Overview

We are starting an open-source project to accelerate off-grid solar project development in areas affected by blackouts, high energy prices, and ​lack of centralized information. The enrGxs platform will enable investors, developers, and engineers to collaborate on these projects and see returns on social, environmental, and financial levels.

Inspiration

We have been working on off-grid solar projects with a company called Gham Power since 2010. We work primarily in Nepal and southeast Asia, serving part of the 1.3 billion people in the world who live without any access to electricity, mostly in rural areas using kerosene lamps for lighting, paying costs as high as $5/kWh. There are another 1 billion who suffer from unreliable electricity grid and long daily blackouts. Many businesses run diesel generators for backup, and face increasing fuel costs and frequent shortages, aside from the health hazards.

Distributed off-grid solar is a great solution for this, but it hasn’t scaled because most business models are limited to small home systems and solar lanterns, and most customers cannot finance large systems. However, these same customers are willing to install large systems under lease, PPA, or Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) financing (similar to more mature solar markets like US and Germany). So, this is a great opportunity for off grid project developers, provided they can get project financing, which has been a major hurdle.

Meanwhile, institutional investors with energy access project funds (e.g. ADB, IFC) can’t find enough “good” projects to invest in. This is due to their high investment threshold (minimum of $5 mm), whereas the typical “large” off grid project size is $5k to $50k. Even crowdfunding sites don’t have sizable pipelines of energy projects because most small developers aren’t PowerPoint or Excel savvy and usually need a local intermediary to facilitate entering project data entry into crowdfunding site. However, if there are standard ways to define the data, metrics, and overall design of these projects, then not only projects can be developed much faster, but they can also be aggregated, as collectively they represent a significant investment opportunity.

That's why we are starting an open source project where we can share tools, templates, and best practices for off-grid solar project development we have developed at Gham Power over the years, and invite other practitioners working in developing countries around the world to help make these tools better by using, sharing, and adding their own refinements. That way, we collectively build a standard set of tools and templates, refined via a community-led process, and anyone can use these tools to rapidly assess project sites, do basic system technology design and estimate costs, build financial models to calculate ROI, and thus end up with a fairly complete set of documents to get their projects financed.

What it Does

enrGxs is meant to be an open source repository of tools and templates that help develop investment-ready off grid projects. These tools and templates cover feasibility assessment, technology design, financial model, and guidelines for installation and operations and maintenance.

We invite an ever-growing number of experts and field practitioners to join our team to develop/refine tools and templates for different system types, new geographies, and multiple financing structures.

How we built it

We created an Android App for project developers to collect site specific data to qualify a project site. We then created a web application in JavaScript that makes use of project site data and asks the user to add other variables to create a PV system design for the off-grid project. It then uses a Google spreadsheet to calculate project ROI which includes financial analysis as well as social and environmental impact analysis.

Challenges We Ran Into

Main issue for us was time given we were trying to cover three fairly vast problem areas within our app (site selection / qualification, system design, ROI analysis).

Technology-wise, we found a way to call a Google sheet via an API call, so this allowed us to create the ROI model in Google sheet and call that via API's to get our ROI metrics. This part took more trial-and-error than we'd have liked. There was also some challenge in getting data from Android app available to our web application using Firebase.

What's next for enrGxs

We are open sourcing everything we have developed during this hackathon via our GitHub site.

Please consider joining our team even post-hackathon -- we need help from UX/UI designers and developers to join our team and build out the initial structure / POC for this open source project so that (a) we have a basic framework where we can put existing templates from Gham Power, or build new ones; and (b) we can invite other off-grid solar project developers from around the world to refine these template and build new ones using an open source model.

We also have many crazy stories to share from our combined field experiences around the world -- and hopefully they can help you give enrGxs a structure that will enable hundreds and thousands of local solar entrepreneurs in developing countries develop investment-grade solar projects and scale the deployment of renewable energy in their communities.

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