Okra Solar is a plug & play hardware + software solution that allows smart pay-as-you-go microgrids to be created by connecting existing off the shelf solar panels and batteries.
It was the goal of the Cambodian government to achieve 100% countrywide electrification by the end of 2020. Whilst the government has reduced the number of off-grid villages from over 14,000 to less than 500 by extending the national grid, using this approach to connect extremely remote villages with low-density populations is not practical, nor viable. Other conventional last-mile electrification methods - such as diesel and solar-diesel hybrid mini-grids - have struggled to demonstrate commercial viability, so a new approach was needed.
Electrifying the remaining off-grid villages in Cambodia is characterised by two key challenges: households are located sparsely in areas with harsh and variable environments, and the remoteness of these villages makes it costly to conduct O&M and revenue collection on an ongoing basis. As a result, Electricité du Cambodge - the arm of the Cambodian Government responsible for providing energy services - has begun evaluating alternative solutions that will enable the provision of equitable and commercially sustainable energy access for the remaining unelectrified areas of Cambodia.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), with the support from the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), recently energised the remote villages of Steung Chrov, Ta Daok and Prek Spean using Okra Solar’s mesh grid hardware (Pod) and software (Harvest).
In less than eight weeks, MME connected all 140 households within the three villages and provided the community with 2 fridges, 49 rice cookers, 7 kettles and 8 blenders. They are paying for these appliances through mobile money financing with energy access being used as their collateral. Families have been able to generate income through productive use of these appliances and can also purchase additional appliances in combination with their basic energy payments through the micro-financing options available in Harvest. The total project cost amounted to approximately USD 120,000, including the costs of shipping, installation and two years SaaS fees to manage the project remotely using the Okra Harvest platform.
The Steung Chrov Okra Meshgrid was given by MME to the community and is currently overseen by a village committee which is responsible for setting the tariff and paying for maintenance. In this community, houses are paying the subsidised tariff: an average of 640 Riel/kWh ($0.16/kWh).
The levelised cost of energy (LCOE) based on the upfront and ongoing costs is calculated at USD 0.45/kWh (on a 7-year basis). However, given the upfront costs were provided by grant funding from the UNDP and the community is responsible for the Okra Meshgrid on an ongoing basis, the key business model sustainability metric is the breakeven point on collected revenues and ongoing costs. Under full utilisation, the grid is sustainable on ongoing operations and maintenance costs.
These subsidies will enable the community to have 24/7 access to power for seven years until battery replacement is necessary.
Building on their experience with Okra, MME is currently evaluating the potential for a scale-out of the Okra technology as an effective solution for energising hard to reach communities throughout Cambodia.