Cambridge Energy Partners

Cambridge Energy Partners: Using clean & affordable power to drive sustainable development in remote areas

Cambridge, United KingdomZambia
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

CEP sells solar energy to mines in remote regions. Our patent-pending power system provides large financial, environmental, & social benefits. For no upfront costs, customers can: cut power costs by ~25%, reduce CO2 emissions by ~30%, & use this energy to help grow local businesses and communities

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if a single mine could be the catalyst that enables 10,000s of people to access clean and affordable power, and in the process, create sustainable and long-term economic growth?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Lack of adequate power in developing countries discourages industry, & prevents remote communities from unlocking their full potential. To operate, industry is forced to self-generate using diesel fuel, which is very expensive – restricting their ability to supply power to local communities. With no access to power, these communities cannot benefit from modern technology, which is essential for them to reach their full productive capacity.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our solution is to bring clean & affordable power to remote areas, using mines as a vehicle for change. CEP plans to install solar power equipment at mines & sell energy at prices lower than current diesel systems. CEP´s modular equipment (patent pending) can be deployed at scale, but if the mine closes early it can be split into small units & moved or distributed across a large area. This makes financing much easier than before. Using this model, CEP can champion self-sustaining enterprise, including: 1) pay-as-you-go solar programmes in settlements near the mine; 2) commercial-scale sustainable agriculture (for the mine & surrounding regions); 3) complementary supporting businesses (e.g. cold storage, food processing, water sanitation).


Accepted into Cambridge Accelerate Programme, a leading start-up accelerator. Recipient of £15,000 grant from Accelerate Cambridge investment committee (May 2015) - amongst largest grants ever awarded
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

An off-grid mine in Africa is under pressure to cut costs. Diesel power is extremely expensive and represents 35% of total operating costs. Local communities are unhappy; they want jobs & access to power. With mineral prices low, the mine does not have free capital to invest in infrastructure upgrades. CEP is proposing to: 1) build, own and operate a solar-diesel hybrid system that will provide solar power to the mine at a 40% discount vs diesel prices, and offset 1/3rd of diesel used for power. 2) manage a pay-as-you-go solar programme, underwritten by the mine, for the 1000 + locals. 3) Work with the mine to set up low-cost sustainable agriculture initiatives using irrigation, which is only viable with affordable power.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

CEP’s business model is effective because it combines innovative ideas from a range of disciplines – finance, renewables, mining, & economic development – that are the result of lengthy consultation with experts in these fields. Our modular & redeployable system (patent pending) meets a critical need in the off-grid energy sector. For example, a mine with 10 MW of solar would save ~5m litres of diesel/ year and cut total opex by 5%, all for no upfront expense, & with no disruption to operations. Because the mine acts as the ‘anchor tenant’ for CEP’s infrastructure, the area surrounding the mine site becomes a lightning rod for new commercial activity, particularly agriculture, as there exists reliable/ low-cost power, & established supply chain networks. This has resonated with our target market and CEP is working on 3 pilot opportunities across Africa & SE Asia to prove the concept.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Affordable renewable energy is poised to transform the developing world, & we are positioned to help define this new paradigm. We start by helping mines reduce their power cost & managing pay-as-you-go solar in surrounding communities. We then follow by developing complementary business initiatives (e.g. agriculture) to supply the mine & grow the region. Thanks to our innovative business model, we can scale quickly post pilot with only a few key hires – aiming to be operational at 25 mines in 5 years – so raising living standards and aspirations for 10,000s of people across Africa & SE Asia.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The CEP model is a powerful development tool: it can transform regions without subsidies or aid; projects are profitable as soon as power is sold; and there are 100s of opportunities to deploy to mine sites across the developing world. There is a strong incentive for mines to partner with CEP as there is no up-front cost, & power is cheaper. The initiatives around the mine will also be self-sustaining, based on arms-length investment.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Developing regions often suffer from high cost and unreliable power. While renewables are up to 70% cheaper, structural issues (i.e. risk, upfront costs, and financing), have limited other firms from developing projects without major support from development banks or foreign aid. CEP however, can overcome these hurdles by leveraging mines’ need to cut costs. CEP can 1) Provide pay-as-you-go power services to nearby communities immediately. 2) Redeploy large amounts of solar infrastructure for other industrial users when the mine closes in ~10 years. No other firm has been able to do this.

Founding Story

The three founders share a common passion for the environment & economic development. They are from Australia, the EU & Canada & met whilst studying their MBAs at the Judge Business School where they shared stories of working life in remote areas. After discussing the possibility of replacing diesel power generation with solar energy, they ran some numbers & realised the cost savings potential was sufficient to overcome barriers to mass adoption. The concept had a strong value proposition for miners & was financially attractive. The Team realised that they’d hit on a transformative business model for social and environmental impact & CEP was born.


The team is full-time, & has >25 years of relevant, diverse experience. We are: an economist with 2 years of infrastructure/social development experience in Papua New Guinea; a solar energy expert with 8 years of R&D experience and multiple patents; & a geological engineer with a background in mining & water resources in remote areas. A legal/finance expert works part-time and we will strengthen business development as the company grows.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Centre for Sustainable Leadership

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-Founder - Cambridge Energy Partners

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Co-founder Thomas Grant was the 4th employee in a solar energy start-up that grew to over 120 people and 100 million Euro/ year in turnover. He ran the R&D department for 8 years, during which he let a business unit that identified opportunities and developed new products. He was the lead inventor on nine patent applications that were directly responsible for over €120 million in revenue.

During this time, he gained valuable experience growing a business in a new and unproven industry, which has seen the amount of solar installed grow at a cumulative rate of 45%/ year and is now 40 times larger. This depth of knowledge in the industry is rare.

He has applied this knowledge to help shape CEP’s product offering and business model to ensure it is well positioned to excel in this next wave of industry growth in the off-grid sector.

Co-founder Tom Miller, an economist and investment banker, spent 2 years living and working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a part of the small team responsible for implementing the Tabubil Futures initiative for the PNG Sustainable Development Program, a US$1.5 bn fund dedicated to grow the Western Province of PNG. During this time, he was responsible for identifying, and structuring a range of new entrepreneurial ventures that could help diversify and grow the economic base of the regions surrounding the massive Ok Tedi mine. His primary objective was to discover opportunities that could disrupt the boom and bust cycle of mine based rural economies.
This expertise is incredibly valuable and it has helped CEP redefine the off-grid solar sector. His knowledge and skills will help CEP include social impact as a core feature of all projects.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Accelerate Cambridge: In-depth meetings with over 80 mentors and their contacts, particularly executives in the mining, finance, and renewable energy sectors. Monthly meetings with 10 high-profile Accelerate Cambridge mentors.

Renewable energy equipment suppliers and Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firms: We have forged strong partnership relationships with several industry-leading companies. Two main benefits to CEP: 1) During the patent application process, these organizations provided considerable guidance and input on the redeployable system design and are well positioned to help build a prototype/ pilot in the near future. 2) These firms have shown considerable interest in sharing potential customer leads because they are motivated to sell equipment or build projects, and they believe CEP can facilitate this process.

Social Development: Strong support has emerged from individuals involved in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Social Innovation, including organizations such as: the Smart Villages programme at the University of Cambridge, consulting firms that advise on responsible mining practices, and the in-house CSR specialists within mining companies.