The Sun Exchange. Lighting up South Africa


Climate change and crypto are two interesting topics that have made the news a lot in recent times. Today I take a closer look at a Blockchain project that tackles both of these subjects: Sun Exchange. Simply put, the company aids communities by crowdselling solar power cells. People can then lease their cells to organizations in emerging economies and get paid in Bitcoin. It’s a win-win situation in my opinion. Read on and you’ll see exactly why…

A Unique Discovery

Based in South Africa, Sun Exchange is the first peer-to-peer (P2P) solar leasing marketplace. I first heard about the company back in 2018. Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert were appointed as advisers to the project and talked about it on the ever-popular Keiser report. I was fascinated by the concept and signed up for the Sun Exchange Newsletter that same day. Over the years I have followed their progress with keen interest.

The Nhimbe Fresh and Sun Exchange project really grabbed my attention because it’s the latter’s biggest and most ambitious initiative to-date. For this reason I decided to take a deep dive into the project and share my findings with all of you. It’s a great example of crypto entrepreneurship that’s really helping change peoples’ lives. So let’s get to it!
What’s Sun Exchange?

First of all, let me explain how Sun Exchange works, because it’s a truly unique approach that deserves some attention.

Sun Exchange identifies schools, businesses and organizations that want to move away from fossil fuels and go solar. Once an entity has been verified as viable and responsible, Sun Exchange runs a crowdsale to sell solar cells (by the seashore?) and raise money for the project.

Anyone from anywhere in the world can sign up to be a Sun Exchange member and buy solar cells. Purchases can be made using a traditional bank transfer, credit card or Bitcoin.

Owners of solar cells receive monthly payments once their cell starts generating electricity. Owners can either get paid in the currency of the country in which the project is based, or they can receive payment in Bitcoin.

So organizations benefit from getting access to clean, constant power whilst the people who lease their solar cells can earn crypto and feel good about themselves. Isn’t that awesome?

The Brain Behind Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange was founded in 2015 by Abraham Cambridge. Before starting the company, Cambridge ran a business in the UK installing solar panels.

In 2014 he moved to South Africa and began work as a solar engineering consultant. He was shocked by just how few buildings had solar panels installed despite South Africa being one of the world’s sunniest countries. He later discovered that accessing finance to pay for solar projects was a major roadblock to greater uptake. Cambridge was eager to address this problem and help schools, businesses and organizations across Africa access clean and affordable renewable energy.

With experience in climate change studies, solar panel installation and crypto, it should comes as no surprise that Cambridge is the brains behind Sun Exchange.

Nhimbe Fresh

Founded in 1996 in Zimbabwe, Nhimbe Fresh is one of Africa’s largest producers of fruit and vegetables. The company supplies the world’s markets with bluberries, stone fruits and vegetables. There’s a good chance that those blueberries you bought at your local supermarket were grown and exported by Nhimbe Fresh.

Nhimbe Fresh is more than just a farm. They are also dedicated to helping local communities. At present they provide employment for around 1,500 people in the local area and run several support programs to help local families enjoy a better quality of life.

Small farms in Africa provide up to 80% of total food production. Sadly they face a host of difficulties including small plots of land, barriers to entry into larger markets and a lack of finances.

Nhimbe Fresh takes active steps to help these small farms by providing them with practical support and solutions. One such program is the farmer education project which focuses not just on farming practices, but also healthcare and business procedures.

Nhimbe Fresh provides access to export markets for small farms with its outreach program. It collects produce from farms up to 100 km away and allows access to their packing and cold storage facilities. This outreach program allows said farms to earn money and gain access to finance, expand their operations and improve their overall standards of living.

All Nhimbe Fresh farms have clinics and childcare facilities available for employees. In addition, Nhimbe Fresh supports Marondera Children’s Home where some 200 children receive housing and care on a daily basis. Nhimbe Fresh are currently looking at ways to provide funding to pay for school fees at Marondera and offer students employment post-schooling.

Nhimbe Fresh is proud of their efforts to operate transparently as a sustainable business and protect the environment. However, their operation requires a huge amount of electricity for processing machinery, chillers, pumps and lighting. The Zimbabwean electricity supply is ‘unpredictable’ to say the very least and suffers from frequent power cuts. Nhimbe Fresh is thus forced to use backup diesel generators during power outages. As you can imagine, these generators are unreliable, noisy and very costly to run.

The power outages have a major impact on our production and processing, reducing our capacity to 60%. We have backup diesel generators for the packhouses and irrigation, but they’re too expensive to run – Edwin Moyo, Nhimbe Fresh Chairman

It’s clear that Nhimbe Fresh needs a clean, affordable and reliable power supply to run efficiently. This is where Sun Exchange enters their story…
Sun Exchange & Nhimbe Fresh

Sun Exchange has committed to providing solar panels and battery storage solutions for Nhimbe Fresh over three phases:

  • Phase One – Solar and battery project to power the packhouse and cold store
  • Phase Two – Power water pump sites
  • Phase Three – Power for Churchill Farm

The project will provide 1.9 Megawatts of power and battery storage and is Sun Exchange’s biggest initiative thus far, as well as their first outside of South Africa.

Providing solar power has many benefits, and not just for the environment. Firstly, it will provide Nhimbe Fresh with a continuous, reliable supply of power. The solar project is forecast to reduce their energy costs by more than 60% per year. Moreover, their carbon emissions should decrease by more than one million kilograms per year. That’s huge! This is a far cry from running diesel generators and relying on an unpredictable power supply from the ailing national grid.

In June 2020, Sun Exchange ran a crowdsale to raise money for the Nhimbe Fresh project. The sale managed to bring in $4 million and was considered a great success.

You can learn more about Nhimbe Fresh and the Sun Exchange crowdsale on the Sun Exchange YouTube channel

Progress so Far

At time of writing, equipment for the first phase of the Nhimbe project is en route. The aim is to have the equipment installed and running by the end of August, so it will be interesting to see if this goal is achieved in the expected time frame.

The next phase will concentrate on providing clean water to Nhimbe by using solar-generated power to pump water from reservoirs to the facility. Nhimbe uses a huge amount of water to irrigate their crops, so the success of this phase is absolutely critical.

Sun Exchange is just one of the many amazing projects coming out of Africa. I hope to bring you more stories about innovative projects in the future, but in the meantime, I’m rooting for Nhimbe Fresh! I hope to bring you updates on this initiative as and when they emerge.