Published on: Feb 27, 2020
When we take a closer look at electrification in rural areas of developing countries, it becomes increasingly apparent where the solutions adopted so far are already working well and where there is a need to catch up. It is true that some factors like regulatory frameworks are beyond the control of technology companies. In other areas, such as financing options, the situation for sustainable off-grid energy projects has changed.
Nonetheless, most of the «low hanging fruits» that can be covered by existing technologies have now been implemented. But 13% of the world‘s population still has no access to modern energy. It is therefore necessary to analyse what hinders rapid electrification and how these obstacles can be minimized. With over 12 years of experience in rural electrification projects, we identified a solution gap in the important segment of energy solutions around a few kilowatts. This power range is neither covered by DC based solar home systems nor addressed by the mini-grid industry. However, it is precisely in this area that such important development drivers as farmers, small businesses, schools, health centres and many others can be found.
Although there have been attempts to cover some segments of this customer group with application-centred solar solutions, we believe that those solutions will remain niche products, that will never achieve the market share necessary to achieve large-scale impact.
Power-Blox is therefore focussing on universal application coverage in the segment of the one to two-digit kilowatt range. This means that we create solutions for nano-grids with our swarm-based, modular solar storage systems in combination with standard application equipment (freezers, refrigerators, LED lamps, grain mills, medical laboratory equipment, etc.). Since our solutions are scalable, these nano-grids are considered as crystallization points for the micro-grids growing from there. We are currently testing and improving this approach in several pilot projects in Angola, Mali, Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda, Vanuatu and Laos.
An important aspect of our approach, which we are co-developing with partners such as Flex-Grid Mali, is the integration of smart metering systems, usually on a pay-as-you-go or lease-to-own approach. These approaches include affordable tariff models and the measurement of the impact achieved. Since households, small businesses, farmers and institutions are metered individually, meaningful load profiles are obtained. By applying machine learning algorithms (AI) and random sampling at real customers, our programs learn about the socio-economic development of these households, companies and institutions. The result is a well-supported conclusion on the impact achieved with the investment. In turn this is valuable information for NGOs or impact investors, which are measured by the efficiency of their engagement.