Insights from the Final Stage of the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge

CLASP, IMC Worldwide and Energy 4 Impact are pleased to announce the winners of stage 2 of the UK aid-funded Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge (OGCCC). The OGCCC is an international competition to identify and promote the most energy-efficient, sustainable and cost-effective off-grid technologies and business models that can meet the cold storage requirements for fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products in off- and weak-grid areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the next month, CLASP, via Efficiency for Access, will release company profiles and videos on the four finalists to offer deeper insights into the unique challenges and opportunities of off-grid cold chain technologies and business models. This article summarizes the winning companies and key lessons learned.

DSC05715.jpg#asset:12898:urlCLASP’s Ruth Kimani installing a remote monitoring system in the EcoZen unit at BlueSky Farms in central Kenya

In June 2018, 10 companies were selected to progress to the second stage of the OGCCC. Each finalist was given £10,000 to help defray deployment costs of their cold rooms. For stage 2 of the competition, CLASP installed remote monitoring systems in each unit to evaluate technical performance and conducted qualitative surveys on site and over the phone with participants. Temperature and energy performance were captured on some units for as long as six months.

Of the 10 finalists selected to move on to stage 2, six were able to set up their cold storage units on location. Of these, only four could put their cold units to productive use. Three out of four were local manufacturers.

An expert panel of four judges selected first, second, and third place solutions. The judges’ selections and the corresponding prize amounts awarded to each company are as follows:

  • 1st Place – ColdHubs – £75,000
  • 2nd Place – EcoZen – £35,000
  • 3rd Place – FreshBox – £25,000
  • Runner Up – Ecolife

The CLASP team supports the expert judging outcome. Each of the four judges that participated have strong technical backgrounds in off-grid solar and cooling value chains.

ColdHubs-50.jpg#asset:12899A food vendor removes her produce from the Cold Hubs unit in Oweri, Nigeria to sell at the market

The judges selected ColdHubs as the 1st place solution primarily due to the impact the company’s cold rooms had on women farmers and market vendors. ColdHubs’ cooling as a service business model was identified as highly scalable and innovative.

EcoZen’s unit was identified as having high technical performance, a short repayment period and incorporated sophisticated Internet of Things that was greatly appreciated by the farm user. FreshBox persevered through technical challenges and eventually was able to provide valuable cooling services for milk, a particularly sensitive product. Ecolife’s cooling unit experienced technical challenges throughout the program. The enclosure of the cold room was insulated with recycled plastic bottles and was intended to store mangoes.

Check out the first profile and video featuring the runner up Ecolife.

ColdHubs-52.jpg#asset:12900A market vendor examines the produce he stored in the Cold Hubs unit in Oweri, Nigeria

Off-grid cold chain: challenges and opportunities

The OGCCC offered a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities for cold chain in key off- and weak-grid markets across Africa. The six finalist companies that were unable to deploy and use their cold units faced obstacles that offer valuable insights to investors, donors and governments going forward.

Some of the key challenges that surfaced during the competition were:

  • International companies struggled to find and work with local partners.
  • Local companies suffered for technical deficiencies that stemmed from lack of access to high-quality components and difficulty optimizing power system sizing.
  • All companies faced some type of financial challenge. These ranged from finalizing and deploying prototypes, finding farms able to pay the upfront cost of cold room, replacing faulty components and collecting small cash payments issue.
  • International companies faced unclear and onerous importation requirements while local companies faced challenges working with local municipal governments to obtain permission to locate their cold rooms in crowded markets.

By supporting the development of innovative cold chain solutions that run off clean energy, the OGCCC aimed to induce technology and business innovation.

Establishing cold chains as extensive and reliable as those in industrialized countries could enable smallholder farmers to substantially raise food supply. More support is needed to aid entrepreneurs seeking solutions to the many obstacles standing in the way of commercially viable and scalable off- and weak-grid cold rooms.

We greatly appreciate the participation of all these organizations and look forward to continuing to support the development of the off-grid cold chain sector.

The OGCCC was run as part of the Ideas to Impact program, which is funded by UK aid delivered by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and implemented by IMC Worldwide. Ideas to Impact designs and runs innovation prizes to incentivize contestants to solve challenges faced by the poor in low-income countries in Africa and South Asia. These include access to clean energy, water and sanitation, transport and climate change adaptation.


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