by Simon Meier, Andrew Carter

Konexa – Insights from the Ground

Konexa is pioneering an integrated distribution model in Sub-Saharan Africa to increase reliability of supply to underserved communities and extend energy access to unelectrified populations.

The integrated utility model combines grid investments with the deployment of off-grid technologies such as mini grids and standalone systems, and leverages embedded generation solutions, storage capacity, and smart meter technology to provide reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy for all.

For our first project, we are partnering with Kaduna Electric Distribution Company (KAEDCO), a utility serving over 20 million people in Northern Nigeria through a concession area covering 4 states. With 75 million of its population still living without electricity access, and 80% of those who have access still using alternative sources of energy due to frequent power outages, Nigeria represents a large-scale opportunity for the integrated distribution model.

Together with KAEDCO, we have identified a project area spanning two 11 kV feeders (medium voltage power lines) that serve 6,500 grid connected customers, ranging from small scale residential customers to large commercial and industrial customers. In addition, our proof of concept will see the construction of eight mini-grids to electrify 16 villages and the deployment of 300 solar home systems – collectively providing over 1,000 households with electricity from off-grid sources.

Throughout 2019, we conducted numerous technical studies to help us determine the network interventions required to increase the reliability of supply to existing customers. As part of these studies, we commissioned a detailed customer enumeration of all grid connections in our project area and collected over 60 data points per connection. Combined with our mini grid feasibility studies, our current solar home system deployments, and our ongoing customer engagement in the form of interviews with key community representatives, focus group discussions, and town hall meetings, we are continuously sharpening our understanding of our future customers.

In this article, we highlight emerging customer insights across the grid, mini-grid, and solar home system sectors.

A. Grid-connected customer insights

As a starting point, it’s worth sharing a couple key insights from KAEDCO’s current customer base across the two 11 kV feeders in our project area.

Figure 2 shows both the number of customers across customer segments as well as the actual losses and respective collection efficiency rates in 2018 across the Zaria Rd and Sunglass feeders. It’s worth noting that total collection losses amounted to $1.2m – or 52% of total billings – for the Zaria Rd and Sunglass feeders combined, which highlights the magnitude of the challenge ahead for Konexa. Losses stem primarily from residential, single-phase meter customers (R2-SP customers consume more than 50kWh) on the Zaria Road feeder. Because these customers are not metered, they received “estimated bills” based on the consumption at the Distribution Transformer level. It is therefore unsurprising that many of these residential customers dispute the legitimacy of these bills and refuse to pay amounts that often overstate their actual consumption. KAEDCO is therefore left with a growing amount of unpaid bills, which they track as “arrears”.


Over the course of 2019, Konexa conducted community engagement across various communities situated along the Zaria Road and Sunglass feeders. Engagements included 24 individual “key informant interviews” with a range of important stakeholders such as religious and political leaders, 4 community congresses with community representatives (see Figure 3), and 16 Focus Group Discussions (8 with women, 8 with men) across the project communities.

Learnings from these engagements can be categorised across three dimensions:

Billing and payments

Basic willingness to pay amongst residential customers appears to be around 1,500-2,000 NGN ($4.10 – $5.50) per month. However, conversations on the ground revealed widespread support for the idea of paying a premium in exchange for reliable supply, although women were less likely to back price increases beyond a limited amount.

Almost everyone that is currently being billed on the basis of estimated consumption believes they are being overcharged. This not only underscores the importance of metering, but also illustrates the need for Konexa to visualise the impact of greater consumption on customers’ electricity bills, e.g. through user interface SMS alerts, or just by learned experience of prepaid metering. If people believe that they are being accurately billed, they are more likely to pay.

There is a preference for paying cash due to familiarity, low digital banking penetration and literacy, and the ability to make part payments negotiated with the sales representative that people are familiar with. As we consider the use of agent networks and digital payments, we therefore need to build awareness and trust for these new channels.

Many customers mentioned that bills are often not transparent, with paid amounts from past bills not being accurately reflected. This is an important reminder for Konexa to design and deliver clear bills, and to educate our customers in order for them to better understand their bills.

Service provision

Perhaps unsurprisingly, repairs and maintenance work are generally perceived to be slow, and Konexa has an opportunity to communicate clear KPIs for technical and customer service to its future customers. Similarly, there is some dissatisfaction around disconnections, and a clear protocol for connections and disconnections that is widely communicated is needed.

Engagement with local communities also revealed that – as a result of slow response times – many communities have purchased their own electricity assets, such as Distribution Transformers. Moving forward, Konexa will need to engage with these communities and propose policies for how these legacy assets will be dealt with once it takes control of the network.

Gender and community empowerment

Due to cultural norms and for safety reasons, women rarely address complaints to distribution companies (Discos). It is therefore important that Konexa considers gender sensitive customer communication channels.

In addition, to respond to women’s concerns about lacking funds when credit runs out, Konexa could develop a scheme whereby it can lend emergency credit for those who have a good enough payment track record.

Most interviewees weren’t aware of energy efficiency appliances (e.g., fans, solar pumps, grinders etc.) due to estimated billing, so there is a need to build awareness deliberately through training, communications, electricity committee, and community engagement. That said, people are generally price sensitive so such appliances will need to be financed.

Konexa needs to teach people about meters to inform them and address issues of mistrust such as how the use of energy impacts costs, what their technical limitations are and what causes them to get “burnt”.

Figure 3, Community Congress

From the customer enumeration exercise conducted by our technical advisors Aurecon, it is worth noting that there could be some caution among grid connected customers about new appliances, perhaps due to their cost and impact on electricity bills. Fridges, TVs, fans, and air conditioners are the most desired appliances amongst residential customers.

B. Mini-grid customer insights

Of the 8 mini-grid sites identified across 16 villages in the project area, Konexa plans to develop two in 2020, connecting nearly 150 households and 1000 people. All communities we engaged are happy to donate land for the mini-grid development.

Over the course of 2019, Konexa and its contractors conducted multiple community engagements across three broad categories: 1) General sensitization and survey results; 2) Presentation of contracts, tariff structures, and discussions about land identification; and 3) Creation and training of Community Power Committees.

The key learnings from these engagements can be categorised across a number of key dimensions.

Willingness to pay and tariff

Mini grid communities are willing to pay a slightly higher tariff than grid-connected communities, typically between 2000 – 2500 NGN ($5.50 – $6.90) per month.

Some of the communities have a sense of the solar home system (SHS) cost (4,800 NGN or $13.25 per month for the MTN Lumos system), but there is a concern especially among the lowest income earners that the amount is too high. That said, there is a general acceptance for paying a higher tariff if they will be assured of better service than what is currently obtainable on the grid.

Many off-grid customers have a sense of the monthly amounts paid by grid customers and that is influencing their expectations for the monthly charges they will be paying on the off-grid. All the communities understand that the mini grid tariff will be higher than the grid and they are satisfied with the fact that they will get a better service than those on the grid.

In particular, there is some concern over tariff plans based on tiers due to the perception that this will make monthly costs more expensive and less transparent. It is therefore vital to have a simple and clearly explained tariff methodology.

Most customers, regardless of their tier categorization, would like to be able to use at least a fan or a TV as a minimum. There is not much appetite for just having energy for lighting and phone charging. Family and societal pressure seems to be the major drivers for acquisition of household appliances.

Gender and community empowerment

Women are usually not pro-actively engaged and they are often left out of decision-making processes by the community. Konexa therefore needs to specifically engage women during all phases of project development.

There is a good understanding of expected roles and responsibility by the Community Power Committees (CPC), local bodies that represent community’s energy needs and preferences. Expectations and motivation for joining the CPC are very realistic and encouraging as many see it as an opportunity to contribute to the development and protecting the interest of their community.

c. Solar Home System pilot deployments

Konexa has initiated partnerships with three product providers (Green Light Planet, M-Kopa, Zola) and one software provider, and deployed a total of over 30 demonstration solar home systems to date. Aside from concerns around security at some locations and limited access to certain roads due to heavy rainfall, installations have been going smoothly.

There is a special demand for the Zola flex fan because of the flexibility of selling the unit with only the fan initially, with the possibility of buying a 24-inch TV to add in the future. This reduces the initial cost of the unit, with the option to pay for the TV later.

There is also a strong demand for TV products. However, this could change after the rainy season when demand may increase for fan units.

Moving forward, we will keep engaging local communities to continue to learn more about their needs and to inform them of Konexa’s progress and grid construction timelines. Importantly, we will also be gaining real customer insights from our first mini grid and solar home system deployments this year. These early off-grid customer insights will help us tailor our product and service offerings to grid customers, and give us a head-start in designing customer service processes as we fully operationalise the integrated model.

Konexa has received support from Shell Foundation, the UK Government, Rockefeller Foundation and USAID/Power Africa to date. We are committed to sharing our leanings from the field with the broader sector as we transition from preparation to operationalisation.

DFID and USAID logos