Community Solar in Liberia
with Nicholai Lidow (LIB Solar)

In this episode, we speak with Nicholai Lidow from LIB Solar about community solar in Liberia. We discuss the challenges of energy access and doing business in one of the poorest countries in the world, the trade-off between social and environmental impact, and the potential (and challenges) for productive energy use.

Listen to us on Apple Podcast, Red Circle, Spotify, Stitcher or your favourite podcast streaming platform!

Show notes and related resources

LIB Solar Medium page: articles and blogposts on LIB Solar and community solar in off-grid energy

LIB Solar: company webpage

Podcast Summary

We discuss:

  • Nicholai's background and why he entered the solar intdustry

  • LIB Solar's business model and community-driven approach to solar

  • Liberia's energy infrastructure and economic challenges

  • The opportunity in serving hard-to-reach markets and the importance of a community dynamic

  • Their deployment of minigrids and standalone SHSs

  • LIB Solar's approach to productive energy use and the structural challenges that remain

  • The tension between social and environmental impact when serving rural off-grid populations with solar energy solutions

  • Their approach to funding, focusing on debt and grants - rather than an equity, VC funding model

Show notes:

  • (0:35) Nicholai Lidow's background and how he started working in the solar sector (via rebel group research!)

  • (1:25) LIB Solar business and go-to-market approach

  • (2:45) Background on Liberia, the energy infrastructure, and the potential for solar energy

  • (6:30) LIB's business model: focus on particularly rural areas; "an African company using tech to scale"

  • (9:30) The cost of a solar system to a customer, a longer payback period, and the benefit of using the US dollar in Liberia

  • (11:55) LIB Solar's shift from a mini-grid approach to a solar home system approach; the downside of a community-based approach when some customers can't afford to pay

  • (16:30) LIB Solar's payment collection approach

  • (18:40) Productive Energy Use: the benefits of solar and lighting, but the less-discussed limitations of using solar to significantly approve the long-term livelihoods of rural communities

  • (23:50) The tension between environmental impact and social/poverty impact for off-grid solar

  • (27:30) LIB's focus on debt financing rather than equity financing; Why off-grid solar companies are not tech companies

  • (32:30) Their plans for growth in Liberia, growing geographically and across other product lines

  • (37:30) Books on rebel groups, and the lessons from rebel group structures that can be applied to off-grid solar

  • (41:00) Advice for new entrepreneurs: good opportunities for local entrepreneurs and niche markets, amid industry consolidation; why there are so many foreign entrepreneurs in the African solar industry

  • (42:50) Predictions for the sector: Basic solar lighting will grow more quickly than we expect, and the need to shift from pure solar, to financing and distribution of other products