Three Rwandan companies have been awarded among winners of the SolarX Startup Challenge championed by International Solar Alliance (ISA), an alliance of over 100 signatory countries, most being sunshine countries, which lie either completely or partly between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn.
They include Centennial Power Limited, OffGridBox Rwanda Limited and STES Group Limited. All were declared winners on September 2. At the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the ISA, also an intergovernmental body, introduced the SolarX Startup Challenge.
This year, after a rigorous semifinal selection process, 20 companies from 10 African nations were declared winners. Seven of these startups are owned by women entrepreneurs.
“We are using innovative solar technologies to help health facilities in Africa, preserve and maintain vaccines. We are doing that by providing reliable power supply to the cold storage used to store the vaccines, reducing the energy operational cost and reducing the need of diesel generators to back up power supply,” Jean Pierre Murenzi, Director of Electrical Engineering, Centennial Power Limited said.
For OffGridBox Rwanda Limited, it is a pioneering company dedicated to addressing the global challenge of inadequate access to safe water and energy. With a team boasting over 60 years of combined solar expertise across 15 countries, they offer affordable clean water and renewable energy solutions, bolstering communities against impact of climate change.
It also offers an integrated solution encompassing water, hydrogen, and solar technologies, along with a patented hydrogen nozzle, aiming to achieve a negative carbon footprint, making it unique in the market.
“We are very excited about this hydrogen obtained by sun and pure water, allowing communities to save money and increase the standard of their living in a very affordable way,” Emiliano Cecchini, President and CTO at OffGridBox said.
For STES Group Limited, it is a team of experts in IoT, solar technology, and emerging technologies. Their flagship product, BazaFarm, is a solar-powered IoT system with sensors that measure soil parameters.
After, the data is sent to the cloud for analysis and displayed on a web or mobile dashboard. BazaFarm optimizes crop yields, reduces waste, and minimizes environmental impact. It measures soil moisture, temperature, conductivity, fertilizer levels, and pH with 95% accuracy. This technology improves water management and boosts yield by 13%. BazaFarm is suitable for African rural areas, with a local language interface, designed and made by local youth engineers at STES Group Ltd.
The three Rwandan winners were awarded a cash grant of USD 15,000 and will be supported with an accelerator programme and provided access to the market for scaling up their solutions.
The SolarX Startup Challenge received 182 applications from 28 countries, such as Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, India, Israel, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
In line with the commitment to nurture these ground-breaking startups, ISA, in collaboration with Invest India, hosted the first Acceleration Programme Workshop for the winning start-ups in Kigali, Rwanda. The workshop encompassed both virtual and physical components to ensure accessibility to all finalists. The programme addressed guidance related to business development and access to finance, providing these startups with the tools needed to drive the implementation of their innovative solutions.
According to ISA, Rwanda has a significant solar energy advantage with a solar irradiation level of 4.9kWh/m2/day and a specific yield of 4.1kWh/kWp/day indicating strong technical feasibility for solar in the country. However, while progress is evident, there is still a considerable journey ahead. As of 2020, only 46.6% of the population had access to electricity, with per capita consumption at a mere 0.06MWh, significantly below the global average of 3.32MWh.
To address this energy disparity, Rwanda collaborates with Power Africa to advance rural electrification through solar home systems and mini-grids. Additionally, Rwanda participates in the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), an initiative striving to harness diverse energy sources and reduce electricity costs. Rwanda is an important country partner of the International Solar Alliance.
“Solar energy in Africa presents a remarkable opportunity to tackle energy deficits, advance sustainable development, and contribute to global endeavours in combating climate change. Sustained collaboration among governments, private sector entities, and international organisations is indispensable to unleash the complete potential of solar energy across the continent,” Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General of ISA said.
“ISA advocates for the utilisation of cost-effective decentralised solutions, exemplified by mini-grids that can be swiftly implemented in areas lacking or limited in grid infrastructure. ISA’s interventions within the 2023 G20 processes have prominently addressed this pivotal theme,” Dr Mathur said.
He pointed out that African entrepreneurs and innovators are crafting distinct solutions to confront local energy challenges, representing a highly advantageous approach where local needs are met with locally nurtured solutions.