Fast-growing user base suggests evolutionary growth spurt in the making for the development of solar mini-grids at global level

Private energy companies in Africa, Asia and Latin America are developing more than 550 & # 39; green & # 39; mini-grids – worth more than USD 550 million, according to Odyssey Energy Solutions, developer of a cloud-based software platform that connects developers of miniature developers in the world and investors.

The breadth and depth of the user base of Odyssey Energy Solutions, as well as that of its project pipeline, suggests a hinge point with regard to the evolution of markets and industry for distributed solar and other environmentally friendly forms of renewable energy generation, distribution and access. in the making about the third world. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the deployment of no less than 200,000 mini-grids would be necessary to provide sustainable electricity to the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who do not have access to electricity grids.

Least-cost solution for providing access to universal electricity (Sub-Saharan Africa) 2030
Click here to view the images in full size. | Thanks to IEA.

IEA has concluded that mini-grids are the cheapest option when it comes to reaching 450 million of those 1 billion people. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to two-thirds of those 450 million people. Solar Magazine spoke with co-founder and CEO of Odyssey Energy Solutions, CEO Emily McAteer, to learn more about the software platform of the young company, the mini-grid projects on solar energy and renewable energy that are mentioned on it, and their significance. to achieve the main UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as universal access to sustainable energy, universal gender equality and poverty eradication.

A groundbreaking, shared experience

As a result of McAteer and co-founder, Odyssey Energy Solutions was the experience of Cathy Zoi to develop together solar and renewable mini-grid projects in India and East Africa as the founders of SunEdison's national microgrid development activities. The two remained in touch and continued their collaboration, even as Zoi continued to find or act as a senior executive for decentralized, new tech-driven energy start-ups, as well as for venture capital companies investing in it.

More recently, Zoi served as Chief of Staff for the White House for Environmental Policy and Assistant Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for the management of former President Barack Obama. She is now CEO of EVgo, which has installed and operates the largest network of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles (EV) in the US.

A one-stop-shop for development projects, development of renewable mini-grid projects

Odyssey Energy Solutions invoices its software platform as the first, "one-stop-shop" for development of mini-grid projects in developing countries. This includes everything from developers who list projects to raise funds and enable potential investors to examine them and assess their prospects for monitoring and managing projects throughout their life cycle – from design, engineering and construction to commissioning and beyond .

"Our vision for Odyssey is to scale up the machines that the industry needs by streamlining the development and financing of mini-grids around the world – more mini-grids faster to implement," McAteer said in an interview. "We launched Odyssey after building the platform for about nine months, but we continually improve the software based on industry feedback to improve data analysis, provide useful software tools for project development and monitor projects as soon as they are active."

The number and variety of organizations using the Odyssey platform, as well as those of the project pipeline, suggest that the mini-grid market in development and industry is ready for, or somewhere in the midst of, an evolutionary growth spurt. The decreasing costs and the improved performance of photovoltaic solar (PV) power generation, battery-based energy storage, smart-grid and wireless digital information and communication technology include the core set of tools that make this possible.

A fast-growing user base and a renewable pipeline for the development of mini-grid projects

More than 100 organizations use the cloud-based mini-grid project development software-as-a-service (SaaS) from Odyssey Energy Solution. Members range from leading multilateral development and national government agencies to leading project developers, including ambitious, entrepreneurial start-ups; manufacturers of equipment, suppliers and system integrators.

Odyssey & # 39; s comprehensive toolset for project developers
The tool suite helps project developers to design, build and operate rigorous and data-driven microgrids – and connects directly with investors and suppliers.

The Shell Foundation and its venture capital arm to Factor E Ventures technology were Odyssey's first financial carriers, McAteer said. The USA-led Power Africa program, the British Ministry for International Development and the DOEN Foundation have since invested in the start-up.

According to the management, the 550-plus mini-grid projects on the Odyssey Energy Solutions platform represent 275,000 connections with an installed capacity for solar power generation of about 150 MW. They range in value from USD40,000 to USD3 million and cover a broad geographical spread that extends to 21 countries. This includes Cameroon, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"Odyssey has enabled us to quickly implement rigorous technical and economic analyzes for mini-grid projects in our pipeline and then create portfolios suitable for financing," stated Havenoord Synergy CEO Olusegun Odunaiya for a press release.

Smarter mini-grids, more financing programs & # 39; s

Essentially, Odyssey's cloud-based SaaS makes it possible for mini-grid project stakeholders to see three crucial facets of mini-grid project development and management for renewable energy: access to verifiable data over the lifecycle of a project in standard formats, providing data in various ways, including conducting feasibility studies and due diligence; and managing all types of project financing programs. The latter include expressions of interest, requests for proposals (tenders), competitive tenders and performance-related funding.

Building and managing performance-based grant fund programs is particularly suited to automated automation, and that is reflected in the value that end users attach to it, McAteer explained. "The need to evaluate thousands and tens of thousands of project data makes it the most suitable for software automation, making it much easier and much faster to view, monitor and monitor the number of active connections of projects and a number of other key performance indicators. and to judge, "she said.

In addition to going a long way towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 – universal access to sustainable energy – the use of decentralized solar energy and other mini grids based on renewable energy is considered a cornerstone for achieving of other UN SDGs, such as achieving gender equality and eradicating poverty. The coincidence of two major trends provides an encouraging view on the development of renewable mini-grid in the entire development world, according to McAteer.

Sustainable development goal of the UN 7
Image: thanks to the United Nations

"Minigrids become smarter and smarter – they are increasingly gathering in the way of critically important empirical data that they can analyze and report for all of these distributed energy sources, and at the same time we have an increasing number of funding programs, so that these mini-grids can be built, "said McAteer. "We try to make it simple and much more efficient to do that."

A virtuous spiral takes shape

Odyssey continues to improve its SaaS platform based on feedback and dialogue with end users. The start-up is in the final stages of adding a new software module specifically designed to enable multilateral development and national government agencies to launch, cultivate and launch mini-grid renewable energy programs. to manage.

The increased volume and granularity of standardized data collected on the Odyssey platform is leading end-users to pay more attention and devote more resources to service quality and quality of mini-grid quality, McAteer said. "We develop and integrate key statistics into Odyssey so that program managers can monitor quality assurance across a range of parameters, such as power supply reliability and energy availability," she told Solar Magazine.

Odyssey's user base, according to management, has increased by 30-40 percent from month to month. "Without outbound marketing we see an incredible acceptance of the Odyssey platform," praised McAteer.

"Odyssey proves how quickly the mini-grid sector is getting off the ground worldwide By using software and data analysis to streamline and standardize the development and financing of mini-grid projects, we are able to merge projects into bankable portfolios that meet the requirements. ticket sizes and diligence requirements of investors, so that the road is free for more capital in the sector. "she said.

Another potentially important trend is beginning to take shape in the African and emerging global market for green mini-grids – project developers and partners are increasingly investing in placing green mini-grids for productive use, McAteer highlights.

Green mini-grids and productive use – Solar energy news, developments and insights.

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The different mini-grid "productive use" initiatives increase as owners of mini-networks or investors work together with local entrepreneurs or local companies to start new businesses that depend on the easy availability of affordable electric power and energy, or the prospects to improve existing companies by investing in electrical equipment or devices, explained McAteer. They can vary from investing in companies that install water pumps and irrigation systems in agriculture, others who make ice or bottled water, sell, install cooling equipment or, for example, offer energy-saving, energy-efficient household appliances and appliances.

Investing in productive use of mini-grids tackles a high demand with respect to the potential of distributed renewable energy sources to serve as a basic pillar for mitigating climate change and broad, sustainable socio-economic development, and thus makes a substantial contribution to achieving multiple UN levels. SDGs.

Solar Mini Grid for the development of the world in Kenya
A panoramic overview of the Kitonyoni, Kenya, village trade center, solar PV canopy and water tank. Local contractors and villagers assemble the 13.5 kW solar power plant, battery storage, awning and mini-grid in one week. It supports 3,000 local residents. | Image credit: GreenBiz

Some national government agencies make particular use of all new data, analysis, management and reporting capabilities of Odyssey's platform, noted McAteer. That is a good omen in terms of their individual and collective ability to develop and implement nationally renewable mini-grid and integrated energy resource plans.

For example, the Rural Electrification Agency in Nigeria implemented a national, geospatial project for the mapping of energy sources. The agency adds this by conducting community studies that contribute to the breadth and depth of the available data. "They use that very well to scale the mini-grid market," McAteer said.

"They are one of the most data-oriented agencies out there, and they're doing great things with that … It's really interesting to see the work they do with geospatial mapping, for example to determine which technologies make the most sense I think we will see this getting better, "McAteer said.

* Cover Image credit: GreenBiz

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