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Clean Transport

Kofa Is Working To Advance Urban Energy Access For Mobility & Backup Power Across Africa

How did a US/Norwegian national end up founding a business in Ghana with the aim of advancing energy access in Ghana and beyond? Well, Erik Nygard lived in Ghana during his formative years, before going to university in the US and then the UK. His family moved across West Africa for over 30 years, mainly between Nigeria and Ghana. Then, after a period in a corporate role at Centrica in the UK, he took the plunge and founded his own startup.

The company, Limejump, crested Britain’s first distributed energy resource aggregation platform for assets such as solar and wind farms as well as grid-scale battery storage. Limejump provides renewable generators and flexible asset owners a route to the ancillary and wholesale markets through sophisticated power purchase agreement products and an agile 24/7 trading and optimization offering. Erik exited the company in early 2019 after they sold the business to Shell.

Looking for his next big challenge, Erik found his way back to Ghana, founding Kofa alongside an initial founding team in 2021. Kofa is tackling how people access clean and affordable energy in urban environments across Africa. The initial use cases are in clean energy powered electric motorcycles and stationary backup power needs. The motorcycle sector is currently a $30 billion annual market across Sub-Saharan Africa. Over half of this spending is on petrol used in motorcycles, and the remainder is on petrol and diesel used in generators.

Leaning on his previous experience building a distributed energy management platform, Kofa is building a technology platform to manage a swappable battery network. A critical part of this is establishing a standard “form factor” for the swappable batteries, incorporating the required IOT technology and software plus swapping infrastructure that will allow for an amazing customer experience.

Batteries will be accessed at swap stations spread across strategic locations in urban environments across Africa. The battery network is comprised of identical battery packs with the battery having a capacity of 2 kWh and weighing about 14 kg. These can be plugged directly into an electric motorcycle or connected to an inverter that can then be used to power AC loads for backup power or other productive use needs.

Kofa’s battery packs have a slick form factor with an ergonomic handle to make it easy for users to carry around, making them ideal for swapping. The Kofa motorcycles can accommodate 2 battery packs, which means a bike can have up to 4 kWh battery storage. Erik says the range of their motorcycles is in the region of 20 to 30 km/kWh depending on riding style, payload and road conditions. Kofa is initially targeting businesses that use motorcycles for delivery needs and also small and micro businesses that need access to reliable power during blackouts or for other productive use.

Kofa wants to encourage interoperability amongst mobility companies and aims to service multiple players in this sector. They are working to win them over by having the best battery swap network (coverage and reliability) as well as the best performing battery packs and usage models on the market. They see a big place for edge AI on their IOT boards that exist in each battery pack to help manage battery safety and network optimization. This is especially important when data connectivity can be problematic even in urban environments.

Kofa is in the midst of launching its first generation of products after having completed a series of pilots in 2022. Kofa already has 8 public battery swap stations in Accra along with roughly 50 motorcycles which are currently being released to customers. The company is launching with two payment models, a monthly subscription or a a pay as you go/pay per swap model.

Kofa will also incorporate payments via mobile money, a ubiquitous payment method in a lot of African countries that is enabling financial inclusion on a continent where the majority of citizens generally don’t have access to traditional banking channels. Leveraging the embedded software on their IOT boards, they plan to launch a service where clients can pay a fraction of the cost of a full charge and access a certain quantum of energy at a time.

Erik adds, “For example, a rider can pre-pay for 20% of a full charge, use the battery on a bike and earn some money then top up to unlock another chunk of energy from the battery pack without having to return the battery to a swap station.  We are supper excited about having these features that can lower the barriers to entry and also improve the value proposition for our customers.”

As the world electrifies, Kofa sees its battery network as a critical support and optimization tool to the local electricity grid.  Instead of needing to over-invest in expensive electricity grid infrastructure often needed to meet peak customer demand, Kofa believes its battery network will be able to deliver this access cheaper and faster in the short term, thereby allowing more optimal planning to be done when investing into grid infrastructure when the time is right. This will be a real incentive to local governments across the continent and will set a new precedent for providing access to clean and renewable energy.

Kofa currently has a big goal to reach 10 million customers across Africa actively using its battery network, equivalent to offsetting 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year by displacing petrol. This would also deliver around $2 billion in annual customer savings as the battery network is cheaper than using petrol.

To achieve this goal, Kofa has recently landed its first external funding round with backing from UK charity Shell Foundation and the UK’s FCDO, Mercy Corp Ventures, and Wangara Green Ventures, along with a small number of prominent angel investors. This funding will allow Kofa to accelerate its launch into multiple cities across Ghana with its improved second generation of products. Kofa’s team has now grown to 11, with the majority within product and engineering.

I am really excited about this approach. It will help tackle a critical problem in a lot of countries on the continent. The fact that they are targeting both the mobility sector as well as the stationary storage market with a uniform form factor allows to for scalability and helps to create a critical mass for their products. Interoperability has been a big issue on the continent with a plethora of startups all having different form factors, connectors, and management systems. A unified approach is needed to grow the sector.

Images courtesy of Kofa

 
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