Okra Solar: Start rapidly, start small and grow over time

SDG7 News

Based in Cambodia, Okra Solar provides IoT and AI enabled hardware and software to last-mile energy companies so they can sustainably energize remote off-grid communities. This interview with Afnan Hannan, CEO of Okra Solar, was originally published by the Mini-Grids Partnership.

Could you tell us more about Okra Solar and what inspired you to found Okra Solar?

One of the things I learned while growing up was that opportunities are now more accessible than ever. Having built robots and websites by learning on my own, it was pretty apparent that through the internet, people can basically learn anything and become anybody they want to be. But before getting there, people need to have their basic needs for livelihood addressed. And of course, before being able to use internet-connected devices, those devices need to be powered by electricity.

So I was inspired during my study years at university to figure out what drove people to set up infrastructure, and how this infrastructure could be set up in a sustainable manner. And that’s why we started Okra, to deploy a technology and business model that would make more money for communities connected to power than it would cost to connect them.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in implementing mini-grids in last-mile electrification and how do you work to help overcome them?

Upfront CAPEX cost and getting the land rights and permits to build mini-grids are often the biggest barriers to rolling out mini-grids at scale.

Okra mesh-grids give developers the ability to start rapidly, start small, and grow over time. In traditional systems, developers and governments have to try and size what a community might use years down the line and build infrastructure accordingly. Before building they need to submit these plans and get permits, which leads to projects taking a long time to get off the ground, being expensive, oversized and the vast majority of the time too expensive to warrant the risk of long-term load projections that may or may not be right. With Okra, developers can set up plug and play energy access on rooftops without land permits. These systems can be interlinked into mesh-grids to boost power availability.

Additionally, systems are modular so they can set up energy access for what the user needs on day one, and developers can then scale the assets as the load grows. This allows for low initial startup costs and rapid deployment, enabling them to tighten the loop to project development and implementation.

Could you tell us more about Okra Solar’s mesh-grid solution and how it can complement mini-grids electrification?

Mini-grids work great in powering productive centres and commercial productive loads, for example, agro-processing centres. These buildings or businesses, sometimes referred to as anchor loads, often need a system that can produce 100x the residential power consumption throughout the course of a day. With our goal of enabling productive power for communities while helping mini-grid developers optimize for cost, we have recently released a mini-grid to mesh-grid charger. This enables developers to set up the centralized solution where there is a large anchor load, then the residential network is implemented with a low-cost mesh grid, and excess power generated from the centralized grid is fed into the mesh. This lets mini-grid developers serve both anchor loads and residential loads. By slashing their distribution cost they can save about 50 percent of the CAPEX cost.

Could you share a mini-grid success story? How important is the productive use of energy for more rapid deployment of mini-grids?

Our pilot project in Cambodia was a great success story where 140 households were energized two months from the award of contract, including procurement. This was only possible because of the plug and play nature of these mesh grids. Each house can use up to 1.2kW of instantaneous power with AC power output.

This project was a 48.8kWp PV system with multiple villages energized in a commune spanning more than 3kM of distance and with a river separating the three villages. The average load in this community is currently over 500Wh/day and the network up-time is >99.8 percent. The community is using electric cooking, blenders, and kettles thanks to grant funding support from Efficiency for Access.

These productive loads are financed through the Okra software platform. If households do not top-up their mobile billing balance, which is used on a prepaid basis to cover their energy and appliance finance costs, households are temporarily disconnected over the cloud.

With this level of network control, high power availability, and productive appliance financing, the project is stimulating growth, which demonstrates the commercial viability of these projects in the most hard-to-reach areas.

Which markets are you active in and are you planning to expand to other geographies? What is the next big milestone for Okra Solar?

Currently, we are active in Cambodia, The Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Haiti. We have our hands tied up in these markets with more than 30 million households who are not connected to the grid in these markets alone. So, we’re working on expanding our operations and bringing in financing partners to facilitate our developer partners in rolling out at scale. Our next milestone will be when we hit 10,000 connections with our partners, and we’re gunning to make it happen in the next 12 months.

Photo credit: Okra Solar

The Recover Better with Sustainable Energy Guide for Southeast Asian Nations

Knowledge brief
Recover Better Southeast Asia

This sustainable energy guide highlights the opportunities, benefits and enablers that will help leaders guide their countries onto a more long-term sustainable and resilient development trajectory. As Southeast Asian countries recover better, they can also lead by example by translating their recovery actions into updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.

Investments in energy have a significant GDP multiplier that will benefit the country and its economy.  

  • For every US dollar invested in the transition towards renewable energy, an additional USD 0.93 of GDP growth above business as usual is expected to occur.
  • Investments in the Southeast Asian region to achieve the ASEAN target of 23 percent renewable energy share by 2025 can provide an annual additional GDP growth of USD 25 billion.
  • Providing modern clean cooking access to 30 percent of the currently unserved population is estimated to result in a macroeconomic benefit (economic, health and environment) of USD 15 for every dollar spent.
Estimated GDP impact
This report is part of the series:  Recover Better with Sustainable Energy

State of the Global Mini-grids Market Report 2020

State of the Global Mini-grids Market Report 2020 is a Mini-Grids Partnership report published by BloombergNEF and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).  

The report aims to raise awareness about mini-grids, mobilizing investments in the mini-grid sector and serving as a benchmark to measure progress in the sector for decision-makers. It provides the latest updates on the global mini-grids market and highlights key trends in the industry that, together, can stand as the definitive source of information for stakeholders.  

The insights found in the report were developed through literature reviews, quantitative analysis and, importantly, interviews with 68 organizations to collect information and data from mini-grid developers, financiers, donor agencies, research institutes, non-profit organizations and technology vendors. Therefore, this report represents an important cross-institutional collaboration to provide a detailed look at the state of the mini-grids sector.

The authors also conducted case studies of six countries - Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, India (Bihar), the Philippines and Indonesia.

Follow the Mini-Grids Partnership on Twitter

Off-grid solar solutions: The pathway to 100 percent electrification in the Philippines


The Philippines has been identified as one of the 20 high-impact countries (HICs) whose efforts to increase access to electricity, as well as clean cooking, can make the most difference on a global scale to achieve universal electricity access by 2030.

Because of its high urbanization rate, nearly 90 percent of households in the Philippines have access to electricity. The government has set a 100 percent electrification target by 2020 in its 2016-2030 energy plan. How can electricity sector investment help a country spread over 7,100 islands deliver on this target and provide electricity access to the hardest to reach populations?

The Energizing Finance: Taking the Pulse 2019 country study on the Philippines highlights projected financing needs for universal energy access by 2030. The report envisions grid and off-grid solutions both playing roles in achieving universal access, with off-grid solutions complementing grid extension and densification in electrifying the whole archipelago.

The critical role of stand-alone systems

Of the total USD 36 billion tracked for electrification in the HICs in 2017 – identified in Energizing Finance: Understanding the Landscape 2019 – only USD 12.6 billion was directed to electrifying households. And only 1.2 percent of the total amount was committed for off-grid electricity solutions, which will be critical for providing last-mile access and with it the basics of a modern household, improved resilience and economic development opportunities.

This is especially true for the Philippines where off-grid solutions – stand-alone solar and mini-grids – are instrumental, as the most cost-effective way to provide energy access, especially to the last 10 percent of the population who live without electricity in rural, island areas.

Taking the Pulse analysis demonstrates that in the past 15 years, renewable energy generation in the country has remained stagnant, representing 23 percent of total power supply. Conversely, coal-fired power more than tripled over the same period to account for 52 percent of the Philippines’ power supply, including almost 5MW in new coal-fired generation capacity in 2019.

Yet, there are also positive examples for off-grid and mini-grids deployment in the archipelago (e.g. Romblon’s success story featured in this video by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities). Financial projections from the Taking the Pulse report confirm that such solutions can be extended to achieve universal electricity access if an adequate regulatory framework is put in place and a total of USD 1.25 billion invested by 2030.

In some rural areas, people are now able to afford electricity generated by mini-grids thanks to a national government subsidy scheme for households that helps close the affordability gap. Taking the Pulse projections anticipate that 1.25 million households can be reached through mini-grid generated electricity by 2030 if USD 354 million is invested in mini-grids between now and then. Despite its promising future, investors haven’t yet seized the opportunity, with no finance commitments for mini-grids identified in the Philippines in 2017.

Closing the access gap

Taking the Pulse forecast scenario also envisages stand-alone solar will account for 2.5 million household connections over the 2020-2030 period (or 35 percent of new connections over the period). This will require USD 897 million in finance of which USD 33 million would be utilized to address the affordability gap and provide electricity service to the most marginalized and vulnerable households. This is in staggering contrast with the mere USD 3 million in finance commitments for stand-alone solar tracked in the Philippines in 2017.

National stakeholders in the Philippines and international finance will need to innovate to create new financing solutions – including public-private approaches – and to deliver power to isolated populations in low-density areas. Taking the Pulse proposes recommendations for the government to boost investment towards off-grid solutions and encourage broader private sector participation in the electricity sector:

  • Establish a new regulatory process that simplifies business registration and facilitates access to subsidies for small-scale mini-grids projects.
  • Improve data collection to develop in-depth and up-to-date market information that offers intelligence for stand-alone solar players and consumers.
  • Adjust electricity tariffs structures to provide a clear cost incentive for utilities to transition towards cleaner energy technologies. Utility companies should not be able to pass the fluctuating costs of imported fossil fuels and foreign exchange directly to consumers.

When it comes to access to clean cooking, the challenge will require much greater commitment. More than 17 million households in the Philippines still lack full access to clean cooking solutions. The Taking the Pulse country study finds that USD 1.8 billion is required between now and 2030 to close the access gap for both off-grid electricity and improved cooking solutions in the Philippines.

Read the full report and the Philippines country study, and follow #SDG7Finance for the latest.

Energizing Finance: Taking the Pulse 2019 was developed in partnership with Catalyst Off-Grid Advisors and E3 Analytics.  

HICs: 20 developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia with some of the world’s largest energy access deficits and that together are home to nearly 80 percent of those living without access—referred to as the high-impact countries (HICs). The list of HICs is taken from the 2015 Global Tracking Framework, which was the most up to date list at the time 2017 Energizing Finance was commissioned and maintained in the 2018, 2019 reports to ensure comparison across years.

For electricity access findings, the high-impact countries are Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Congo (DR), Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Korea (DPR), Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yemen.

For clean cooking access findings, the high-impact countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Congo (DR), Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea (DPR), Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Photo credit: Asian Development Bank

Video: Shifting investment to renewable energy sources in Southeast Asia

SDG7 News

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam hold the biggest potential when shifting investment away from fossil fuels and coal power plants towards their significant untapped renewable energy sources. How can these three countries lead the way to sustainable development in the region? What are the priority actions to accelerate growth and deliver a bright future based on reliable, affordable and sustainable energy?

In this video, national partners from the project on Shifting Financial Flows to Invest in Low-Carbon Development in Southeast Asia (SHIFT SEA), as well as Christiana Figueres, Convenor of Mission 2020, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary, and Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for SEforALL, discuss how to incentivize investment in renewable energy.

Energizing Finance: Taking the Pulse 2019 - Madagascar, the Philippines and Uganda

Taking the Pulse 2019 details the energy access financing challenge faced in three countries: Madagascar, the Philippines and Uganda. The report provides crucial insights into how national contexts shape finance flows for electricity and clean cooking access. Each of these countries has its own unique set of energy needs, existing infrastructure, policies and regulations.

The report finds that USD 6.4 billion in aggregate investment is needed by 2030 in the three focus countries to deliver the mini-grid, stand-alone solar and improved cookstove solutions that will enable Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7).

The report also probes what kind of capital this is, providing estimates of the different grant, equity, debt and affordability gap financing that will be necessary to deliver these energy access solutions.

See also: Energizing Finance series

This report is part of the series:  Energizing Finance

Madagascar Country Study

Plans by the Government of Madagascar to expand electricity access have been constrained in recent years by slow expansion of the electricity grid. While grid service remains largely unchanged since 2010 at 11 percent, stand-alone solar for households has begun to transform the electricity market in the country, providing electricity to almost 10 percent of households, which represents almost half of the households with energy access. New grid connections are expected to reach an additional 600,000 households by 2030 (increasing grid access by 2.4 percent).

If Madagascar follows a business as usual (BAU) scenario—allowing markets to continue developing based on current levels of support from the private sector, government agencies and development partners—grid coverage would actually decline to cover 9 percent of households by 2030 since the current pace of grid expansion is not keeping up with population growth.

Madagascar has the largest clean cooking deficit in Africa, with less than 1 percent of households using clean fuels, and a fraction of a percent of households using improved wood or charcoal stoves.

For closing the access gap in Madagascar USD 2.3 billion is required for off-grid electricity and improved cooking solutions.


Philippines Country Study

The Government of the Philippines has made universal electrification a national priority and has an urbanization rate over 50 percent, which helps to explain why it has already achieved nearly 90 per-cent household electrification and universal electrification of all municipalities. Off-grid electrification has been central to accomplishing this since the Philippines’ island geography makes achieving universal electrification through grid extension too costly. As such, mini-grids and stand-alone systems have a critical role to play. While mini-grids in particular have transformed the electricity market in the Philippines, universal access by 2030 will still require acceleration across grid-based and off-grid technologies to keep pace with rapid population growth.

If the Philippines follows a business as usual scenario, allowing markets to continue developing based on current levels of support from government agencies and development partners, grid coverage would remain relatively unchanged by 2030, with 82 percent of households electrified.

For closing the access gap in the Philippines USD 1.8 billion are required for off-grid electricity and improved cooking solutions.

See also: Off-grid solar solutions: The pathway to 100 percent electrification in the Philippines

Uganda Country Study

Uganda has made solid progress in expanding electricity access in recent years, aided by rapid growth in the market for stand-alone household solutions and steady expansion of the electricity grid. When combined, the existing electricity grid, mini-grids, and stand-alone solar currently provide electricity to almost 38 percent of households in Uganda, leaving an access deficit of 62 percent. In looking towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG7) target date of universal access129 by 2030, grid expansion will play a significant role in closing the electrification access gap; this report forecasts 4.7 million new grid connections, representing a fourfold increase in annual connections compared to recent connection trends. Uganda currently only has 11 operational mini-grids, servicing approximately 4,000 households. Development of the mini-grid sector has been hampered by an unclear regulatory framework that has limited private sector participation, while public resources have focused on the expansion and densification of the main electricity grid.

Ninety-five percent of all Ugandan households rely on charcoal, wood, or other forms of biomass for their household cooking needs.130 Despite this, ICS use remains extremely low at around 1 percent. The use of clean fuels (such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), biogas, and ethanol) also remains under 1 percent. 

For closing the access gap in Uganda USD 2.3 billion are required for off-grid electricity and improved cooking solutions.

Cooling a hot topic during the Asia Clean Energy Forum


While 1,300 delegates attended the Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF 2019) in Manila in mid-June, India suffered yet another heat wave, causing the death of at least 137 people. With heat waves becoming more frequent all around the globe, the topic of sustainable cooling for all received specific attention during this event hosted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) experts participating in the event delivered key messages on the future of cooling, presented a new approach for integrated electrification planning and discussed the importance of shifting investments towards clean energy.

Rethinking the future of cooling

SEforALL co-organized a workshop on The Future of Cooling –Promoting Sustainable Cooling through Technology and Policy Innovation that brought together representatives from governments, private sector, financial institutions and international organizations to discuss the challenges of sustainable cooling.

“1.1 billion people without access to cooling face increasing risks to their health and their productivity because they can’t store fresh food, receive a safe vaccine, or find shelter in a heat wave”, said Clotilde Rossi di Schio, SEforALL Cooling Specialist, during her presentation.

Based on the findings of the SEforALL report Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All, Rossi di Schio said governments need to understand who is most at risk and must develop national cooling plans to address the needs of these vulnerable people: the rural poor, slum dwellers and middle income ‘carbon captives’.  

“We need to see cooling needs in a broader perspective, not just focus on the cooling of buildings and urban environments, but also agricultural and medical cold chains,” said the expert. 

Integrated electricity planning

During the deep dive workshop Achieving Universal Energy Access in the Asia Pacific Region, co-organized by ADB and SEforALL, SEforALL presented its new Integrated Electrification Pathways for Universal Access to Electricity: A Primer report as well as a video case study that highlights last-mile electrification options in Nepal. 

“Electricity planning is often thought of in terms of models and data. However, the focus on socio-economic development needs, stakeholder engagement, links to supportive policy and appropriate finance are factors that distinguish the Integrated Electrification Pathways approach,” said Mikael Melin, SEforALL Senior Energy Access Specialist.  

Financing the energy transition

Another topic high on the agenda of the ACEF 2019 was the financing of the energy transition. The Shifting Financial Flows to Invest in Low-Carbon Development in Southeast Asia (SHIFT SEA) project partners, a consortium of international energy and climate experts including SEforALL, presented priority actions to accelerate growth and deliver a bright future based on reliable, affordable and sustainable energy. The partners also look forward to contributing to the upcoming revision of ADB’s Energy Policy, an opportunity to support ADB with its goal to become Asia Pacific’s leading climate bank.

The SHIFT SEA partners co-hosted a well-attended networking event with Signify (formerly Philips Lightning) to promote energy efficiency and to present a video about the necessary shift in finance towards zero carbon development in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Watch the video.

Photo credit: ADB

Video: Capturing the benefits of solar rooftops in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam

SDG7 News

In Southeast Asia, the three countries of Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam hold the biggest potential for embracing a sustainable energy future by shifting investment away from fossil fuels and coal power plants towards their significant untapped renewable energy resources.

In this video, national partners from the project on Shifting Financial Flows to Invest in Low-Carbon Development in Southeast Asia (SHIFT SEA), as well as Christiana Figueres, Convenor of Mission 2020, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary, and Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for SEforALL, discuss how to achieve scale and speed for the rollout of solar rooftops.

Shifting Financial Flows in Southeast Asia

Between May 2018 and October 2019, the now completed SHIFT SEA project engaged with a variety of stakeholders through research, advocacy, high-level meetings, coalition forming and capacity building to support change in policymaking and investment frameworks in favor of the clean energy transition.

Southeast Asia is the new economic engine of the world. Despite possessing extraordinary renewable energy resources, current policies and investment decisions mean that most of its growing energy demand will be met by an 80 percent increase in coal-fired power generation by 2040, resulting in a 66 percent rise in CO2 emissions to 2.4 GT (IEA, Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2019). Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam hold the biggest carbon footprint potential with 49 GW of new coal power infrastructure under development (as of July 2019).

The Shifting Financial Flows to Invest in Low-Carbon Development in Southeast Asia (SHIFT SEA) project recognized that Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have the potential to lead change in the region. By pursuing a new development paradigm that leapfrogs the carbon intensity of the industrial revolution, governments and financial institutions can make it a political and investment priority to pivot towards clean, affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for the 21st century.

The SHIFT SEA project engaged with a variety of stakeholders through research, advocacy, high-level meetings, coalition forming and capacity building to support change in policymaking and investment frameworks in favor of the clean energy transition. An assessment of international financial institutions’ investment flows for financing clean energy complemented the projects’ efforts to support countries in fulfilling their commitments to the Paris Agreement and accelerate sustainable growth.

Activities and outcomes

  • Creating and/or strengthening multi-stakeholder coalitions such as JIRE, the Indonesia Low Emission Network; VCCA, the Vietnam Coalition for Climate Action and Aksyon Klima Pilipinas in the Philippines
  • Boosting solar rooftops and green solutions with grassroots programs, such as the Million Green Homes initiative in Vietnam and in the Philippines
  • Proposing a priority policy on energy efficiency to the Indonesian government
  • Supporting the greening of the public and private financial system through the publication of several assessment reports on the current status of financial flows
  • Shining the spotlight on low-carbon development opportunities in Southeast Asia through data and evidence, active media engagement and a presence at events, as well as high-level diplomacy outreach by Christiana Figueres and Rachel Kyte
  • Defining priority action areas for operating the shift in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines

Selected media coverage

Climate battle will 'succeed or fail' in Asia, interview with Rachel Kyte, AFP, France24 and others

Energy efficiency makes financial sense, OPED by Helena Wright (E3G) and Glenn Pearce-Oroz (SEforALL), Asia Times

Former UN climate chief visits the Philippines to promote green investments, Manila Bulletin

Climate Mission, Jakarta Post

Concerted effort needed on climate action in 2018, OPED by Christiana Figueres (M2020), Singapore Business Times

About the project

SHIFT SEA was funded by the German International Climate Initiative (IKI) and led by a consortium of international energy and climate experts including Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), Climate Action Network (CAN), Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G) and Mission 2020 (M2020). It was supported by the local expertise of three in-country organizations: Yayasan Mitra Hijau (YMH) in Indonesia, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) in the Philippines and Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) in Vietnam.

For more information contact Mikael Melin, SHIFT SEA project lead for SEforALL.

Follow SHIFT SEA on Twitter  #SHIFTSEA