Okra Solar, which provides IoT enabled hardware and software to last-mile energy companies so they can profitably energize remote off-grid communities, has just closed $12 million Series-A round of financing to scale mesh-grid technology.
The $12M of fresh financing including debt and equity with $7.85M raised on equity led by At One Ventures, along with FMO, Susquehanna Private Equity Investments LLLP, Autodesk Foundation and King Philanthropies. The debt financing was provided by EDFI.
In statement, Okra Solar CEO Afnan Hannan said, “It’s clear that mesh-grids are the most efficient way to achieve last-mile electrification. It starts by ensuring off-grid people have access to basic services such as lighting, e-cooking and water pumping, and next, to have all of these people connect to the global digital economy. Now we need the regulations to keep up with exponential technology advancement for us to hit 100% electrification by 2030.”
Launched in 2016, Okra Solar develops mesh-grid technology, composed of their proprietary Okra Pod and sold together with PV panels, battery, and inverters to electrify underserved or unserved communities. The company sees Nigeria as its highly strategic market due to power failures in Africa’s populous nation.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has grappled with an inadequate power supply for many years, generating just 4,000 megawatts though the population of more than 210 million people needs 30,000 megawatts. The oil-rich but energy-poor West African nation has ramped up investments in the power sector but endemic corruption and mismanagement have resulted in little gains.
“Even with off-grid solutions like mesh-grids being 10 times cheaper than grid extension for hard to reach communities, 80 million people continue to live off-grid in Nigeria,” said Afnan Hannan, Co-founder and CEO, Okra Solar.” Okra is incredibly excited to work with EDFI ElectriFI to deploy innovative financial tools that will enable local developers to deploy mesh-grids at scale and continue rapidly bringing power to the people.”
Okra Solar will use the funding to develop mesh-grids, a technology that has rapidly established itself as a game-changer in this industry to serve the more than 700 million people worldwide who still live without access to electricity. Okra’s proprietary device, the Okra Pod, allows for all assets – from solar panels to batteries and inverters – to be distributed and interconnected as a mesh-grid. Power is shared autonomously to reduce the chance of blackout and increase overall energy availability to each household. Grid operators can easily monitor, maintain, service and receive payment from end-users via the cloud using Okra Harvest whilst scaling up projects and building a profitable business.
In 2022, Okra Solar raised $4.5 million from EDFI ElectriFI under the ElectriFI Country Window for Nigeria to provide access to electricity through the mesh-grid technology to mini-grids developers, targeting some 76 000 beneficiaries by the end of 2025.
Operating in the challenging off-grid energy market where scalability is highly sensitive to cost viability, mesh-grids present a compelling solution to energy developers. Mesh-grids enable solar power to be generated at the source of individual homes, where excess power is then redistributed by Okra’s smart algorithms from one connection to the next to optimise utilisation. What makes mesh-grids unique vs. traditional mini-grids or grid extension, is that rather than sending power long distances from a centralised generation house, power only travels between neighbouring houses.
This hyper-decentralised implementation reduces the cost of distribution (cables and poles) by up to 90% while maximising up-time and power availability. This is especially pertinent as we move into a future where widespread copper shortages are expected. Okra’s B2B model supplies technology to last-mile energy utilities, who then energise last-mile households.
“With the compounding effects of population growth and growing industrialisation, energy consumption on the African continent will increase disproportionately in the coming decades. The IEA forecasts that total power generation capacity in Africa is expected to double to 510 GW by 2030. There is no reason for this new power generation capacity to come from dirty fossil fuel power. We can skip that phase entirely and build it correctly from the start – clean, renewable, and suited to the needs of this market,” notes Helen Lin, Partner, At One Ventures.
With mesh-grids already being deployed in 4 countries, energizing more than 14,000 people, the demand for the technology and the business model has been proven. Okra sees that the successful Series-A investment is a beacon of light during a challenging fundraising climate and is especially inspiring because this technology is making a transformational impact to livelihoods in the Global South.
During the Series-A fundraising round Okra leveraged the support of GET.invest, a European programme that mobilises investment in renewable energy in developing countries.
“FMO is proud to partner with Okra on their pioneering journey to leverage mesh-grid technology to help electrify rural areas and provide affordable power to last-mile households and businesses. We look forward to our collaboration with the Okra team and will actively leverage our value-add services to support their scaling ambitions,” says Marieke Roestenberg, Manager of FMO Ventures Program.
Okra previously won the TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield award and has a track record of pushing boundaries on the tech side. The firm now has automated network planning software using geospatial data and monitoring of commercial performance down to the asset level. Okra Pods are now stackable so power output can be increased from 1.2kW AC up to 4.8kW AC power output. The latest version of the pods will also enable mesh-grids to be interconnectable to existing grid infrastructure.