According to the February 2021 “Unlocking Africa’s Mini-Grid Market” final report, 60% of Africa’s population live in rural areas. Only 5% of this rural population has access to modern electricity services. In most cases, these rural customers have low power demands. The low consumption of electricity presents a challenge to minigrid developers in the quest to increase the average level of revenues and hence profitability.
The African Minigrid Developers Association’s (AMDA) Benchmarking Minigrids in Africa Report says that the average consumption per customer is around 6.1 kWh per month. This leads to an average monthly revenue per user of around $2.96 – $4.83, whilst OPEX costs are between $2.50 – 6.00 per customer per month. This scenario makes it difficult for private for-profit operators to grow in this sector.
Minigrids still present one of the quickest ways to extend access to electricity beyond the grid. Utility companies find it difficult to extend the grid to these places as it can be quite an expensive exercise. For example, in Nigeria it costs about $150 per meter to roll out overhead lines. For traditional centralized minigrids, transmission and distribution infrastructure also make up a huge portion of the costs to set up and operate traditional minigrids.
Liquidstar is working to revolutionize the off-grid electricity market with its Decentralized Autonomous Utility (DAU) platform. Scott Salandy-Defour says “Liquidstar’s platform runs on the utility rails of the future integrating a blockchain based stack to efficiently manage secure identity, transactions, and metering.” By taking out the expensive bits (the powerlines and power reticulation systems), Liquidstar’s ‘wireless’ battery powered sustainable ecosystems aim to solve energy access challenges for some of the powerless 1.1 billion around the world.
Liquidstar is now ready to roll out its first sites starting with Djibouti. Liquidstar was recently awarded a USAID grant to deploy its solution in Djibouti. It is also in various stages of discussion with organizations in Kenya, Nigeria, and Benin. In Benin the company will be doing an electric moto/bicycle taxi service with a local partner. “After attending COP26 we are now conducting site visits in our target countries.”
At the center of this ecosystem is what they call a “Waypoint” charge station. “We use 20-foot shipping containers that we have custom designed with our partner Blackstump in Australia.” These containers generate between 40-60kWh per day and are used to charge the batteries. Each Waypoint will have 40 X 100Wh, 40 X 200 Wh and 5 X 2.4 kWh recycled lithium-ion batteries. This will allow the company to cater to a wide cross-section of customer requirements within a community.
Additionally, Liquidstar will use excess electricity to pump and purify water. “We are also experimenting with atmospheric water generation,” says Scott. The larger 2.4 kWh batteries are sourced from Betteries. The batteries from Betteries are sustainable second-life lithium-ion batteries repurposed into stackable multipurpose packs.
“A bigger question for us with Liquidstar is what is the easiest way to turn electricity in to money. That’s why our solution has evolved to include offering electricity and water. We realized that the battery rentals alone were not enough. In order to stabilize earnings when battery rental utilization is low, we are mining green Bitcoin and Ethereum. We are also utilizing the Ethereum network to log environmental readings with our Maru prototype and generate Carbon Credit Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) from our proprietary solar data logger.”
An NFT is a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a digital ledger (Blockchain), according to Wikipedia.
“These carbon credit NFTs are going to be tied to a larger NFT drop we are doing with Nicole Buffett and Colin Adair where the Carbon Credit NFTs will be represented by Nicole’s spirit coin art collection and incorporated in to different 3D scenes. If the NFT drop is successful that will allow us to deploy an additional 10 Waypoints, but most importantly for the NFT holders every three months the community will be able to vote on how the profits from the charging station are distributed to local entrepreneurs and non-profits near the stations.”
Liquidstar is also working on an electricity-backed stablecoin tied to local digital central bank currencies such as the recently launched E-Naira in Nigeria.
“What is unique about our offering and approach is we are focused on working closely with central banks and finance ministers, but for end-users of our electricity backed stable coin, we take a percentage of the mined Bitcoin, mined Ethereum, and carbon credits and purchase local currency rewarding our in country end users with what is essentially a usage based rebate they can spend at the local market.”
The mining percentage will be paid out monthly in local currency, for example, in the e-naira and the percentage of carbon credits sold are paid out based on battery rentals. People that rent batteries and buy water more often will get more of the carbon credit NFT percentage.
The final piece in the puzzle is the electric mobility portion. A lot of these rural communities are cut off from the major economic centers due to inadequate transport services and infrastructure. Liquidstar will also deploy electric bicycles which they developed in house.
“We designed our own bike because after doing surveys we couldn’t find a bike that fit the requirements of what the riders wanted. We also wanted to design something that we would want to use ourselves.”
Initially, the electric bicycles will be used by Liquidstar agents to deliver charged batteries to their customers as well as collect the discharged batteries. It will then open up the bicycles to the members of the community, starting with a bicycle taxi service. The flexible architecture allows the bicycles to be configured in both electric bicycle mode as well in the more powerful motorcycle mode. The bike Liquidstar is building is in partnership with Hashaam Tariq, founder of EMF Technologies, who the Liquidstar team met at the World Future Energy Summit in 2020.
Here is a summary of the specs of the electric bicycle:
The bicycle has a range of about 100 km in mixed city riding depending on a number of different aspects, e.g., riding style, rider weight, weather conditions, temperature, road surface, and tire pressure. For high speed riding (70km/h) the range is about 42 km.
1) Bicycle Pedal Assist configuration: The ultimate mode for range. It has a limited top speed to 35 km/h (22mph).
2) Motorcycle configuration: For a mix of active trail riding and urban cruising, with a top speed of 90km/h and good acceleration. This mode is perfect for longer commuting and riding out in the woods.
Type: External charger from standard 220 V outlets
0-80%: 2 hours
0-100%: 3 hours
Bicycle Mode Battery:
Cells: premium 32700 LiFePO4 cells
Voltage (nominal): 51.2 V
Capacity: 24 Ah / 1.2 kWh
Features: Removable, can be charged when installed in bike or separately
Motorcycle Mode Battery:
Prismatic LiFePO4 cells
Voltage (nominal): 76.8 V
Capacity: 50 Ah / 3.84 kWh
Features: Removable, can be charged when installed in bike or separately
Type: Direct drive, chain
Electric motor: Mid Motor, permanent magnet motor
Type: Hub drive
Electric motor: Brushless DC motor (Hub Motor)
Power: 5000W nominal 9000W peak
The electric motorbike taxis can generate income during the day with the leftover battery carried home. The remaining capacity can then be used at the home to power the typical low power devices found in these rural homes.
Liquidstar has already secured some investment. Liquidstar’s lead investor is Taizo Son. Taizo Son is the founder of Mistletoe, a Collective Impact Community that advocates a new style of business through startup support, to solve social challenges with a mid-to-long term perspective. It’s good to see these innovative solutions that are focused on electrifying communities in rural areas. We really hope they get to scale quickly.
Images courtesy of Liquidstar
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