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22.08.2018, Harald Schützeichel

A tribute to the inventor of Pay-as-you-go: Jürgen Gehr

For several years now, the sale of solar home systems in developing countries has been booming through pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG). This supports lending by the possibility to turn off the power when the installment is not paid. More and more providers with different techniques are emerging. Investors invested a total of $773 million between 2012 and 2017 to enable end user finance through PAYG technology.


Who invented pay-as-you-go?

PAYG technology was invented in Morocco at a time when solar technology for Africa was still in its early pioneering stage: Afrisol, founded by the German Jürgen Gehr, has made particular efforts since its foundation to supply households that were not connected to the power grid. Jürgen Gehr soon realized that the high initial costs hindered the spread of off-grid solar energy.

On the other hand, the households had monthly smaller amounts to pay their current energy needs. In 2000 he therefore developed a solar home system whose charge controller switched itself off if the customer did not pay his installment. The charge controller also had a datalogger that made it possible to monitor and control user behavior. Jürgen Gehr was also one of the first to place the solar battery in a stable box to protect it from damage and misuse.

The solar home system from Afrisol, the so-called "SunBox" supplied 4 energy saving lamps (LEDs were not yet operational) and a TV with electricity.

With his idea, however, Jürgen Gehr encountered a lot of skepticism: the provision of small loans to rural households by an installation company seemed to be too unusual. Especially for investors who could have helped the idea to breakthrough.


The further spread

In 2004, the Stiftung Solarenergie - Solar Energy Foundation implemented the SunBox from Afrisol with integrated PAYG technology for the first time in East Africa: in Ethiopia. In cooperation with its own installation company (SunTransfer), a network of 15 rural solar centers was set up in the following years, each with trained technicians for maintenance and service. On behalf of the Stiftung Solarenergie - Solar Energy Foundation, the solar technicians sold solar home systems by means of loans to Ethiopian households. By 2012, more than 10,000 solar home systems were thus sold and the PAYG technology was constantly being further developed.

It was the beginning of the PAYG boom in East Africa. Later, SunTransfer transferred the successful model to Kenya. Shortly afterwards, today's leading PAYG companies emerged. Their merit is to have made the sale by means of consumer loans also interesting for investors in Europe and the USA on a larger scale.


Jürgen Gehr did not live to see the global boom of his PAYG idea: he died on August, 22 2007 at the age of only 54 years.