Okra Solar closes a ‘Pre-seed’ round from Schneider Electric to energise more off-grid households

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Okra Solar, an Australian based technology company has successfully closed a ‘Pre-seed’ round of funding led by Schneider Electric Energy Access, paving the way for the innovative smart microgrid company to energise more off-grid households across South East Asia.

The firm had earlier announced it was looking to raise $1.2m for expansion.

Okra’s novel technology enables solar panels & batteries to be connected together into smart microgrids which means off-grid households can not only have basic services such as lighting and mobile phone charging available from a solar home system, but also productive uses such as refrigeration, agro-processing and even cricket catching. That’s because a smart grid setup allows extra power to be drawn from other systems in times of need.

“We’re at a really exciting position for so many reasons. There’s 1.2 billion people who are about leapfrog traditional infrastructure, from energy sources, to connectivity, to the way they learn, to the way they grow agricultural produce, and the way they contribute to the global economy – it’s all going to be technology driven – and we’re really excited to contribute to the infrastructure that’s going to enable all of that to happen”.  -Afnan Hannan, CEO, Okra Solar.

Okra’s IoT based technology has been rolled out to create 3 smart microgrids with 2 local distribution partners in Cambodia. While energy companies from all corners of the world as far as Tanzania and Nigeria have pre-ordered product, Okra is spending the next 6 months re-engineering and costing down its product for scale.

The initial target for scale is close to home ground,  the Philippines has 2 million off-grid households spread between 7,000 islands and the Department of Energy says all of them need to be energised by 2022. The Philippines Department of Energy believes renewable energy is the key to providing electricity in far-flung areas across the country and has rewritten policy to accept help from the private sector – opening the doors for Okra and it’s partners to roll out plug & play smart microgrids at scale.  

“Our goal is to take what we’ve achieved in Cambodia, and re-engineer it to really become the first plug & play smart grid provider – imagine anyone could just take a bunch of cables out of a box and plug them into each other like lego, and then electricity just flows, it’s safe, it’s reliable, and it powers everything a community needs to live modern technology driven lifestyles – that’s where we want to go with Okra” – Afnan Hannan, CEO, Okra Solar.

Okra is leveraging the exponential improvements in global connectivity to enable “dumb” solar home systems to be connected together and then behave as “smart” distributed networks using Okra’s novel IoT technology, enabling 24/7 power for productive uses in the most isolated areas of the world.

DC appliances are on average about twice as efficient as AC appliances and sometimes even more. The challenge has been that high DC appliance costs have kept adoption low, But in recent years the growth of the off-grid solar market has closed the gap. Okra is, hedging their bets on this trend continuing, and as result their technology is based on DC power. Because generation and storage is located in a distributed network under Okra smart grids, power loss is minimised, AC conversion infrastructure is not needed, and Okra claims their microgrids can be setup to meet the same community needs at less than ⅓ of the cost of AC centralised systems. All the while providing a ‘smarter’ and more modular system that can be adapted to the changing community needs over time.

An analysis of GIS planning systems provided by the World Bank to the Philippines National Electrification Agency shows that for some 70% of the off-grid households in mapped areas, microgrids like Okra can be setup at 1/10th of the cost of national grid extension.

“Global electrification targets are set at 2030, but global targets always look at the technology that’s already out there, we’re living in an exponential world today and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us (the world) beat 100% electrification by 2025. If the policy environment allows everyone to partake in this challenge, then game on!”

It’s expected 100% of the people on the planet will be connected with high speed internet by 2025 due in large part to projects such as Project Loon from Alphabet (Google) and  StarLink from SpaceEx which expects to beam high speed connectivity down from the sky and low earth orbit to the most remote corners of the globe. Developments such as these will see more and more “smart IoT” based solutions like Okra take off in remote areas of the world leapfrogging traditional infrastructure.