Innovating the Energy Future with Off-grid solutions and Data

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Did you know that less than 20% of adults in India and Tanzania own a smartphone? A stark contrast from a startling ~ 70% users in Europe and US. These statistics show the technology gap between two different worlds of economic progress and availability of data. Data is critical for any sector of today’s economy. Energy sector is of no exception, and that includes energy access. This blog outlines how data is central to innovation in energy access.

The market opportunity for off-grid innovation is not as small as you think. The size of the renewable energy market (including but not limited to off-grid systems) - in terms of investment is 300 Billion USD per year, 10 Billion USD per year is the approximate size of microgrid market, and more than 50 Billion USD per year is the current market size for digitalisation in energy. Building innovations for off-grid users in remote areas today, will create solutions that will once serve the cities and infrastructures of tomorrow.

Data is already a critical ingredient to scaling off-grid solutions today and microgrids in particular bring access to rural populations in remote, hard to connect areas.

  • Data helps to design the systems and size them in a way that is adapted to local communities.

  • Data helps to run the equipment more efficiently by understanding operation and maintenance patterns.

  • Data helps in understanding returns on investment. Data driven reports put things into perspective and allow investors place more realistic expectations on off-grid energy entrepreneurs.

Without data - minigrid developers and off-grid energy innovators have been tasked to build high quality 21st century electricity infrastructure for the poorest and most remote communities in the world with an expectation that commercial returns should be seen in as little as 5-7 years.. This expectation is unrealistic and needs to change by providing data and more transparency to the off-grid energy industry.

Off-grid energy innovators and professionals cannot work alone. Improving data availability and management requires that off-grid industry gets access to enabling infrastructure on several levels:

  • The industry cannot depend on expensive data centers and telco operations to build cheap off-grid solutions. It is important to get access to internet and underlying tech infrastructure at low cost.

  • We need partnerships that can allow the industry to build off-grid projects at scale. Startup innovations need to be encouraged as they build products which understand customers - corporate partners are those that can bring those solutions to millions of customers in one go.

  • We need access to capital which accepts higher level of risk required to test new, experimental solutions.

Energy access companies are not waiting for others to act. Here are the selected startups that are members of ‘The Alliance for Rural Electrification’. The Alliance is an industry association, which brings the whole value chain of off-grid renewable energy together across 3 continents - Asia, Africa and Latin America. These startups are approaching the off-grid challenge with a nurturing of the ecosystem in mind:

SparkMeter

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SparkMeter provides smart metering solutions tailored to rural and central utilities in emerging markets. The simple plug-and-play solution enables utilities operating in remote locations to access a range of features - prepaid billing, customer communications, and remote monitoring and control – that improve their operations and help them achieve financial sustainability. In addition to recently closing a round a funding, SparkMeter was recently awarded grants by the Elemental Excelerator to support their expanded presence in Asia and by USAID to expand their work with central grid distribution utilities.

Website: https://www.sparkmeter.io/

Infinite Fingers

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Infinite Fingers works at the level of equipment. It monitors and control off-grid power systems. They enable off-grid power systems to be low maintenance, reliable and scalable by applying monitoring and control technologies. Their customers can build and operate efficient off grid systems with low maintenance and high returns.

Website: https://www.infinitefingers.com/

Flex Grid

FlexGrid proposes an innovative approach that combines the simplicity of a solar home system with the power of a mini-grid (supporting productive use). In comparison with the conventional mini-grids, a FlexGrid requires a substantial lower up-front investment to serve the same use-cases. A breakthrough in the fight against energy poverty made possible through the use of Artificial (Swarm) Intelligence.

Website: https://www.flex-grid.com

RVESol

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RVESol is the owner and operator of Kudura. KUDURA means “the power to change” in Swahili.

Kudura is a green micro- or mini-grid-based solution (GMG – Green Mini-Grid) to sustainable rural development. It offers rural communities high-quality, sustainable and renewable energy and drinking water on an affordable pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis. KUDURA is an integrated, containerised solution that is safe, reliable, weatherproof, designed and built to last over 20 years.

Website: http://www.rvesol.com/

Odyssey

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Odyssey is a digital platform for all players in the off-grid market – including project developers, vendors, financiers, donors, and governments. The broad-spectrum platform is built specifically to characterize, evaluate, aggregate, finance, develop, and monitor projects within the mini-grid sector in emerging markets.  

Website: https://www.odysseyenergysolutions.com/

Moreover, in a collaborative effort, Odyssey Energy and AMDA (Africa Minigrid Developers Association) are currently partnering to develop a standardized, streamlined data collection and analysis effort for the mini-grid sector which will be trialed initially with African minigrid developers. Then, through ARE’s members and others, we hope that it will be brought to the rest of the world’s minigrid developers and operators.

The goal of the partnership is to create an easy-to-use, secure platform for reporting and analyzing of key metrics related to mini-grid development and operations, as well as to provide a sectoral statistical benchmark and dataset for use in research, policy and financial instrument development for the sector.

Off grid innovations are flourishing and data can help them to scale. Let’s work together to find new ways for solving energy access and create the future of energy.

#wedisruptenergy

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Katarina Hasbani