Colorado Company Jump-starts Mini-Grid Development in Africa

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Looking to boost badly needed decentralized energy in Sub-Saharan Africa, a business-to-business microgrid company in Boulder, Colo. says it has jump-started a pipeline of more than 550 mini-grid projects via its web-based project management software.

mini-grid

Photo provided by Odyssey Energy Solutions

Odyssey Energy Solutions is streamlining development of mini-grids (the term used in Africa for microgrids) via software tools that link project developers, technology suppliers and investors in a single, standardized platform.

According to the company, platform users currently comprise a network of more than 100 developers, investors, vendors, and government institutions, with recent month-on-month user growth of 30-40 percent. If completed, Odyssey’s total estimated project investment would be more than $500 million.

The projects in Odyssey’s project pipeline represent about 275,000 mini-grid connections with a generation capacity of about 150 MW of installed solar PV. The 550 projects come from 21 countries, including Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines and South Africa. Project ticket sizes, aka project costs, range from $40,000 to $3 million.

Mini-grids are viewed as one of the lowest cost and most efficient options for bringing electricity to more than 70 percent of the world’s one billion people currently without access to basic power, most of whom live in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The company estimates that up to 200,000 mini-grids will be needed to lift these people out of energy poverty.

Connecting mini-grid projects with investors

Company co-founder and CEO Emily McAteer said that Odyssey’s platform is the first to connect mini-grid project developers and investors and provide them with consistent and comprehensive data regarding key performance criteria. The platform also uses analytics to evaluate the prospects of projects and manage them over the course of their life cycles, both individually and in aggregate to provide portfolio-wide perspectives.

McAteer and co-founder Cathy Zoi met while working together to establish SunEdison’s mini-grid business development unit. “We were working to scale-up the mini-grid business in India and Africa. We quickly realized that most of the systems and processes were manually driven, and that the rate of development paled in comparison to that needed,” McAteer said. “The challenge was to build a systems platform capable of streamlining the process so as to make it very easy for developers and investors to share the data in a format that enables them to carry out due diligence and analysis quickly.”

The Shell Foundation and its Factor E Ventures unit stepped up last year and provided the initial seed capital McAteer and Zoi used to develop the Odyssey Energy Solutions platform. A variety of other venture capital and institutional investors, including the USAID-led Power Africa initiative, the DOEN Foundation and the UK’S DFID, contributed a mix of equity capital and grant funding for Odyssey’s systems and organizational development.

“The data in Odyssey proves that the mini-grid sector is truly taking off – and that investors seeking to finance rural electrification have a robust project pipeline. It is now up to investors — commercial, social impact, development finance institutions and others — to recognize the increasing market readiness of the mini-grid sector,” said McAteer.

Next step in software development

Odyssey also expects to be able to soon announce the launch of a mini-grid project platform customized for use by large, institutional development finance banks and agencies, such as the World Bank Group.

“These financing facilities need to be able to evaluate projects quickly and rigorously, move funds and measure the impacts of their investments. That requires a full suite of standardized data, analytics and portfolio investment management tools. That’s exactly what we’re looking to provide them,” McAteer said.

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