Ecosia co-invested into two solar systems in Kenya, implemented by ecoligo, a Berlin-based start-up that crowdfunds and builds commercial systems in the Global South. Here, solar contributes to a more stable electricity supply for its customers and often replaces diesel generators – by far the dirtiest and most expensive form of electricity generation. We talk to Martin Baart, ecoligo's CEO.
Hey Martin! It’s been over 4 years since you founded ecoligo and started your journey to transform the energy landscape in emerging markets. Who came up with the idea? And why?
Back in 2013, ecoligo’s co-founder Markus Schwaninger and I met at a solar energy conference in Nairobi. We were living and working in Kenya and Ghana, respectively, and experiencing the same problem: we could not get suitable finance for solar projects we were trying to realize.
The projects we were working on would supply businesses like universities, hospitals and factories with clean, affordable energy, lowering their energy costs and saving tonnes of CO2 emissions. The situation frustrated us: the projects – if realized - could have had massive environmental and economic impact, by driving the energy transition in the world’s fastest-growing markets and enabling them to grow sustainably.
At the same time, we saw the growth of crowdinvesting in Europe; a flexible finance option that suited the solar projects perfectly. With these projects, we could provide profitable and sustainable investment opportunities that Europeans were lacking.
Since 2017, we’ve put this into action: private investors finance clean energy projects on the crowdinvesting platform www.ecoligo.investments and we implement the projects in countries across the global south.
Why solar energy?
It’s environmentally friendly, modular and flexible, and it’s one of the cheapest forms of energy. The cost of solar panels has plummeted while the efficiency and longevity of photovoltaic panels continues to rise, which suggests that the future remains bright for solar – particularly in the global south, where the solar irradiance is higher.
Markus and I are experts in solar power; he has the financial perspective, while my background is in engineering. We had the confidence to build a business on solar energy that we knew would be financially sustainable and have a strong environmental and social impact at the same time.
Do you have a plan to make solar more global?
Our goal is give every business in emerging markets access to carbon neutral energy. We urgently need to accelerate global decarbonization, both by lowering existing emissions and ensuring that new emissions don’t arise. ecoligo tackles both of these: by focusing on the world’s fastest growing markets, we aim to drive the energy transition so that future growth will be powered sustainably.
Our business model works in sunny locations where the grid energy costs for businesses are high. We’re active in Ghana, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Kenya right now and have just launched operations in Thailand! We’ve also opened an office in Chile and will start realizing projects there soon.
As a startup, we’re very flexible, can take opportunities quickly and have a large network of trusted partners who can manage the local installation and maintenance of the projects across the world, so we can enter new countries with relatively low barriers.
What kind of social impact do the projects have?
People in the global south will be – and are already – most impacted by climate change, despite having made the lowest contribution to it. As lowering CO2 emissions is central to negating catastrophic global warming, ecoligo’s environmental contribution will have a direct social impact.
Furthermore, ecoligo enables businesses to access affordable and reliable power, which lowers their energy costs significantly. This enables them to grow, creating local jobs and eventually increasing GDP of the local economy, which is linked to social factors such as better health outcomes, higher standards of education and increased gender equality.
Tell us about a recent success story.
In February, we entered the Vietnam market, which has been an amazing journey. Support and enthusiasm for solar in the market, a fast-growing economy and a government that has handled the Coronavirus pandemic extremely well have created great conditions for the uptake of solar power, particularly in the industrial sector.
We sign projects every week and have already installed close to 4 MW of solar capacity in the region – enough to power around 1500 german households each year. Crowdinvestors have been really excited about our entry into South East Asia and have financed the Vietnamese projects quickly, even throughout the pandemic. We’ve now entered Thailand too, which has also been met with great support. We’re really happy to have been able to introduce a second new country in the region to the crowd and enable them to diversify their portfolio.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
As a German company working in emerging markets, it’s been really important for us to gain the trust of our customers – particularly in the early days when we didn’t yet have traction. I moved back to Ghana for a while in 2017 to build a team and develop relationships with customers. Ever since then, we’ve always built local teams in each of our markets.
Being established in so many diverse markets can also create challenges, for example with navigating different legal frameworks. It also means that the global team has to be really good at communicating online, which has turned out to our advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the setup allows us to build trust, create value in our markets and minimise international flights, which is well worth the challenges it brings.
How can individuals get involved in Ecoligo?
By investing into our projects! On the crowdinvesting platform www.ecoligo.investments, individuals can invest from just 100 € and earn returns of at least 5% per year, while saving CO2 emissions and supporting sustainable economic growth. Information about each project can be found on the platform and you can send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ecosia users can get a 30 € cashback bonus on their first investment by using the code ‘ecosia30’, too!
If you’re not in a position to invest but want to get involved, follow us social media to keep up with our activities. We’re also always on the lookout for bright, passionate folks to join our team - more info can be found here.