Okra raises $12M as it brings solar power to grids in developing areas

It’s been fun watching Okra Solar’s journey over the last few years. I first encountered the firm on a trip to Shenzhen, before it won our 2019 Hardware Battlefield competition in that city. Today it’s announcing a $12 million Series A aimed at serving wide swaths of the world that presently lack access to electricity.

The startup’s flagship offering is a mesh-based solar solution that re-apportions excess energy based on proximity. That means rather than redirecting energy flow to a centralized area, it prioritizes neighboring homes. Okra says the solution increases efficiency while decreasing cost -- both are especially important in developing markets.

“With the compounding effects of population growth and growing industrialization, energy consumption on the African continent will increase disproportionately in the coming decades,” One Ventures’ Helen Lin says in a release. “The [International Energy Agency] forecasts that total power generation capacity in Africa is expected to double to 510 GW by 2030. There is no reason for this new power generation capacity to come from dirty fossil fuel power. We can skip that phase entirely and build it correctly from the start -- clean, renewable, and suited to the needs of this market.”

At One Ventures led the round, which also features participation from FMO, Susquehanna Private Equity Investments LLP, Autodesk Foundation and King Philanthropies. The round includes $7.85 million in equity financing.

Early on, it was easy to see the value for the technology in its target market and equally to imagine investors getting cold feet over questions around ROI. Of course, given that the IEA states that some 700 million people currently live without power, one can certainly see the potential in this market.

“It’s clear that mesh-grids are the most efficient way to achieve last-mile electrification. It starts by ensuring off-grid people have access to basic services such as lighting, e-cooking and water pumping, and next, to have all of these people connect to the global digital economy,” says CEO Afnan Hannan. “Now we need the regulations to keep up with exponential technology advancement for us to hit 100% electrification by 2030.”