Solar Micro Smart Grids are Lighting up the Tanzanian Countryside
After graduating from university in 2007, Gianluca Cescon and his friend Fabio De Pascale spent time backpacking in Guyana. As they made their way through small villages, they came across a number of broken solar power projects. Gianluca told me “The problem was not the money – it was the maintenance,” and “Where there is money, there is a business model.”
After taking jobs in Amsterdam, Gianluca and Fabio could not let go of the idea of a better approach to solar power. They told one another, “Every day we spend not building the company we want to build, is a day wasted.” While they maintained their day jobs, they rented a desk where they worked on their business idea and business model. They took multiple trips to Africa where they studied the problem first-hand.
After a small crowdfunding round in 2010, Gianluca moved to Tanzania while Fabio and a third partner, Jose Luis Belert Hueso, continued to work their jobs, supporting Gianluca. Gianluca remembered, “It was great, because we were doing what we wanted to do. And it was awful because we didn’t have much money. But that started everything.”
By 2012, they started a pilot project. They call their company Devergy for developing energy. Devergy is a for-profit energy services company that provides affordable and reliable energy to villages that are not connected to the electrical grid. By the end of 2016, they hope to reach 7,000 homes.
The Problem for Off-Grid Villages
In Tanzania, nearly 80% of households are not connected to the national electrical grid. Without electricity, local people use kerosene, candles or batteries for energy. Local mills use diesel generators. All of these energy sources are expensive.
The Solution: Solar Micro Smart Grids
Devergy generates electricity from solar power. The grids avoid the problems of many rural projects by remaining village size – micro. The grid is built in small modules of around 10 houses. There is one solar tower, a series of houses strung together with meters, and the next solar tower. This module model allows Devergy to monitor demand. If the demand is sustained, Devergy can deploy another module in about 3 hours.
Quotes from Gianluca Cescon about Solar Micro Smart Grids
“Being in a rural village does not mean that you cannot have at least the basic services that technology in 2016 can provide, in an affordable way.”
“How can we provide energy in a sustainable and affordable way, and also work it out with a for-profit approach.”
“If you don’t make sense on a spreadsheet, you’re not going to make sense in reality. You should have a tattoo with that. ”
“Little by little, through iterations, we came to the final design that we’re now deploying all over Tanzania.”
“There was one big change, which was making the whole backend more robust.”
“We have to bring in, not just energy, but all the IT infrastructure to monitor and control the grids.”
“Investors were coming to our village saying, ‘Guys, we have never seen something like this.’”
“Little by little, you build on top of your mistakes.”
“Only in books you go from a to b. You go from a, to b, to c, to b, and then eventually you get to the end, probably with a product that is completely different from how you imagined it before.”
“Carefulness is not something that rhymes with startup.”
“For a startup, to understand if it works or not, it takes five years, if you’re lucky.”
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