Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Kenya field tests pave way for deployment of microgrid metering and control

Steve Rogerson
May 12, 2015
Two years of field testing in Kenya have paved the way for commercialisation and scale-up of off-grid metering and control systems. With financial and technical backing from First Solar, a global provider of photovoltaic solar energy systems, California-based Powerhive pioneered the delivery of locally generated energy in Kenya's Kisii province, where over 90 per cent of the population does not have access to electricity.
Powerhive has developed a series of innovations designed to enable microgrid deployments in rural regions. Its portfolio includes the Honeycomb cloud-based remote monitoring and control platform, the Asali smart meter, and the Site Wizard for Analysis, Reconnaissance & Mapping (Swarm) project development tool.
With plans to expand its coverage to more than 200,000 households in Kenya, the company leveraged the pilot projects to test and refine its range of products designed to enable microgrid deployments in rural regions. Through the pilot programme, Arizona-based First Solar's module technology was deployed with Powerhive's metering and control platform, and its customers are able to pre-purchase electricity for commercial and residential use through mobile banking services.
"Powerhive's technology and data-driven approach to microgrid development and operations will enable the formation of a new asset class," said Powerhive CEO Christopher Hornor. “It will enable us to cost-effectively reach tens of millions of people in rural villages unserved by grids while offering strong risk-weighted returns to investors. We have uniquely combined the most cost efficient methods for billing, operations, customer service and development at scale while respecting the local customs within the areas where we operate."
First Solar's backing of Powerhive is a validation of the company's technology, allowing it to prove its rural electrification products at commercial scale. As part of its effort to enable Powerhive's commercial strategy, First Solar made an investment of an undisclosed value in 2013 and continues to contribute its expertise in scaling deployment, technology and commercial development. Marc van Gerven, First Solar's vice president for global marketing, also serves on Powerhive's board of directors.
"Our support of Powerhive stems from a belief that we need to transform the world from being energy supply-driven to being demand-driven," van Gerven said. “In other words, energy generation and delivery needs to be optimised to ensure that electricity is available when it is needed and where it is needed; this is the driving principle behind our focus on local energy. With its innovative technology, Powerhive forms an important part of the local energy value chain – the metering and control of locally generated electricity – allowing us to move closer to our objective of delivering affordable, locally-generated energy on demand."
Four pilot deployments have been operational for over two years, constituting a total generation capacity of 80kW and serving four rural villages, benefitting over 1500 people, ranging from residential users to small businesses deploying a range of services that were previously unavailable such as maize milling, welding, incubating chickens and hair salons.