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Stories from the Field: Milken–Motsepe Prize in Green Energy Meet the Finalists: Omnivat

Stories from the Field: Milken–Motsepe Prize in Green Energy
Meet the Finalists: Omnivat

Tell us about your team.

Our team is composed of five members with diverse backgrounds who represent various corners of sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa, DR Congo, and Tanzania). We all met at the University of Cape Town and have been friends, advisors, and/or business partners to each other ever since. The Omnivat team has a combined 60 years of engineering and project execution experience in various industries across four continents. Our experience ranges from offshore drilling, water treatment, construction, electrical, mechanical, automation, software development, human-centered design, and socioeconomic development.

What inspired you to participate in the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy? In addition to competing for the $1 million grand prize, what do you hope to gain from this experience?

Africa is known for the historical struggles of our people and their pursuit of the resources to better their lives. Through the struggles and efforts of our elders, many of us in the Omnivat team were privileged to access resources such as electricity and education. This has enabled us to shape our lives and to work towards realizing our dreams.

We recognized that in our own backyard, many of our peers do not have the same opportunities. It is our present struggle as African youth to find and implement solutions for others. We are also excited to share ideas and collaborate with partners who share our vision. It was great that the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy centered around the merit of one’s design, its feasible implementation, and its scalability. The competition thus allowed us to rapidly prototype our concept into a sound, viable product that can really change lives in sub-Saharan Africa.

How will your concept expand access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity in Africa?

A key obstacle to reliable, quality electricity access is the high cost of extending the grid. While we are seeing partial solutions through the implementation of solar home systems, these are typically only feasible for low-tier energy demand (200Wh per household per day). This level of energy access does not lead to significant economic benefits for the majority of Africans, and solutions for higher demand categories are unaffordable for lower-income households.

Omnivat has developed a field-ready, factory-commissioned, containerized, smart microgrid with a hybrid energy storage system, relying on both lithium batteries and hydrogen storage. Omnivat’s Green Market will expand access to reliable, affordable, sustainable electricity, in both rural and peri-urban environments, through a number of design features:

  • Omnivat’s Green Market is designed to provide 1–2 kWh per household per day, enhancing the economic potential of rural or remote households through access to lighting, powering of digital devices, and importantly, refrigeration of food.

  • Omnivat’s system is designed to leverage “swarm” technology, which means it can connect to other microgrids to scale generation, reach more clients, and reduce the risk associated with low-to-no energy loads.

  • Omnivat’s Green Market can be easily and rapidly deployed in hard-to-reach locations and can be remotely monitored and controlled.

  • The use of second-life lithium batteries within the system enhances the virtuous cycle of clean energy production.

What sets you apart from other teams in this competition?

We have experienced sub-Saharan electricity access issues and infrastructure failures firsthand. As such, we have been able to develop a human-centered solution that contextualizes global technological trends to address the realities of the African lived experience.

Based on our experiences and knowledge of local challenges, Omnivat’s unique innovations include:

  • Hydrogen storage: Permitting long-duration, high-density energy storage (at a lower cost than lithium batteries), allowing us to stockpile a large quantum of energy and deliver more consistent, reliable, and affordable electricity that is less dependent on weather and seasonal variations.

  • Productive use of energy: Harnessing the technological inefficiencies that are present in typical energy generation systems by providing additional services such as water treatment and refrigeration to enhance quality of life and economic potential of African communities.

  • A “Green Market”: Designing for seamless integration into a rural community as a local marketplace, with other applications for residential, education, and health facilities.