San Francisco Startup nabs $55 million as it expands solar projects into Ghana

Off Grid Electric, a San Francisco-based company that develops rooftop solar and battery systems in Africa, has raised $55 million as it expands into Ghana.

The Series D round was led by Helios Investment Partners and included GE Ventures, the venture capital subsidiary of General Electric Co., Off Grid said in a statement Thursday. The company’s Ghana expansion is part of a partnership with Electricite de France SA.

Just as mobile phones bypassed landlines in developing countries, off-grid solar and battery systems are viewed a way to provide power to more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. The declining price of panels has allowed startups including Off Grid to offer consumers pay-as-you go leasing options that compete in price with traditional kerosene lamps and diesel generators.

“The fundamental economics drive this all,” Xavier Helgesen, co-founder and chief executive officer of Off Grid, said in an interview. “I keep telling people that an electron from a solar panel is the cheapest electron you are going to find pretty much anywhere in the world.”

Off Grid — whose investors also include Tesla Inc.Total SA and DBL Partners — leases systems that include solar panels, batteries, lights, mobile phone chargers and televisions. Residents can make payments with mobile phones. Off Grid powers more than 150,000 homes and businesses in Tanzania, Rwanda and Ivory Coast.

The number of pay-as-you-go home solar systems worldwide has more than doubled from 2015 to about 1.5 million homes in October with more than $200 million in investments in 2016, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Solar and storage kits are playing a transformational role in areas where power is either very unreliable or not available at all, which is the case in vast parts of Africa,” said Itamar Orlandi, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.