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AFD Digital Energy Challenge 2021
The Digital Energy Challenge launched by AFD is one of the four pillars of the Digital Energy Facility, a program financed by the European Commission and implemented by AFD. The challenge awards projects that foster innovation and digitization in the Energy sector and is open to start-ups and public power utilities in partnership with an innovative technology or service provider.

First published in December 2021, this article was updated on 27 January, 2022. 

See all of our articles in the "Shared Innovation" series

On November 25, 2021 the first edition of the challenge, which covered all of sub-Saharan Africa, shone the spotlight on eight winning projects.

In the Start-up category

Theme: New/innovative solutions for energy access businesses

1Nanoé - Madagascar
Solar nanogrids for the ‘lateral electrification’ of rural areas - Founded in 2016

Rural populations in Africa are not always connected to centralized power production units for reasons of cost or population density. “Designed specifically for African rural environments our ‘lateral electrification’ model combines a technological innovation and an innovative organizational approach” says Nolwenn Le Saux, co-founder of Nanoé.

Developed by the start-up, autonomous collective solar systems or nanogrids, can power 4-6 households. The nanogrids can be connected together to form micro-grids or connected to a larger grid. Consumers use a mobile prepayment system for daily access and consumption.

The first systems were set up in 2017 in the Ambanja district in Madagascar and today over 4000 households have access to electricity. The start-up is hoping to scale the project up to other rural villages in Africa. In addition, Nanoé is implementing a local, decentralized electrification platform to train and assist nano-entrepreneurs to build and operate the nanogrids.


Okey Esse
Okey Esse | © Sébastien Gracco de Lay


2Powerstove Offgrid Electricity Ltd - Nigeria
Biomass-based cooking stoves that generate electricity - Founded in 2018

In Nigeria 45 % of the population do not have access to electricity. “Poor and low-income families are currently spending more than 25 % of their income on fuel for cooking and lighting” says Okey Esse, CEO and Project Leader at Powerstove.     

The start-up designs, manufactures and distributes smart stoves that can use various fuels such as biomass pellets, woodchips, palm kernel shells and charcoal. The innovative, smokeless stoves burn 70 % less biomass than traditional ones. They can cook food five times faster and generate electricity, allowing off-grid households to charge small appliances such as lamps and mobile phones. Surplus electricity is stored in a lithium-ion battery so users can charge devices with a USB even when the stove is off.

“Our solution offers clear economical, societal and environmental benefits” adds Okey Esse. The company is keen to develop a Save-to-Own (S2O) payment system to reach lower income families. Once an individual can pay 30 % of the stove price, he/she receives a stove and can start repayments using carbon credits.

Theme: Services to the grid

Annabel Johnstone
Annabel Johnstone | © Sébastien Gracco de Lay


3Hydro Operation Great Lakes (HOGL) - Rwanda
System that provides on-site operations assistance and remote monitoring of hydroelectric power plants - Founded in 2016

In the Republic of Rwanda nearly 60 % of the electrical supply comes from hydro power plants. Systems that improve plant efficiency have a considerable impact on energy availability and play large part in achieving the national target of 100 % electricity access by 2030. “Many hydro power plants are unable to efficiently monitor their operations and maintenance due to a lack of automated data collection methods and centralized data management” says Annabel Johnstone, Project Manager for Hydro Operation Great Lakes (HOGL). This means that a decrease in performance in certain areas can go undetected.   

The HPPBot, developed by HOGL, closes this information gap. The tool, designed for hydro power plant operators and owners, improves production by monitoring the plant’s operations and effectiveness. The onsite and remote dashboards display energy losses identified in the plant and suggest remedial actions.

The project is in its pilot stage with the Rwaza Hydro power plant on the Mukungwa river and is scalable to any hydro power plant in Africa.

Love Adeosun et Elie Bitar
Love Adeosun & Elie Bitar | © Sébastien Gracco de Lay


4Smarterise Integrated Solutions Ltd - Nigeria
Intelligent grid solution that enhances power utilities’ performance - Founded in 2015

Utility companies in Nigeria charge low fees and do not have sufficient means to invest. This vicious circle leads to poorly maintained equipment, low grid availability and unhappy customers, and this, despite recent reforms to the energy payment system.

Smarterise provides grid operators with real-time insights based entirely on digital solutions to ensure better financial, operational and environmental performance. The smart grid solution uses the installation of remote sensors and AI applications tailored to the needs of Nigerian utilities. “The end-to-end cloud solution collects, processes and delivers insights to a software platform, with a better user experience for its customers” says Love Adeosun, Project Manager at Smarterise.

The technology not only reduces financial shortfalls linked to energy loss currently faced by many utilities but also helps build the future of utilities in Africa, by enabling them to embrace capacity for renewable energy and better manage demand.

Theme: Innovative clean energy solutions, equipment and appliances for SMEs

Momar Fall

Momar Fall | © Sébastien Gracco de Lay


5Nomadesoft (La Case solaire) - Senegal
A mobile application to optimize irrigation by solar water pumps - Founded in 2017

Many irrigation systems in Africa function with fossil fuels. The Smart Farming Assistant developed by the start-up Nomadesoft, provides farmers with clean, smart and more economic irrigation systems. “Our intelligent solar water pump automates irrigation and farmers can control the pump via a smartphone app” says Momar Fall, CEO and Project Lead at Nomadesoft. The app also offers advice on agricultural matters through podcasts and videos.
“Our business model is based on social franchising and employs young, local people. In addition, our pay-as-you-can system takes into account the seasonality of farmers’ revenue streams enabling easier investment for them” adds Momar Fall. With already 25 franchisees trained on the installation and maintenance of the solar pumps and good agricultural practice, the replicability of the business model will facilitate the scale up of the project across other regions in the country.

Further reading: our series on shared innovation

Category for public power utilities in partnership with an innovative technology/service provider

Theme: Improvement of grid management and quality of service

6Compagnie Énergie Électrique du Togo & Aplines - Togo
Asset risk analytics, AI and satellite imagery for the prevention and reduction of network outages due to vegetation - Project launch 2021

In the Lomé region, 50 % of all power cuts are caused by vegetation such as fallen trees or branches on or near power lines. Prevention and corrective maintenance are costly and sometimes inefficient. “Improving the quality of service for our customers and mitigating our financial losses are key concerns” says Ahamed Boukari, Project Manager at the Compagnie Énergie Électrique du Togo (CEET).

Aptimize is a Software as a Service (SaaS) asset management solution offering a vegetation monitoring module. Based on artificial intelligence and satellite imagery the application assesses the risk posed by vegetation on electricity networks. “Aptimize provides considerable support for decision making and brings greater efficiency in maintenance operations such as inspection, diagnosis and pruning” says Yann Raoult, president of Aplines.  

The solution has been designed to be deployed worldwide in urban or rural environments and is fully customizable. In addition, Aptimize enables optimization of the maintenance programmes and grid investment from a cost/risk/benefit standpoint.

Luc Richaud
Luc Richaud | © Sébastien Gracco de Lay


7Tanzania Electric Supply Company Ltd (TANESCO) & Odit-e - Tanzania
Low-voltage grid digitization software to optimize management and operation of electricity distribution - Project launch 2021

Tanesco, the Tanzanian public power company is keen to improve energy efficiency through grid digitization enabled by smart meters deployment.

In Moshi, in the north-east of Tanzania, Odit-e’s artificial intelligence module for smart metering systems will provide Tanesco with insights into the blind spots in their low-voltage network.  “The data collected from the smart meters will enable us to build a digital model and use it to implement innovative services such as deep grid analysis, a tool to locate and quantify non-technical losses and a simulation software to estimate PV hosting capacity” says Luc Richaud, Project Manager at Odit-e, a technology specialist in low-voltage network digitization.

Odit-e’s AI module enables the Distribution System Operators to leverage the data generated by smart meters regardless of the meters’ vendor and communication technology used. After an initial test period in Moshi, it is hoped that the smart metering system along with Odit-e’s AI module be installed on other Tanesco sites nationwide.

Theme: Universal energy access

Ousmane Sarr, Romain Frandji
Ousmane Sarr & Romain Frandji | © Sébastien Gracco de Lay


8Agence Sénégalaise d'Électrification rurale (ASER) & CPCS Transcom Ltd - Senegal
Georeferencing and mapping method using AI for electrical distribution networks - Project launch 2021

Today, very few power utilities in sub-Saharan Africa have a digitized map of their distribution network. “The robot developed by CPCS will enable us to map out the distribution network of a locality in real time, in just a few days rather than months, with greater precision thanks to artificial intelligence” says Ousmane Fall Sarr, Director of Studies and Planning and Project Lead at the Agence Sénégalaise d’Électrification Rurale (ASER).   

Mounted on a vehicle, the RobotMapper tool digitizes a locality's distribution network with high location precision, providing reliable data to facilitate electrification project planning and maintenance. The tool also facilitates the inspection of the network’s overhead lines and medium/low voltage equipment.

“We designed the tool to help power utilities optimize their operating activity and energy access planning. The robot is equipped with high resolution cameras, GPS and distance sensors that collect information to form a valuable database for the utility” says Romain Frandji, Project Manager at CPCS.

The content of this publication falls under the sole responsibility of the AFD and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the European Union.