TRINE Case Study

This crowd-investing model for financing solar energy solutions provides electricity to communities that cannot bear the upfront costs, while delivering a financial return for investors.

TRINE’s crowd-investing model for financing solar energy solutions provides electricity to communities that cannot bear the upfront costs themselves, while delivering a financial return for investors. With an investment minimum of only US$25, the start-up makes it easy for even small-scale investors to profit from contributing to improve access to renewable energy in developing countries, in the process also improving livelihoods, and mitigating CO2 emissions from sources such a kerosene.

For Doinata and Joseph, an elderly couple living on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, electricity was an unaffordable luxury until a start-up selling solar home systems came to their village. Spotting a chance to help their granddaughter, Martha, study in the evenings, the family paid up – and switched the lights on for the first time.1

Growing access to off-grid solar is allowing similar families across Africa to swap kerosene for clean, cheap energy, boosting health and wealth, and cutting carbon emissions.2 It is also spawning opportunities for local industry: in Sidonge, Kenya, plans for solar-powered bottling and refrigeration services would allow locals to sell purified water and milk.3

Despite its advantages, getting solar tech to the vast number of Africans without electricity remains an uphill struggle. Small start-ups populating the field often lack the capital needed to cover manufacturing and shipping costs, making it hard to scale.4 Now a new player, TRINE, is seeking to close the investment gap with a crowdfunding platform offering solid returns and sustainable outcomes.5

Investors can contribute anything from €25 up to a set of rigorously vetted solar projects. Once raised, the money transfers to the local partner as a loan, and the interest generated is eventually split between TRINE and the funders.6 As well as individuals, TRINE attracts corporate investors, who tend to match sums raised from the “crowd”.7

Still in its first year of operations, TRINE has already helped seven projects off the ground. These include a US$25,000 initiative to provide solar lights to fishermen in Jinja, Uganda, expected to generate 6.75% annual returns after a 1.5-year payback period,8 as well as the €75,000 project that helped Martha and her family in Morogoro, Tanzania.9 The company expects to be cash flow positive in two years. If successful, its five-year plan would see 1 million people gain access to clean energy, as well as 1 million tons of CO2-equivalent and 1 million kerosene lamps avoided.10

Founder Sam Manaberi sees crowdfunding less as an innovation than a serious finance channel that will soon surpass venture capital.11 It faces conventional risks too, such as currency shifts, political instability and overleveraged partners – as a failed nano-grid project in Kenya testifies. In that case, TRINE took the hit and gave investors a stake in another project, showing a determination to make the model work for funders, entrepreneurs and communities alike12 and proving worthy of its name “trifold mission of achieving ROI, social and environmental goals”: TRINE means “triple” in Old English.13

References

1 TRINE. “Morogoro, Tanzania – Solar for Households”. https://www.jointrine.com/project/6.

2 Hill, J. S. (2016) “IRENA Claims Solar In Africa Is Set To Boom Thanks To Declining Costs”. Clean Technica, 22 September. http://cleantechnica.com/2016/09/22/irena-claims-solar-africa-set-boom-thanks-declining-costs/.

3 TRINE. “Sidonge, Kenya - Solar energy to support Kenyan community”. https://www.jointrine.com/project/1.

4 TRINE. “Morogoro, Tanzania – Solar for Households”. https://www.jointrine.com/project/6.

5 TRINE. “The TRINE Way”. https://www.jointrine.com/about.

6 TRINE. “How it Works”. https://www.jointrine.com/how-it-works.

7 Company interview.

8 TRINE. “Jinja, Uganda - Solar fishing lights for fishers in Uganda”. https://www.jointrine.com/project/2.

9 TRINE. “Morogoro, Tanzania – Solar for Households”. https://www.jointrine.com/project/6.

10 Lehner, A. “TRINE : Affordable finance for socia impact solar energy project in rural communities”. Changemakers. https://www.changemakers.com/globalgoals2015/entries/trine

11 Company interview.

12 TRINE. “Nakuru, Kenya - Solar nano-grids for families in Kenya”. https://www.jointrine.com/project/7.

13 Avner, G. (2015) “Swedish TRINE shines bright with solar crowdfunding platform”. Geek Time, 13 December. http://www.geektime.com/2015/12/13/swedish-trine-shines-bright-with-solar-crowdfunding-platform/.