"The role of renewable energy in Africa began long before modern civilization, these technologies now need to be scaled within commercial applications".
Some innovations are the result of a spot-on alchemy of ingredients: passion, knowledge, and inspiration. No matter how small they appear: they can literally transform our conceptions and beliefs, especially when it comes to a world, the one of energy, in which a revolution is nowadays more urgent than ever.
The protagonist of today’s story is a brilliant African young woman, who decided to be an ambassador of change and who, since then, hasn't taken a single day off from her mission: Tracy Kimathi.
Tracy is 27, and she was born and bred in Nairobi, Kenya: a girl like many others, at first glance. And yet, she's endowed with a rare gift: an unshakable spirit of initiative and business acumen. Unlike many self-driven entrepreneurs, however, she decided to put her energy at the service of her land and her people, being fully "Eager to share her skills and knowledge so as to further develop the African […] energy sector".
A rough diamond, which still needed some polishing in order to shine and unleash all its potential. This operation of refinement was performed in the framework of the Micro - Grid Academy, which Tracy attended in 2018. The training was a real turning point for her: it allowed her to break the ice with the broad and unexplored field of off-grid solar solutions, but it also caused something to click in her mind: "The MGA was pivotal not only to my technical encounter with renewable energy, but also in how to use these technologies to create commercially operating models".
Such a reflection doesn't solely respond to the entrepreneurial mindset of ensuring profit to the investors: as a matter of fact, in Africa, the commercial value of a renewable energy project is a condicio sine qua non for its economic, environmental and social impact, as public finances and institutions are too often unable to step in as relevant actors of the energy transition.
Tracy fully treasured the teachings of the Micro-Grid Academy, grasping the bigger picture and giving it a name and a shape: Tree_Sea.mals Ltd, an innovative startup aiming at providing solar-powered cold rooms for livestock farmers in rural areas of Eastern Africa.
A groundbreaking and impactful idea, able to comply with multiple SDGs at once while providing a breath of fresh air to a whole value chain.
Let's find out why.
Quite an intricate tangle to unravel, right? And yet, a simple but spot-on idea can provide a comprehensive solution, able to address a wide-scoped issue while also representing a profitable venture. What is more, is that such a fresh solution can be achieved in a totally carbon-neutral way.
A flight of fancy? On the contrary: a solid reality. It's called Baridi ("cold" in Swahili), and its architect, needless to say, is Tracy. The project inherits the precious business model of Tree_Sea.mals Ltd, applying it to a new context where it's urgently needed: meat markets of African urban environments. As Tracy explains, " My startup, Tree_Sea.mals Ltd. pivoted from providing PV electrification services to rural populations to enabling PEU Solar Powered Cold rooms in urban meat markets […] We currently trade under the name of Baridi, and we launched our first unit in December 2021".
The project includes 5kWp stand-alone PV systems, providing energy to 20ft cold rooms, relying on a Pay-As-You-Store scheme. To put It simply, thanks to Baridi's containerized solution, butchers and meat traders can now pay a small fee, access a solar-powered cold storage unit, and stock as much product as they want.
An ace-wins-all, a perfect interpretation of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus and, last but not least, a great and profitable entrepreneurial idea.
An idea that goes with the flow of something bigger: Africa's journey towards sustainability.
We'd lie If we said that Baridi's growth didn't face any obstacles. Tracy clearly outlines some of the biggest challenges the project is facing: "[There is] a relatively high CAPEX per unit – Each solar chiller unit we aim to launch has a fixed capital expenditure of USD 50,000". Moreover, "There’s a risk that the public market consumers might not uptake the technology. Most solar-powered cold room developers have proved the concept in fruit & vegetable markets, whereas our innovation is specifically targeted at the relatively unexplored livestock market".
However, despite the challenges, Tracy's plans for the future of Baridi are bold and far-reaching: "Within the next year, Baridi hopes to have launched 2 additional Pay-As-You-Store solar chiller systems in Nairobi’s meat markets. Within the next 7 years, Baridi hopes to have launched 70 Pay-Store and Least-to-Own units across East & Southern African countries".
That's exactly the pioneering spirit we praise and promote at RES4Africa. Renewable energy is a formidable resource to embark into new, unexplored lands, producing unprecedented impact and forging ahead towards a fully sustainable future.
Keep up the good work, Tracy: Africa counts on you.