Meet the Aussie startup delivering solar minigrids to remote communities from a ping-pong table – pv magazine Australia


pv magazine Australia: Okra Solar is endeavouring to assistance off-grid communities about the planet leapfrog fossil fuels and turn into renewably self-sustaining via solar PV. How did this dream get started? 

Okra Solar co-founder and CEO Afnan Hannan: We’re a bunch of folks who met up more than the web and decided to come to Cambodia. The selection involved obtaining paid $ or quite tiny, some functioning second jobs remotely, just so we could attempt and figure out if power can be delivered to remote communities in a considerably superior way.

We weren’t resolution orientated, we had been dilemma orientated, so as the group grew from two to five to eight folks, all living in the identical startup home, we’d take turns speaking to distinctive power businesses to figure out what was stopping them from obtaining power out to the millions of folks in Cambodia devoid of energy.

And what did you come to?

At some point, we prototyped a resolution that would let them skip the power grid all with each other by setting up substantially less costly (roughly 10x) solar microgrids. The microgrids would be controlled and monitored remotely via application. This prototype was sufficient to raise a bunch of income and get started a genuine company!

Okra’s DC distributed technologies permits solar PV systems to connect to wise grids. The outcome is neighbourly micro-grids enabling intermittent and prioritised use. What differentiates Okra’s distributed microgrids from other folks? 

Extending the electrical energy grid to a remote village of 100 or so homes is not the most feasible alternative. The finest solutions are quite considerably solar property systems or minigrids.

Solar property systems are good for obtaining fundamental access such as lighting but with intermittent and productive loads, like these of a washing machine or a pump which may perhaps not be utilised every single day, the solar property method most likely will not cover it. Or, if it does cover it, it is wasting the majority of energy for most of the days. On the other hand, a minigrid can present ample energy to an whole neighborhood, but all of the energy is delivered via a single point exactly where it is generated and stored.

Of course, a single generative point introduces a danger to the whole neighborhood, this implies PV and storage capacity demands to be oversized. Furthermore, with so considerably power going via that single point, a lot of income demands to be invested to increase voltages and have an acceptable distribution setup to manage that considerably energy.

This is exactly where Okra comes in. We learnt that distribution and energy conditioning are the most high priced components of a minigrid, not PV and storage. We place ourselves in the middle of this circumstance by enabling solar systems to be installed on every single home and meshing them with each other with our wise IoT devices. This ensured that most of the energy generated is basically utilised exactly where it is generated, not at a single point that would necessitate high priced distribution and energy conditioning.

Only when there’s excess energy or a home demands a massive increase for a particular period of time does the network “share” energy amongst neighbouring systems in the mesh. And due to the fact there’s not basically considerably energy going via any single point the method is far additional resilient to blackouts. Reduced energy at any point also implies voltages can be decreased, adding a wide variety of positive aspects which includes security, uncomplicated facility to scale up, and of course, it is a fraction of the expense.

So this would clarify why Okra’s DC tech is 1-third the expense of regular AC microgrids?

Precisely proper.

The Okra “Cicada” IoT communications module, open sourced by EnAccess

Image: Okra Solar

The Okra Solar story is a excellent 1. Could you envision, when the Okra group had been huddled about a ping pong table as a shared desk in a Cambodian village, that the business would be exactly where it is now? 

It is actually fascinating. We’ve loved the journey so far and cherish it for what it is – hustling and becoming pushed to the limit by a bunch of wise and great folks who share a passion. You might’ve noticed I never ever pointed out function?

We’re also actually excited about the future. We want to see absolutely everyone on the planet get power access in the subsequent decade and we’re actually content to be portion of producing that alter take place. Even though, to be truthful, we haven’t “made it” by any stretch of the thoughts but. When I go travelling to present at a conference, I’m nevertheless staying at hostels and functioning out of the prevalent location. And there’s so lots of folks but to have energy, it does not actually matter how considerably income we’ve raised or how lots of awards we’re winning, for now there’s a lot to do and we’re actually nevertheless in that “ping pong” table phase.

What solar modules and tech is Okra solar utilising? 

We do not set up or personal the modules, we let our partners make a decision on that front. But a bunch of our partners are utilizing Canadian Solar. In my opinion, modules are commonly a established technologies now so you can go for a lot of the non-household name brands in China and nevertheless get a actually high quality solution at a quite very good price tag. Can you think we’re obtaining quotes for 22c/Wp for PV from our suppliers in China proper now?

Solar actually is a Brave New Globe, with economies of scale at 22c an huge quantity can be accomplished. And what partnerships is Okra sustaining?   

We have relationships with a bunch of PV and battery suppliers in China so our distribution partners who do the function of energising communities in the field can have access to trusted, low expense gear if they will need assistance in sourcing. We also have partnerships with appliance suppliers, logistics businesses and mobile income providers.

Okra has currently deployed its resolution in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. What has been the scope of these installations? 

All of the deployments to date have been proof-of-ideas.

To demonstrate a) the technologies operates, solar energy can be shared amongst systems in a mesh &amp managed remotely via application. b) homes are prepared to spend for reputable, productive use of power due to the fact they make additional income from getting this access. And c) power businesses can provide this resolution to the communities in a commercially sustainable way.

Our partners have taken this tech and energised about 1,000 folks in 3 nations. We tested 3 markets due to the fact in all circumstances there’s distinctive regional partners, the communities will use power in distinctive techniques, and of course, the regulations (therefore the company models) are all distinctive as well. So far, we’re acquiring the Philippines is exactly where all the indicators are aligning for us to scale out quick, but we want to have a enormous effect in all of these nations.

What is the subsequent step Okra Solar demands to make toward its aim of powering a billion folks about the planet? 

Now that we’ve piloted in numerous markets and we know exactly where we actually want to scale out, we will need to show that we can go deep. It is no longer about energising a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand folks, it is about producing confident hundreds of thousands of folks can swiftly get access to reputable 24/7 power via this resolution. That will serve as a recipe, if you will, or an archetype for other utilities and governments about the planet to adhere to. So, in the subsequent 24 months you can count on us to go actually deep in South East Asia.

Okra closed its seed round in September 2019, how did it go? 

The seed round went nicely, it did what a seed round is supposed to do, present a bit of bridging finance whilst we iron out the creases in our prototypes and get bargains signed with our clients. These items take a lot of time and it is uncomplicated to run out of steam amongst proof of pilot and bargains signed to get started scaling out – in particular when involving governments and a massive utilities sector like electrification.

Damian Veling (left), Co-founder and Chief Technologies Officer at Okra Solar accepting the Very best IoT Startup Award from IoT Hub and BIT Editor William Maher.

Image: IoTHUB

Self-sustainable energy is transformational for any one, let alone remote communities, how are these remote communities utilising solar power? (I.e. cricket incubators, egg incubators, rice dryers and so on.) 

Remote communities are utilizing power in lots of techniques that we couldn’t envision beforehand. Some of the youngsters are studying by watching videos on YouTube, some of them have began to construct a following on apps that I do not even comprehend how to use effectively, like TikTok. This is what actually excites me, the unknowns of what they’re going to do with power. But we can not get previous the truth that they’re capable to do these items due to the fact they now have access to the fundamentals. Lighting enables them to function at evening, freezers and refrigerators permit them to maintain their create fresh, and also a couple of additional left field items such as utilizing power for incubating eggs and incubating crickets (that is proper the insect kind). They’re performing a lot of items and with access to uninterrupted 24/7 power, nicely, the possibilities are endless.

Exactly where to subsequent for Okra Solar?

You will have to wait and see, we’re in the early days. Retain expecting us to innovate in the off-grid space, mesh networks are just the starting. We want to continue to construct the finest technologies to provide and handle power solutions for off the grid communities. We count on some of the stuff we’re placing out, such as genuine time demand side management and AI primarily based prediction and optimisation of repayment, are going to be back propagated to western markets. So that is quite fascinating.



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