Electrification efforts in the developing world can gain strategic value through the use of energy management platforms. While such platforms are provided by large commercial parties, the off- and mini grid developers can choose to jointly develop an open energy management platform, so as to maintain ownership and avoid lock-in for their customers and the local economies. We (Seita BV) are willing to donate our existing platform, for instance to a newly-started foundation. A demo is available online.

The case for digital technology in energy management

The developing world is quickly adding electricity, often with the help of NGOs or non-profit organizations. This has a huge impact as hundreds of millions of people can improve their livelihood.

Digital technology for management, monitoring, visualization and forecasting of the energy consumption and generation data can help take these efforts much further, which is one of the key highlights of third-generation mini-grids [1], but also highly useful for off-grids. For instance, developers of solar power want to know if their off-grid installations have stopped functioning, either completely or to a large extent due to dirt or trees. They also want to compare their projects easily on a web dashboard. This also holds for mini-grids, but here an additional example is that the operation of batteries needs some smart scheduling.

As the digital revolution moves forward, actors in the off-grid and mini-grid sectors will need to choose their way forward. Many of these actors are operating on the margins (they are non-profits and/or NGOs). As digital technology is costly, they might choose to forego the opportunities mentioned above for the time being. Otherwise, they can develop their own platform, which is probably too expensive for most actors, or they decide to buy services from a commercial party

The case for an open-source approach

As a fourth option, we propose to harness the idea of open source technology [2] for this sector. Using open source technology is a strategic choice, which should be made rather early on. When compared to developing in-house software, open-source software can significantly lower the costs of each using party, as the community shares the burden of development. When compared to relying on commercial parties, we see the following advantages of using an open source energy management platform:

  • Avoidance of lock-in effects [3]. In effect, this means off- and mini-grid developers keep independence from large players like for example Microsoft [4] or EON [5], who are attempting to establish large energy data platforms and thus gain access to customers (and market share) based on the developer’s efforts.
  • Economic opportunities for local economies. The lock-in effect mentioned above affects not only the developers, but would also keep the business value of maintaining IT infrastructure from being done in the local economies. Open-source software would forego this effect and also lower the barrier of entrance for local entrepreneurs.
  • More influence on prioritization of features. Developers would have a say in what the platform should be able to do, which might give weight to other objectives than commercial platform operators would consider.
  • More control over storage of privacy-sensitive data (for instance consumption patterns).
  • Transparency over the algorithms and the security techniques being used.

A foundation which governs the software and its principles could be set up, which is co-owned and coordinated by all energy developers.

As a sidenote, using public funds to develop open source software is not harmful for competition [6].

Initial donation: EMPRAS

Seita is a spin-off from Science Park Amsterdam (The Netherlands), with research experience in smart grids and professional experience in web application development.

For a project in South Korea, we built a versatile, cloud-based energy management system [7] for aggregation, monitoring and forecasting of electricity consumption and generation. It uses the USEF framework [8] for describing energy assets, the roles and interactions.

This took about 22 man-months to build to the current state, so it has seen substantial investment. While the original platform is still in use, we also made a demonstration available separately [9].

Seita BV owns the intellectual property for EMPRAS at this moment, but sees it as a great opportunity to donate this IP and open it up for electrification efforts in the developing world. Supporting the electrification of the developing world (e.g. Africa or Asia) would fit Seita’s mission [10] of working on technology for sustainable development.

Our position would be to offer services around it, like developing more features and preferably to grow the knowledge and documentation for it, so there are more people able to maintain and improve it. Ideally, entrepreneurs in the developing world can be trained to become experts in it.

We are looking for piloting partners from the off-grid and mini-grid sector, but mostly for the right champion, who can bring together enough enthusiasm so that this idea might go forward.

We are looking forward to discuss this – please contact nicolas@seita.nl


[1] https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/31926/Mini-Grids-for-Half-a-Billion-People-Market-Outlook-and-Handbook-for-Decision-Makers-Executive-Summary.pdf
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_model, also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_models_for_open-source_software
[3] https://journalofcloudcomputing.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13677-016-0054-z The vendor lock-in problem in cloud computing is the situation where customers are dependent (i.e. locked-in) on a single cloud provider technology implementation and cannot easily move in the future to a different vendor without substantial costs, legal constraints, or technical incompatibilities.
[4] https://guardian.ng/energy/ice-commercial-power-microsoft-partner-to-improve-smes-access-to-solar-energy
[5] https://www.ammp.io/, a spin-off from German energy company EON.
[6] https://fsfe.org/news/2019/news-20190806-01.html
[7] http://seita.nl/empras/ Description of the energy management platform’s features.
[8] https://usef.energy
[9] https://demo.a1-bvp.com/ Use username “test-prosumer@seita.nl” and password “qB7e9rk”.
[10] http://seita.nl/mission