Oct 14 • 41M

Making it easier to build distributed energy in the places where it's most needed

A conversation with Emily McAteer of Odyssey Energy Solutions about the challenges and opportunities of distributed energy in emerging markets.

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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For decades, I have been hearing happy talk about how people in emerging economies — people who do not have access to electricity, or whose access is low-quality and unreliable — can "leapfrog" the centralized grid system and move directly to a decentralized system based on solar power, batteries, and microgrids.

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It's a compelling idea, but for all the talk, it never seems to amount to much. There’s a constant trickle of feel-good stories, but the market never seems to develop at any kind of scale.

Emily McAteer learned this lesson the hard way, when she helped launch SunEdison's solar and microgrids business in India and East Africa. She quickly found that the habits and structures built up around financing large-scale energy projects are not well-adapted to building thousands of small projects. It was difficult to attract capital, difficult to secure equipment at reasonable prices, and difficult to track the performance of projects once they were built.

These lessons inspired McAteer to found Odyssey Energy Solutions, a company that has set out to standardize these sprawling, disparate markets. The idea is not to directly develop or build projects, but to provide a common platform where projects can be listed in a standardized format, where project developers and vendors can make themselves known and aggregate their orders, and where data on the operation of completed projects can be tracked. The purpose is to offer the kind of transparency and predictability that can de-risk these projects and attract more large-scale finance.

I'm intrigued by the idea, so I called McAteer discuss the potential size of this underserved market, the specific difficulties that Odyssey’s platform is meant to address, and the future of electricity in emerging markets.