Eradicating energy poverty

 By Andrew Burger

The innovation and entrepreneurial bug isn’t limited to Silicon Valley or the U.S. by any means. Germany’s Alex Voigt initially shook up the foundation of Europe’s energy industry by launching solar PV manufacturers Q-Cells and Solon. With another new venture Voigt is aiming to eradicate energy poverty. GRIPS Energy (for Global Renewable Independent Power Supplier) owns and operates renewable energy-fueled, ¨pay as you go¨ power systems targeted for use by the wide range of consumers that find grid power inaccessible or too expensive…

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Akin to all that’s taken place in the realm of digital information and communications technology over recent decades, innovators and entrepreneurs are flocking into the fields of renewable energy and cleantech. Moreover, cross-pollination between the high tech and renewable energy/cleantech communities is catalyzing advances in distributed renewable energy technology, finance and deployment.

The resulting trend parallels that which has occurred within information systems architecture: power markets and industry are moving from centralized systems fueled by massive coal, fossil fuel and nuclear power stations to networked distributed renewable and hybrid energy systems designed to make use of a mix of local low or emissions-free energy resources.

The wave of innovation isn’t limited to Silicon Valley or the United States. Germany’s Alexander Voigt initially shook up the foundation of Europe’s energy industry by launching solar PV manufacturers Q-Cells and Solon, as well as other renewable energy/cleantech ventures. He followed that up by launching Younicos, which has developed into one of the world’s leading Li-ion battery energy storage systems developers.

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Clean, affordable power for remote facilities and communities

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla made his first fortune as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Through his eponymous venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures, Khosla was among the first wave of Silicon Valley VC investors to raise capital and invest in renewable energy/cleantech startups that could replace fossil fuels and contribute to the global drive to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and stimulate sustainable ¨green¨ socioeconomic growth.

Having made his exit from Younicos, Voigt has several new renewable energy/cleantech startup irons in the fire. With GRIPS Energy (Global Renewable Independent Power Supplier), Voigt and partners are offering commercial and industrial facilities access to reliable low or zero-emissions electrical power more cheaply and flexibly than existing solutions, which are by and large built around diesel-fired power generation.

Along the way, they aim to help eradicate energy poverty and improve lives and livelihoods for people in remote rural communities in developing and lesser developed countries around the world.

Improve lives and livelihoods for people in remote rural communities...

GRIPs owns and operates the power systems it builds so that customers avoid having to make large capital expenditures. Leveraging local distributed renewable energy resources, the company employs an energy-as-a-service business model based on flexible individual power purchase agreements (PPAs) that run from five to 20 years and include ¨pay-as-you-go¨ solar electricity provision.

For the latter, customers top up their accounts as they do for mobile phone service to gain access to electricity as they need and can afford to. It’s a business and operating model that has proven tremendously successful in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, and is catching on in other sub-Saharan African countries.

For GRIPS, the key to a successful project is finding an ¨anchor¨ tenant, a commercial or industrial facility able and willing to sign one of its flexible power purchase agreements (PPAs) and agree to off-take enough electricity so that the company can go to a bank and/or investors for financing and additional equity capital. If all goes well, GRIPS can then build a distributed clean energy platform capable of serving additional customers, such as remote communities and small businesses, where access to grid power is lacking or prohibitively expensive.

about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.