For a country like Egypt with so much sunshine, it’s surprising that we hardly have any solar energy initiatives. KarmSolar is one of the few Egyptian companies that have ventured into this, yet to be tapped, market. To succeed they needed to develop solutions that are both cost-efficient and environmentally friendly, which meant they had to overcome a host of obstacles along the way. eniGma’s Lina Ashour finds out how these young entrepreneurs are faring in their ground breaking initiative.
Ahmed Zahran, CEO of KarmSolar is not like any other entrepreneur. With KarmSolar he was venturing into a virtually untapped market. “Now that I think about it, it was such a big risk,” says Zahran. “We were heading into the complete unknown. The kind of people who work on projects like these are those who are willing to take on a challenge, learn something new, and are not entirely concerned with the money aspect,” he explains. Together with his three co-founders, Yumna Madi, Xavier AuClaire and Randa Fahmy, Zahran says they were ready to take on the challenge.
They realised early on that cost effectiveness was the only way to make solar energy a more appealing concept to companies, bank lenders, and the government.“The only way you can bring solar energy into the market is by making it cost-efficient. No one is going to invest in something just because it’s environmentally friendly,”says Yumna Madi, Chief Business Development Officer at KarmSolar.
“It all started when we visited a farm in Farafra that was looking for a solution for their energy shortage problem,” says Madi. “We discovered that pumping water is one of the most energy intensive processes in agriculture. Considering that Egypt lies on the solar belt, the solution of replacing diesel engines with solar-powered pumps naturally presented itself. So through research and development we developed an off-grid water pumping solution. It’s a stand alone system that does not need a battery,” Madi notes.
Their innovative thinking was what led to their introduction of their commercially viable solar energy solution. “The main obstacle we face is the negative stigma surrounding solar energy; people think it’s really expensive or it doesn’t work,” explains Madi. KarmSolar is working hard on dispelling this stigma. Once completed, their first project entailed an actual 50 to 60 % saving in the cost of energy. At peak performance, their solar energy pump was able to outperform the diesel generator.
With energy sources in Egypt becoming increasingly unreliable, the timing of this initiative could not have been better. The long lines for diesel in the streets of Cairo are the clearest indication of the need for new energy solutions. The people behind KarmSolar are hoping to see a shift in the government’s energy strategy towards investment in solar energy and other renewable energy sources.
Chief Technical Innovation Officer, Xavier AuClair, believes that KarmSolar’s experience offers some important lessons to new entrepreneurs. “Do something that you like. If you work in something that you like, you’ll be motivated and able to energise other people around you. That’s how you create the momentum and commitment.” Zahran also has some practical advice to offer in that respect: “You’ll have fewer opportunities as you get older so you might as well take risks when you’re young. If you have an idea just go ahead and do it. Later on you’ll have more responsibilities that could make that decision much harder.”