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Off-Grid Europe GmbH electrifies 120 villages as part of the „ASER 300“ project.

Pfullendorf/Dakar (jm).
Solar Engineers from southern Germany are sending a different kind of container to the people of rural Senegal:  Off-Grid Europe GmbH, based in Pfullendorf (near the Lake of Constance), and its subsidiary Off-Grid Africa SUARL are ensuring that 120,000 people in Senegal are getting access to electricity for the first time in their lives. On behalf of the Senegalese Energy Agency (ASER) and German engineering company Gauff Engineering, the specialists are electrifying at least 120 villages using their Solar Container systems. Each village will receive its own minigrid from Pfullendorf, which will ensure complete energy security using 100% solar power. The idea behind this outstanding and internationally renowned solution, in which solar energy is converted into electricity for direct usage or to be stored in batteries for later usage, comes from Christiane and Mark Kragh. For Off-Grid Europe GmbH, which employs 20 people in Pfullendorf, the ASER300 project is the largest order in the company’s twelve-year history.

„It’s great that we were able to convince the clients with our unusual concept, because we are sure that our solution is the most efficient and, above all, the cheapest way to bring electricity to remote areas where there is little to no infrastructure. Our off-grid electrification in Senegal is a lighthouse project that can serve as a model for other projects around the world,“ says Christiane Kragh, who founded the company together with her Danish husband, Mark, in London in 2010 and has developed it into one of the world’s leading specialists for off-grid systems.

Off-Grid Europe has successfully implemented more than 50 electrification projects of various sizes in recent years. These include systems with use cases as diverse as powering three hospitals in Nigeria, in remote mining operations in Mauritania, a rural airport electrification in Papua New Guinea and a large ranch in Paraguay.

Electricity needed for water pumps

One of the aims of the project in Senegal is to supply electricity to run water pumps so that local women no longer have to carry water for miles. There is a great need to catch up: less than 50% of the Senegalese population in rural areas are connected to the grid.

All the more reason to use the solar systems from Off-Grid Europe. The solar containers are customized to every village’s specific needs. They arrive at the respective villages as plug-and-play systems in a standard 20-foot shipping container and are installed and commissioned there within just two to four days. With only minor groundwork and the installation of the solar panels needing to be done on site once the container arrives, these systems will be delivering electricity within a matter of days

A photovoltaic system can be mounted on the roof of the container at a variable angle, depending on the size of the village. The output varies from 15 kW to 45 kW. Via an inverter, the direct current from the PV system is converted into alternating current and finally stored in powerful battery systems. The solar storage units from Off-Grid Europe are fully air-conditioned and thus ensure that the components operate at the recommended temperature for the longest possible lifetime. The company’s proprietary monitoring and control software, the Off-Grid Controller, sends real-time updates to a cloud platform on all aspects of the system.

Fully comprehensive all-in-one system

„We are one of the few service providers that can provide the complete package of hardware and software at an absolute top level,“ says Mark Kragh, who has just returned from the roll-out in Senegal. In the meantime, the first Off-Grid Europe containers have arrived in the villages. „It took us about a week to install the first container, including all the preparatory work on site, but then the second one was up and running within three days. Once the processes were optimized, we only needed an average of two to four days to install an off-grid system, depending on its size,“ Kragh reports. The goal is to be able to install more and more containers simultaneously at different locations. “Think of our process as a traveling circus where we fan out from our base station to the respective villages says Kragh, who is considered a mastermind in the industry.

Quality „Made in Germany“ is enormously important to Christiane and Mark Kragh. Thus, 90 % of all components of the systems come from Germany, among others from SMA, one of the leading suppliers of inverters and other solar technology.

Next project already in the pipeline

The roadmap is a busy one: 80 villages are to be electrified by the end of 2021, and once that’s done, the real work begins: „Thanks to our good performance, we are already planning a follow-up order for another 120 villages in the next two years. For us, this is an incentive to invest even more resources in research and development in order to be able to offer even more efficient solutions. The faster we can implement projects, the better. To this end, we are also investing heavily in the further development of our software, the Off-Grid Controller,“ says Mark Kragh.

Ahead of the big companies

Leadership through pragmatism is the company’s key, which has become their formula for success. Time and again, Christiane and Mark Kragh and their international team of specialists win tenders over global corporations because they offer a better technologically solution at a better price. „That’s good for us, but to be honest, it annoys me personally that many suppliers simply do not deliver more efficient and affordable solutions for wider implementation. Together, we could accomplish so much more for people and make their everyday lives easier. That’s why it would be important to have more fellow campaigners like we are,“ says Mark Kragh.

With the project in Senegal, Mark and his team have once again proven what it means to go all out Within a very short time, the subsidiary in Senegal, Off-Grid Africa SUARL, was founded last year with a team of 20 employees. It consists of engineers, electricians, and support staff. Not only the manpower, but also the number of machines and trucks is to be doubled in the coming weeks.

Quality assurance is important

Quality assurance is top priority at Off-Grid Europe. This means that each solar container is assembled, commissioned and tested in the production facility in Pfullendorf. Afterwards, the system with all its components needed for the on-site installation is safely packed and shipped to Senegal via Hamburg. It takes up to three months from the time a container is loaded to the time it is commissioned. „We need three weeks for assembly, about four weeks for shipping, and then it depends on how quickly a container gets through customs. Therefore, we plan ahead with a buffer of two to three containers,“ says Mark Kragh.

The solar storage project has been commissioned by the Senegalese Energy Agency (ASER) and is funded by the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) with a total budget of 130 million euros. It is managed by Gauff Engineering (Nuremberg) and implemented by Off-Grid Europe and Off-Grid Africa, among others. The Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ (German Society for International Cooperation) has trained many prospective installers on site, some of whom will be present during the installations.

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