Ecoligo: get solar, get it financed

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Martin Baart and Markus Schwaninger founders of Ecoligo
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By EMMA PATMORE

The founders of Ecoligo, Martin Baart and Markus Schwaninger, met in October 2013 at a solar conference in Nairobi. Martin had been active in Sub- Saharan Africa for more than 5 years and Markus had 4 years of working experience in Africa and lived in Kenya in 2010 and 2011. Both working on the development of solar projects in these markets, the two had each come to understand that while solar is the most cost efficient and climate friendly way of producing energy in many or even most areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. However, they saw that access to finance was and still is hindering market penetration of solar in developing countries due to the high upfront capital requirements of the solar technology. A solution was needed, and in early 2016, the two founded Ecoligo.

Understanding the problem

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When the two first they met, Martin’s work was focused on the project development of solar projects to power commercial and industrial (C&I) customers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. However, most of the projects the company planned and developed were not implemented, as the clients did not have sufficient capital to invest and could not gain access to suitable loans.

At this time, Markus was working for the German development cooperation GIZ and was advising German solar companies in market entry to these countries – developing strategies, business models, and financial strategies for them. However, most companies he supported were only able to realize a pilot project co-financed through grants and never succeeded in a follow up project.

Access to capital was and still is the problem: while utility -scale solar power plants in Africa are funded by institutional investors, small and medium scale solar projects in the C&I space have no access to suitable financing. The projects are too small to be interesting to institutional investors, and bank loans come with very high interest rates. However, these projects have the potential for high returns, if the right financing structure is found.

Finding the solution

It was clear to Martin and Markus that a suitable solution to the finance issue was required. Not only should this close the finance gap for C&I solar projects, but also help potential customers to decrease their electricity cost and therefore increase the profit margin of their business, as well as secure the future of their energy supply and benefit the environment.

Consequently, they started ecoligo; a solar solutions company that provides low-cost solar power to local businesses in developing countries as a service. The solar projects are financed through ecoligo’s crowdinvesting platform, closing the finance gap and offering profitable investments with a positive environmental and economic impact to the crowd.

ecoligo works with trusted local partners that the two founders know since years to construct turnkey solar systems, owning these through a local subsidiary that sells electricity to the off-taker through a solar- as-a-service agreement. The C&I off-taker owns the solar power system after the agreement ends.

The journey

The pre-foundation phase of Ecoligo started in October 2015 when Martin and Markus got accepted with their business idea for the Climate KIC accelerator stage 1. In February 2016, they founded Ecoligo as GmbH and left their previous jobs to focus on the company. Since August 2016 Ecoligo was incubated by the InnoEnergy Highway, during which time Emma Patmore was hired as a Marketing Manager. Ecoligo also hired Cas Luuring as a Sales Support Manager from February 2017.

He worked as an intern since September 2016 for the company.

Ecoligo plans to launch a pilot project in March, and Martin will move to Ghana in April 2017 in order to strengthen relationships with contractors and energy off-takers, build up a local sales team and supervise the first projects.

Founders’ experience

With more than 20 years of combined experience in the renewable energy industry and 14 years in ecoligo’s target markets in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, Martin and Markus’ innovative business idea was founded on their knowledge of the market and shaped by their expertise in the field.

Martin Baart, B. Eng. & MBE

Before Ecoligo, Martin was working as Vice President Engineering for OneShore Energy and was responsible for management of the engineering and software development teams. Prior to this, he built up the Renewable Integration and Microgrids organization for ABB and was responsible for business development within the EMEA region. During his career, Martin has founded company offices in new markets, increased sales from zero to more than 3 million € and implemented 9 MWp in solar capacity in different countries, including Kenya.

Markus Schwaninger, Dipl. Wi.-Ing.

Before co-founding Ecoligo, Markus worked as a Project Manager for the German development organisation (GIZ) and was responsible for advising renewable energy companies entering the markets in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Myanmar. While living in Kenya, he was actively pushing the renewable energy market development and worked on carbon credit and renewable energy projects. Markus has financially structured projects of 2 million € and advised solar companies such as SMA, Qinous, Asantys, juwi, D:Hybrid, OneShore Energy, E.on off-grid solutions.

Markus and Martin are both Certified Experts in Climate and Renewable Energy Finance from the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. They have a large network in the renewable energy industry with over 5,000 German and international contacts between them. Furthermore, they are often asked to speak at conferences and trainings, such as Intersolar and the West African Clean Energy Conference, on the topics of renewable energy development and finance.

Emma Patmore is the senior marketing manager

emma.patmore@ecoligo.com

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