Power to the swarm! Meet ME SOLshare from Bangladesh: Our winner has great visions. Dr. Sebastian Groh spoke to us about how they want to empower people to become solar entrepreneurs by sharing their electricity. The democratization of energy supply is on – let’s join it!
Describe your product and its history! What is your unique value proposition and your business model?
Back in 2013, I pitched the concept of swarm electrification during my stay at Stanford University, pointing out the millions of solar home systems already existing in Bangladesh and the extreme user behavior when people try to share electricity and at what cost. In 2015, SOLshare inaugurated the world’s first P2P cyber-physical energy trading platform that enables low-income rural households with and w/o solar home systems to trade their (excess) solar electricity via a mobile money platform in Bangladesh. SOLshare’s signature product, the SOLbox, is a machine-to-machine (M2M) enabled integrated direct-current bi-directional power meter that forms one node of a peer-to-peer (P2) solar nanogrid. It is the precursor of the ‘swarm’ approach for sustainable rural electrification.
What is your vision in regards to the future of the energy economy? And how does your product contribute to this future?
Similar to a swarm of bees, a SOLshare grid is born from scratch in a greenfield environment where the national grid has not reached based on existing and new SHSs and storage devices owned by the people themselves. Just as a swarm the grid is dynamic in growth, and the more households join the grid, the better the allocation of electricity and the more reliable. There is no more need to wait for the grid to come, but instead, the people build the grid themselves and can even swarm towards the national grid where an interconnection can be enabled. This is a new form of Energiewende for the Global South. In that way, we empower the people to take their energy future into their own hands, this is what we call the democratization of energy supply. The future of energy is decentralized, decarbonized and digital and it is exciting that this future is initiated in Bangladesh.
What are, in your opinion, the key challenges of the energy transition in general, and what are they specifically for your startup?
SOLshare aims to create a decentralized world of “social” utilities that are entirely powered by solar panels. The challenge faced by the utilities in the Global South with a large off-grid population is threefold: 1) to increase the number of customers while 2) keeping the service quality high and 3) ideally using as much green energy as possible. The key strategic move is that it needs a functional national grid for power generation as any other country. However, to reach a large number of dispersed rural customers solutions need to stay simple and low-cost for the utility. We suggest a single access point, a point of common coupling, where interconnected decentralized solutions get connected to the national grid in a single point and as close as possible to the national grid.
Where are you based, and who are the key innovation drivers in the energy ecosystem in your region?
Bangladesh currently hosts the largest solar home system (SHS) market in the world. Over four million SHS have been sold via microcredit since the state-sponsored Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) began the SHS program in 2003. Our partner, Grameen Shakti alone sold more than 1.7M SHS to date. That is the same number of systems that the whole of Germany managed to set-up so far. The market saw steady growth over the first ten years, peaking in 2013 with over 867,000 SHS distributed that year, more than 70,000 a month! Strong competition from the un-regulated ‘grey’ market, an ageing business model and a lack of consumer needs perception has resulted in the decline of annual growth numbers, posing the difficult challenge for the industry but opening the door to technological business innovation and leap-frogging.
Which results for your startup do you expect from the Tech Festival by DENA in March 2017?
ME SOLshare is hoping to meet courageous investors (equity, debt and grants) as well as business partners to join our swarm electrification approach. Also, given our roots in Germany, it is great to come back to Berlin but also to seize the opportunity to put SOLshare more on the map of the German development cooperation community.
Founded in 2014 and based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, ME SOLshare Ltd. is a social enterprise that provides peer-to-peer solar energy trading platforms and pay-as-you-go solutions to low-income households. SOLshare, the pioneer of the micro-energy transition model, interconnects solar home systems and empowers its users to earn a direct income from the sun. SOLshare’s swarm electrification approach empowers people to become solar entrepreneurs and take action into their own hands.