Jesse Pielke, as Head of Operations of SET 100 2018 start-up: Africa GreenTec, shares some insights of the founding and future direction of their innovative start-up and energy solution.
Describe your start-up in a nutshell. What motivated the founders to start the company?
Africa GreenTec AG is a start-up, which develops and operates mini-grid plants in rural Mali. The motivation to get involved with the energy sector in Mali was the experience of witnessing the pure inefficiency with which the diesel power plant for Bamako, Mali operates. Africa GreenTec has developed the Solartainer. The Solartainer can be described as a mobile solar power plant with an integrated storage system. Our product contains 144 solar modules, which are mounted on frames and can be pulled out of the container on a rail structure inside the container to unfold them into full size. Inside the shell, we placed the remaining technical parts, such as inverters and batteries. Within a timeframe of 3 hours after arrival, it can be set up, connected to the local grid and produce electricity. The way it works is comparable to a normal solar power plant, except for it being integrated into an especially made container shell. The same way it was set up it can also be put back together again. This way it stays mobile, can be relocated to other locations, can be secured from bad weather conditions and is not subject to any risks associated with regular, fixed solar power plants and assets. The Solartainer shell is a CSC-certified 40 ft. ISO container. This allows us to use standardized and affordable worldwide logistics system, which further reduces the cost and simplifies the process of implementation. This, in turn, reduces the price of electricity and makes the Solartainer a viable solution to possible project locations worldwide.
What was the process for coming up with your product/innovation?
Lately, the effects of climate change have been more and more visible. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the least greenhouse gases are emitted, effects have been significant. Witnessing the old, fossil powered diesel plant, which produces electricity for the city of Bamako, Mali has been the trigger to establish Africa GreenTec. As a developer of energy efficiency projects, Torsten Schreiber, had previously founded the crowdfunding platform bettervest. With this background in mind, he has the aspiration to exchange outdated diesel generators with reliable, renewable power plants. The idea of the Solartainer stems from this very aspiration.
What do you love about the sector you work in?
What we love most about the sector we work in, is that our work has a visible impact on the ground. As an operator of the power plants, we sell energy. The impact our power plants are having is very visible and motivates everyone in our team to go the extra mile. Being close to our customers, seeing their needs and providing solutions, which go beyond electricity access makes our day to day tasks extremely versatile and interesting.
Any big news or updates for your start-up recently?
We have recently finished setting up our 12th plant in Mali. We have been actively developing our product and service for 2 years now and feel that we are developing at a rapid pace. We have hired around 50 employees locally in Mali alone and are steadily expanding our team. Knowledge transfer and enabling our team through training and workshops have been a key success factor. Through these training sessions, our local team finished setting up a power plant without any help from German engineers. This is a major milestone on our way to scaling at full capacity.
What is your start-up looking for right now (mentorship, investment, grants, etc.)?
We are always looking for investors who are willing to join us on our mission to electrifying rural villages in Mali to power development and create perspectives. Electricity is the basis for all development. We are seeing the impact of our power plants and are well on our way to scale our operations in Mali. As a company, we are constantly evolving and will add new features to our product in future. As a social entrepreneur, we are trying to keep the balance between electricity prices for our customers and cost coverage of our company. Grants will make the development of new features much easier, as they enable us to develop these independently from our break even.
Where do you envision your start-up in 3 years?
We will keep adding more Solartainer® to our portfolio. In 3 years, we want to have at least 50 Solartainer up and running. Where necessary we want to add satellite-systems to our power plants to monitor them and to provide stable internet access to our customers. Furthermore, we are looking to implement professional grade water purification systems in our Solartainer to sell clean drinking water to fair prices. Applying these 3 business models to all our plants will keep us more busy for this timeframe. In the following months and years, we will document the impact our Solartainer® are having on the ground. For our growth, it will be of vital importance to communicate the development we have enabled, not at least due to the current political debate regarding refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. Once that is achieved, there are no limits to what we will be able to achieve with our Solartainer® systems.