Okra Solar’s recent success in securing funding to electrify 1000 off-grid households and positively impact the lives of an estimated 5,000 people living in rural Cambodian communities is a reflection 12 months of hard work, passion and a drive to make real change.
With the broader mission to electrify the 1.2 billion people living off-grid, Okra’s team have come together to pilot a product and business model set to disrupt the off-grid solar space.
Background: Led by Co-founding engineers Afnan Hannan & Damian Veling, Okra Solar is a technology startup based in Australia and currently operating out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
It is well known in the industry that stand alone solar home systems waste a significant amount of generated power due to undersized batteries (the most expensive part of a solar home system). Through countless hours of discussion with off-grid communities and energy companies the following question was asked: Is it possible to create a profitable microgrid solution that can utilise this excess power in a way that can provide affordable electrification to off-grid communities?
With ‘yes we can’ as the hypothesis, the following goals were set by the Okra Solar team: Provide a simple plug & play device that can limit the risk of non-payment for distributors whilst being scalable to take into consideration future consumption needs all whilst being cheaper to the end user than pay as you go standalone systems.
Clearly there was a lot to provide. With that in mind, the team developed the following:
The ‘Okra controller’ – a plug&play device that enables houses to be connected into a smart network where excess power is shared to the most efficient destination, reducing cost of generation and improving battery lifetimes.
A Software as a Service (SaaS) platform to control the grid, send alarms for maintenance and scalability, and provide solar distributors with flexible payment options.
The innovative ‘Okra controller’ or ‘grid-in-a-box’ as it’s sometimes called, enables existing solar distributors to become grid operators without the need for extensive microgrid engineering experience.
There is a core belief amongst Okra’s team that off-grid communities should not bare the cost of the infrastructure supplying them power. Keeping this in mind, Okra encourages network operators to sell energy as a service, alleviating upfront costs for end users and offering ease of customer acquisition for solar distributors. This is all achievable with Okra networks because unconsumed power by one household doesn’t mean lost revenue for the distributor. Two birds, one stone.
So what’s next?
Thanks to SNV’s IAP programme Okra Solar will continue last mile operations in Cambodia until August 2019 while seeking to expand into other markets.
But it doesn’t stop there. Electrification is just the first step on the road to equality.
With a technological industrial revolution upon us, Okra has identified connectivity as a basic human need. Okra has plans in the pipeline to launch products that leverage payment history and the existing distribution networks of its partners to ensure communities have access to marketplaces, products and the finance required to participate in the global economy of the future.