Today, nearly 1.6 billion people, or roughly one quarter of the world’s population, live without electricity. Of those, approximately 547 million reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. In remote villages throughout this region, access to reliable power sources is hard to come by. That’s why Tanzania-based startup Devergy is setting out to bring solar micro-grids to rural communities.
After traveling throughout South America following graduate studies, founders Fabio De Pascale and Gianluca Cescon were struck by the serious lack in adequate power equipment in remote villages. “A number of villages had solar panels,” De Pascale explains, “but very often they were nonfunctional due to relatively minor reasons. That made us think ‘How can we do something that doesn’t break so easily?’” The pair decided to start Devergy, an energy utility company for the developing world. “We set out to provide electricity to low income populations in rural villages in places like Tanzania, where we are active today.”
Devergy’s first pilot project in Matipwili showed great success, with a high reception rate from local adopters. The company’s unique feature is their prepaid electrical meter system. After a solar microgrid is installed in a village, every house is provided with their own personal meter. Residents can purchase electricity through a mobile money system on an as needed basis. Credit is purchased similarly to mobile phone credit and at a price that is much lower than kerosene or dry-cell battery alternatives. Electricity can be used for everything, from something as simple as turning on a light bulb, to something as complex as powering a refrigerator. The team back at Devergy can then regulate energy input. “We have found a way to provide energy in a very scalable and modular approach,” says De Pascale. “We can continuously increase the energy capacity of the grids based on the demand that we measure in the village. Considering energy is a very asset-intensive sector, this is a key factor in making our system sustainable.”
So what’s next for Devergy? De Pascale point out three options. On the one hand, they can continue to operate as a utilities company where they have a direct relationship with customers. They would continue to own grids and sell electricity in places like Tanzania and beyond. Another option is becoming an infrastructure provider for those who want to run similar grids. “We would set up and run the grids for utilities and let them do the sales and marketing work where they may be more specialized,” explains De Pascale. The final option is licensing the technology to others and providing them services. In this way, Devergy’s impact could expand to many other countries that would otherwise remain unreachable. “We have to keep several options open because we don’t really know where the market is going yet and that is something that is very exciting.”
To learn more about how microgrids are helping the developing world, check out Devergy.