This feature story is an outcome of infoDev, a multi-donor program administered by the World Bank Group, with a focus on entrepreneurs in developing economies.
On a windy rooftop in Casablanca, Morocco, Karim El Alami smiles as he looks out over the city. For years, Karim has dreamt of becoming a part of his country’s transition to solar energy, and after studying engineering, his dreams have only grown more ambitious. At the right price, Karim believes that solar energy will soon leapfrog the larger grid systems used in more developed countries.
Karim explains, “To me, getting energy from the sun is one of the purest ways to generate energy. It was why I wanted to be an engineer. I believe that this technology can radically change how we conceive energy in Africa.”
Solar Energy – a Competitive Option
Despite his enthusiasm, Karim was often told that solar energy was simply too expensive and couldn’t compete with other energy sources in Africa. In recent years, however, the price for solar panels have dropped tremendously and several innovations have made solar energy systems more efficient and affordable.
“We are facing a solar energy revolution,” he says. “Between 2010 and 2016, the price of solar panels became four times cheaper, making the production of solar energy today cheaper than the electricity we currently purchase in Morocco, and even more so in Africa.”
Just last year, he and Cyril Colin founded eLum, a company that offers a software-as-a-service product, dubbed the Energy OS (Operating System). It employs artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers manage on-grid and off-grid energy costs.
Karim is confident that their company can play a key role in enabling Morocco’s solar industry to flourish and commoditize local, decentralized, and carbon-free energy.
Artificial Intelligence That Plans for a Rainy Day
“We are developing AI software in order to optimize the energy between the solar panels, battery systems, and the grid to reduce the electricity bills of commercial and industrial buildings,” he says.
Their innovative solution targets companies looking to gain insight and save costs on their electricity bills and fuel consumption. eLum is piloting an energy storage system coupled with a photovoltaic production unit that runs on their Energy OS. This service represents a new opportunity for industries that have traditionally relied on the national energy system to move off-grid, as well as an opportunity to make significant reductions in their energy costs.
eLum has two competitive advantages: a powerful AI algorithm that forecasts both energy consumption and weather, as well as the ability of the software to be plugged into any kind of battery (lithium or lead-acid) technology or brand.
The firm can increase the value and profitability of both on-grid and off-grid energy projects, making it more attractive for industries to invest in renewable energy production and storage. It helps its customers save at least 20% of their energy costs and reduce their carbon emissions by 30%.
In its first year, with support from the Morocco Climate Innovation Center (MCIC), the company has grown fast. Currently, it counts 11 full-time staff and has offices in Paris and Casablanca. And there are more opportunities for growth: There is a large need for effective energy management systems across the African continent, especially in telecom towers and the mining industry.
"On the Edge of Something Big"
For now, eLum’s first target customer is the telecom industry in Morocco and across Africa. The company aims to help the industry optimize production, storage, and consumption of renewable energy.
Beyond cutting costs for businesses, eLum has the potential to create a positive environmental impact by reducing losses linked to the transportation of electricity (estimated to be between 3% and 7%), as well as reducing carbon emissions and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels.
Karim envisions a future where the entire continent of Africa will access cleaner, more sustainable energy at dramatically cheaper costs. For eLum to be a part of this future, timing is everything and their sense of urgency is palpable.
“We are at the edge of something big. There is a boom in renewable energies!” Karim shared excitedly, “So, you can feel that the wave is coming, and like in surfing, you have to be prepared to catch the wave. It’s really awesome to live in this era and help increase access to clean energy for all.”
eLum certainly would not have caught this wave without the support of the Morocco CIC, which Karim says was one of the first institutions in the country to build relationships between start-ups and larger industry groups. infoDev has also taken a deep-dive to map Morocco’s climate entrepreneurship ecosystem and recently developed a report titled Igniting Climate Entrepreneurship in Morocco.
eLum is one of many companies which are supported by the Morocco Climate Innovation Center. The center is funded by the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land, and Sea, and is part of infoDev's network of Climate Innovation Centers.