This week on Watt It Takes: how a computer nerd who loved assembling electronics became obsessed with designing a solar-storage system to light up Africa.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch sits down with Xavier Helgesen, the co-founder and chief technology officer at Zola Electric.

Zola is a provider of solar and storage systems in Africa. Since its founding in 2012, the company has served over a million people with clean power in five countries.

Over the years, Zola has evolved from a small, scrappy startup that offered very basic energy packages into a hardware company that installs sleek, scalable power systems that rival the grid in performance. 

“[Our goal] was not to be worse than the grid but available anywhere — but to just be better than the grid. For solar and batteries to fundamentally be cheaper and more reliable than the grid. And if we succeed in that in the developing world, then the market is almost limitless,” says Helgesen.

In this interview, Helgesen talks about how he first got interested in energy access, the complexities of setting up a company as an outsider in Tanzania, and how Zola shifted into designing its own hybrid system.

This conversation was recorded live at Powerhouse’s headquarters. To learn more about future speakers and attending a live event, go to and click on the events tab. 

Listen to all of the episodes of Watt It Takes here.

Support for this podcast is brought to you by Sungrow. With the world’s most powerful 250-kilowatt, 1,500-volt string inverter, Sungrow is providing disruptive technology for utility-scale projects.

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