Lesotho university students manufacture solar energy products

Mots’elisi Jesseica Sekonyela

Maseru, Lesotho : Two Masters in Sustainable Energy students from the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Thaane Mokose and Molibeli Rakauoane have started a renewable energy company, EnergyWise (Pty) Ltd that manufactures solar energy products in an effort to inspire the use of renewable energy in the country.

Mokose who is the company’s Chief Operations Officer says their business goal is to design, manufacture and install solar products for water heating, food cooking and drying. EnergyWise products include flat plate collectors, parabolic troughs, parabolic cooker, parabolic dryer and a hybrid collector. Rakauoane who is the company’s Chief Technical Officer said the flat plate collector is designed for domestic purposes as it heads water in temperatures below 100˚c, which can be used for bathing and washing.

“The parabolic trough heats water with temperatures above 100˚c, and is suitable for industrial purposes like heating up green houses and underground heating,” he added.

The hybrid collector is an integration of the two water heaters to increase efficiency and maximize the volume of water heated, while the parabolic cooker is suitable for domestic cooking. It traps the sun from sunrise to sunset, and it is advisable for users to cook with black color pots as they are good heat absorbers. 

Mokose and Rakauoane met as undergraduates studying Mathematics and Physics. They worked together in their fourth year on a thesis titled “Design and simulation of a fluid-filled d-shaped lens for solar thermal applications” which they published in 2021.

EnergyWise Founders- Thaane Mokose and Molibeli Rakauoane

With the success of the publication, they felt compelled to put their theory into practice and were given an opportunity to work in the school’s workshop to design and test their models under the supervision of two lecturers from the faculty, Prof. Leboli Zack Thamae and Dr. Naleli Matjelo. On the business side, the they got mentorship from Mr Tabempe Lesenyeho who is now the company’s CEO. He holds a MSc in Sustainable Energy as well as vast industry experience.

EnergyWise (Pty) Ltd was established in 2022, through the Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion (CAFI) which is a six-year project of the government of Lesotho under the ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism that kickstarted in the same year. This was made possible by a loan secured by the government from World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) for the purpose of increasing access to business support services and financial products targeted at Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and entrepreneurs, especially women and youth.

The CAFI project commenced in 2022 and is expected to conclude in 2028 with a total funding of $52,5 million from IDA. The NUL Innovation Hub under which EnergyWise is incubated is a beneficiary of the CAFI funding amounting to $100,000 aimed at incubating a total of ten startups per cohort with a total of five cohorts.

EnergyWise Chief Operating Officer, Thaane Mokose .jpg

Speaking to the NUL news site, The Hub’s coordinator, Dr. Pulane Nkhabutlane said the procedure leading up to the awarding stage started with the invitation of Enterprise Support Organizations (ESOs) like theirs to submit applications to oversee incubation for startups under their institutions on behalf of the government under CAFI. The shortlisted ESOs then underwent a training program held in South Africa, aimed at equipping them with skills needed to run innovation hubs effectively.

“Each of the first ten startups selected for incubation by the NUL Innovation Hub will receive $7,000. The remaining $30, 000 will be used by the Hub to support entrepreneurial ecosystem and provide assistance to emerging entrepreneurs,”  Nkhabutlane said.

EnergyWise is now in the distribution stage of their products. Among the investors that made their idea feasible is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that aided with the purchase of manufacturing material.

From personal savings, Mokose said about $1,000 was used towards developing their prototypes to convince investors of the feasibility of their idea.

“The product we have sold so far is the parabolic cooker that retails for M3,500. This is a once-off payment for a product that will be functional forever at no additional costs, it is a bargain.” Said Mokose. He added that the affordability of their products is to cater for the disadvantaged groups in rural areas, who need their products the most. 

“Growing up in rural areas allowed me to experience the struggles that come with doing domestic chores like cooking and boiling water using firewood that is got from faraway forests. The main inspiration behind my interest in this project was to better the livelihoods of such people that face similar struggles to date.”

According to EnergyWise, there is market for their products in the country. The challenge they are facing with the solar cooker being their best seller is that is it too big to fit in the house and strictly has to be kept outside. This makes some buyers skeptical in regards to the product being stolen by thieves, as a result, they are currently working on its portability.

Distribution is done in a way that interested buyers place orders first and only then will manufacturing start. This is also because some materials used are imported and orders are made based off of precise calculations.

Going forward, the company is looking to have their own workshop that will increase production and create employment. They also are looking to make solar energy awareness campaigns, which they have already started in partnership with the NUL Energy Research Centre in different communities that include the Maputsoe community in the Leribe district.

To increase their market and reach, Mokose said their manufacturing company will partner with reselling companies so they don’t have to focus on things like marketing and only on the manufacturing side of the business.

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