something with true meaning. When you graduate from business school, your options are to work for big corps in finance, consulting, marketing... I had tried that and it was not for me. I needed a real mission

Also throughout my studies I learnt a lot about social entrepreneurship, and I was fascinated with that field. I got to talk to a lot of entrepreneurs from all around the world, working on awesome and life changing projects, so I wanted to try as well.

As I said earlier, I had also discovered Benin with a student NGO at my BS. This is when I met Louise, who is now my co-founder.

Finally, I learned about the electricity access field in an internship in a strategy consulting firm in Paris. We were working for the solar branch of Total. They were looking to sell solar panels in remote and off grid villages in developing countries by replacing or hybridizing Diesel generators. It was very interesting, but I knew Total would never really do it (and they haven't, this was back in 2011). So I decided to do it myself!

I went back to Benin, because I knew the country (very nice, btw) and Louise offered to join me!

PrinceAli3112 karma

Are you Akon? Because you sound a lot like Akon.

http://akonlightingafrica.com/co-founders/akon/

tristan_ko2 karma

I answered a similar question earlier, but thanks! I like Akon

Nergaal2 karma

What's the best and the worst story you know after bringing electricity to these remote villages?

tristan_ko3 karma

Best: chose your favorite from our "Humans Of Igbérè" series. Here's the link to my Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/tristan.ko/ And FB page : https://www.facebook.com/pg/turnthepoweron

Worse: nothing related to electricity (we had no accident). But it pains me sometimes to see that life in the village can still be very hard. People get sick and die, even children sometimes. Each time I go back, somebody I knew is gone. That's why I wish we could go faster. Many lives could be saved with modern services (electricity, but also running water, healthcare, etc).

DerUrVogel2 karma

What you're doing is amazing! But, it's obviously incredibly hard work. What is the biggest/most difficult obstacle you've overcome so far?

tristan_ko3 karma

I could write a book on all the things that went wrong on the ground! Really, at one point I thought I was cursed (Benin is voodoo country) ^ But really the biggest obstacle for us is funding. Right now, you have two families for electricity access: solar lamps/kits and mini-grids.

Solar lamps and kits is what's hot right now, but they only address domestic uses. It's life changing for families, because they don't have to rely on batteries, coal, candles, kerosene lamps , etc, anymore. It's safer and cheaper. But distributing solar kits and saying that you're providing access to electricity is like giving someone a bandaid and saying you're a doctor!

Mini-grids, on the other hand, are able to power any appliance, just like in the cities. But investors are stil wondering wether they can be sustainable. To me, this is a no brainer. I can't name one developed country were rural villages were not able to thrive thanks to electricity. Not one village in France does not have electricity, for instance. So I can't imagine why this would not also be the case in currently developing countries!

This is why we are trying hard to prove we are right in our first village in Benin. If we succeed, we hope to convince everybody to help us replicate what we've done and solve the electricity access crisis for good!

Boofzz2 karma

I like your idea but it's better to teach them how to do the jobs, then they won't need people to help them and from there they can teach others. Maybe to get a start you could teach them how to maintain the power grids?

tristan_ko2 karma

You're right, and we're doing it. I've answered a similar question, hope you'll like it!

DrAnalBeads2 karma

Do you believe in true altruism? As in doing things for others with only their wellbeing as a motive.

tristan_ko2 karma

Joey and Phoebe from Friends taught me there is no such thing, sadly

Shattered_Sanity1 karma

Are you doing any work in Liberia? About 5 years ago, I talked to an aid worker about the country on a long flight, he said that Liberia was one of two countries without a power grid. The decades-long civil war had destroyed everything. Is any progress being made?

tristan_ko1 karma

I've never been to Liberia, so I really don't know, sorry

w4ffl31 karma

What happens when the generator/solar panels break? What's your plan for sustainability of your work?

tristan_ko1 karma

Our business model (our clients pay for the electricity they use) ensures we can pay for maintenance and pay people to manage our systems. However if there is a natural disaster, I guess insurances would be important. This actually happened in Haiti quite recently. Some very good projects took a huge hit, but fortunately they were able to limit the damage and recover

w4ffl32 karma

I did read too quickly and assumed you were a non-profit--all too often groups bring in that sort of equipment and no plan for replacing things when they break. Certainly can see where your plan is more sustainable if profitable though I'm a little skeptical you'll be able to recoup the costs of getting that equipment there/maintaining it in poorer communities.

tristan_ko3 karma

We reached operational break even from the start (the electricity we sell pays for the salaries, maintenance and fuel) with a sub-optimal Diesel-based system running only 5 hours per day. If we upgrade to solar and generate cheaper electricity 24/7, I'm confident this will be a good business

top_koala1 karma

Neat, I'm actually finishing up a paper on development in Ghana!

One thing that I talked about us how I thought solar could be very useful to bring power to the impoverished northern regions. The difficulty of bringing them power, aside from the current shortage, is that the energy grid is lacking the infrastructure to reach remote rural areas.

So, I thought solar projects would be a good idea to bring power to distant and impoverished communities. I also thought grants for individual panels on important buildings such as schools and hospitals would be very beneficial.

What do you think?

Second question, what are the best charities to donate to? (Besides yours)

tristan_ko2 karma

You are absolutely right! What we're doing in Benin could totally apply to Ghana. And yes, it makes sense to subsidize schools and hospitals so they can access energy.

About the second question: the ones you love.

thewombbroom1 karma

Hi! I run an NGO in Malawi that focuses on moving the needle in one rural village through holistic community based programs. I can testify first hand to the fact that Africa's development can never be effectively moved forward without solving the electricity problem. Even our work as a relatively well funded charity is severely hampered by Malawi's inability to provide stable electricity. It is a core issue that affects all others.

Now my question: Can we talk about partnering together to help the community we serve in Malawi?

tristan_ko2 karma

Congrats for your work in Malawi! I really get what you mean... Unfortunately, Malawi is very far from us: we are in Benin, and still a very small team. One day, maybe! Best chance to make this happen: share our film with a lot of people. If we get a lot of supporters behind us to launch our crowdfunding campaign, then maybe we'll be able so scale up and eventually go beyond Benin!

jspliff11 karma

Are you a eel?

tristan_ko2 karma

it's a secret

SamPlatypus1 karma

How much time do you have to invest in the work on a daily ? How do you manage your time ?

tristan_ko2 karma

I'm on this project full time. Now I work mostly from Paris, looking for funding to keep pushing!

0xD153A531 karma

How do you handle the issue of these communities largely lacking the expertise, as well as the money and other resources, to repair/maintain much of the infrastructure? A similar problem has plagued a number of projects in Africa (primarily with respect to pumping water). Is this a dimension that's incorporated into your organization and plan?

tristan_ko1 karma

Absolutely. We have tried to build on the lessons learnt by those pioneers. This is why we decided to go as a for-profit startup: we sell services to clients, so we can earn money to guarantee our systems are maintained over time. We can also reinvest our profits in future grids (that's the plan, we are not making any profits yet)