Our investment in Okra Solar

Beth Foster
Beth Foster April 28, 2022 3 min read

Our investment in Okra Solar

Two billion people worldwide lack access to reliable energy

In the energy access sector, the scaleup of mini-grids and solar home systems (SHS) is critical if we are to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 7—access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all—by 2030. Only half of the 800 million people without energy today are expected to eventually be served by the central grid and even in communities that now have “access”, affordability and reliability have not yet been achieved. However, mini-grids are only economically viable in densely populated areas, leaving more remote regions reliant on stand-alone SHS solutions. Existing SHS technology offers a high level of incremental impact but offers limited power output, capping the household’s energy consumption to lighting and basic appliances, and wasting excess energy beyond what is stored in the local battery.

The result is that off-grid communities struggle to move up the energy ladder, lag in economic and energy equity indicators, and remain vulnerable to climate shocks. As we tackle the dual challenges of climate change and inequality, the Autodesk Foundation is backing innovations that leapfrog past basic energy access and into modern energy equity.

Why Okra Solar?

We are pleased to welcome Okra Solar to our Health & Resilience portfolio. Okra Solar is an Australian startup that works with local utilities to transform energy access and consumption in overlooked communities through its smart Mesh-Grid network. Connecting households together using smart distribution techniques makes energy more reliable and up to ten times cheaper than grid extension or centralized mini-grids.

Solar energy is the cheapest form of electricity for off-grid communities, but many families cannot afford the basic solar system. Okra Solar builds on existing solar technology in the market by introducing its proprietary IoT controllers that boost power loads in homes and connects clusters of remote households with solar panels to share power, with network optimization and payments managed by Okra Solar software.

Through this hardware-software solution, Okra Solar enables energy utilities to reach more remote households and improve the economics and payback period for their infrastructure investments. Further, the solution’s modularity means that power generation can grow as local consumption increases over time. Incrementally increasing power loads is especially critical for supporting households gaining first-time energy access to effectively move up the energy ladder.  

To date, Okra Solar has reached over 1,500 households with clean energy and aims to reach 2 million people by 2025. The potential impact on rural households is transformative. For some households, the technology will offer first-time access to electricity; for others, it will improve power reliability and uptime; for others, it will enable them to generate income from using appliances like refrigerators and mills as small business owners. Ultimately, Okra’s innovation enables improved wellbeing and economic growth in marginalized communities, decoupled from the fossil fuels on which many other economies were built.

Collaboration with the Autodesk Foundation 

The off-grid energy sector has matured over the last decade. Once limited to lighting kits and basic appliances, the sector is racing towards the productive use of energy. Powering income generation deepens the impact potential for each household by not only improving health & wellbeing, but also opening pathways to economic advancement. Higher energy consumption in turn improves the economics of serving rural populations for off-grid companies and attracts new levels of funding to the sector.

Okra Solar’s solution is the type of solution that the Autodesk Foundation is uniquely positioned to accelerate through technical assistance, risk capital, and connections within the sector. As the startup enters its growth phase, we aim to support the Okra Solar team transition into manufacturing its existing and designing future smart devices for scale. We are also excited about the unique opportunity to collaborate with Okra Solar’s expert team by leveraging the talent of Autodesk employees in emerging technologies like AI and machine learning.

Learn more about how Okra Solar is bringing energy to off-grid communities.


 

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