Winch Energy Limited – Third Cohort Export Champion

 


Off-grid renewable energy developer

Location: Kent
Company website: www.winchenergy.com
Sectors: Engineering, Technology & Finance


Winch Energy is a global, off-grid renewable energy developer that brings a combination of solar design and construction expertise – providing sustainable, wired access to power off-grid communities, industries and infrastructures at cost-effective rates.

Winch’s primary product is its containerized PV-battery solution with mini-grid and smart meters. This proprietary technology, called the Remote Power Unit® (RPU®), is an innovative, containerised off-grid solution designed to provide power and communications to communities, social services and industries that currently are situated in rural environments and are relying on kerosene, diesel or intermittent and unreliable power from the grid.

Winch combines engineering, development, commercial and in country expertise to create change in rural African communities. It is at the forefront in the PV micro grid industry and one of the only sub-Saharan African focused off-grid power providers in the UK. Furthermore, whilst Winch is a for-profit organisation, its RPUs create permanent, positive change to the lives of thousands in sub-Saharan Africa and has the potential to revolutionise the entire region and elsewhere. They are striving for global sustainable development and the creation of durable prosperity.

We are delighted to be supporting Winch and their important work in off-grid communities, particularly with introductions to governments, suppliers and funders in Ghana, Zambia and other African markets.

 

Apply now to become an Export Champion.

Nick Wrigley Profile

Nicholas Wrigley, CEO

What makes your renewable energy products unique?
There is nothing unique about the technology we use – the technology is top tier, standard tried and tested. What makes our solution unique is that we are continuously perfecting the design to respond to the customer and environment whilst innovating our business models.

How did the idea for your business come about?
Winch was founded in 2006 and originally focused on standard on-grid solar projects in Europe. In 2014, Winch wanted to expand into a new market and began its due diligence in Africa. When analysing the African market, it was clear that the grid was unstable, intermittent and overloaded and it would be unattainable and unaffordable to extend the grid to the majority of the population who were currently living without access to electricity. This is where Winch saw a great opportunity and new business market in off-grid energy.

How do you ensure the maintenance of your products are kept?
In country training is key to what we do. Winch establish an O & M team and customer service center in each country we operate in. Each unit has a full-time agent assigned to it to ensure routine cleaning of the modules and monitoring of the system. Furthermore, we can monitor our units from our London office with our integrated remote monitoring and performance system.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
The main hurdle was acquiring good in country partners and employees, being a new industry this makes finding in-country expertise in rural sub-Saharan Africa much harder.

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?

  • Legislation: Off-grid energy is a relatively new concept for many African countries and resultantly the legislation and policy is still playing catching up. In fact, many countries are yet to liberalise their energy market altogether. Thus, the due diligence, specifically the licensing process, for off-grid projects is one of the biggest difficulties encountered.
  • Funding: The funding is available but there is still this chicken and egg concept where the staple requirements for debt funding requires a minimum of 10 working pilot units in country. However, the company then must finance these 10 units. This challenge comes about because it is a new market and funders need to become comfortable with off-grid and the only way to do this is through data which is still being collected.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business?

  • Winch received funding from EREN in 2016 and they have been very supportive investors throughout the growth of the company.
  • Our pilot units in Mauritania have been crucial to our development, it allows the government to see how the unit functions and allows funders to view live data. Our pilots in the desert of Mauritania also allowed us to perfect our technology to suit all environments and withstand extreme weather.

How did you hear about the CWF programme and what made you apply?
We have been working with NMS International to provide off-grid electricity for their social and residential housing projects in Africa. NMS were selected for the CWF for the first cohort in July 2016 and advised Winch to do the same due to the benefits of the program. When looking into the CWF we wanted to apply because Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia are all Commonwealth countries where we are keen to enter the market or currently progressing with deals and we believe support from the Commonwealth would help both parties.

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?

  • Help to increase understanding of the off-grid market and to encourage investment and educate ECAs to the positives and risks of a large scale off-grid rollout within the Commonwealth.
  • Support with contacting Commonwealth governments and developing long-standing relationships.

What is a typical working day for you?

  • There is never a typical working day at Winch – things change very rapidly as it is such an innovative industry – we are constantly developing new technology and working on different business models.

Are there any exciting projects in the pipeline that you wish to share?
Yes – our second commercial pilot is on the way to Mauritania as we speak. We are putting a pilot unit into south Benin in Q4 where we have an exciting partnership with a public body. Then in Uganda we have partnered with a telecom company and will be rolling out our Winch Hub, which is a telecommunication and mobile charging station in off-grid areas.

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
In 5 years time we envisage ourselves being an off-grid utility. We would like to have rolled out our RPU in 3 countries with a minimum export of 400 units. Therefore, we see a further development of regional infrastructure, including head offices and customer service call centres in the capitals and an Operations and Maintenace network within each country. We foresee our RPU rollout in 3 countries to cater for a minimum of 150,000 customers with 20,000 direct household, commercial and social connections.

What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Setting up an SME is not a job it’s a lifestyle, you must be prepared to fully immerse yourself into the business. I would advise anyone who is thinking about it to go for it but be prepared to be realistic, work hard and hire well.

 

 

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.