Solar energy technology for those with no access to electricity
Around the world approximately 1.7 billion people still live off the grid, with no access to mains electricity. This comes with numerous problems, with lighting and access to income among the most pressing.
Once the sun goes does down those off the grid are reliant on kerosene, which is not only hazardous but expensive.
While mobile phone use is widespread off the grid, recharging can be a difficult process requiring a long journey, and the lack of charge can mean restricted access to business opportunities or basic services.
Solar power could have a major role in solving these problems and others, with a number of new products aimed at improving conditions and opportunities for those in off the grid, base of the pyramid markets. Some are being directly marketed to developing nations, while some have applications with the potential to make a difference worldwide.
A number of these companies owe their success to crowdfunding campaigns, highlighting the role that the general public have to play in ensuring that such projects, with sustainability applications for both developing and developed nations, get further than the planning stages.
Here are five examples of solar power innovations aiming to make a difference to those living off the grid.
The Waka Waka solar light is the brainchild of Dutch product developer, Camille van Gestel. A successful crowdfunding campaign in 2012 saw the Waka Waka light go into mass-production, with 75,000 having been shipped around the world to date. The product itself provides 80 hours of light after one day of charge, offering an alternative to the kerosine lamp. A second Kickstarter campaign allowed the Waka Waka Power to go into production, combing the original light with a solar battery charger. The company ran a ‘buy one give one’ campaign, in which every sale saw a unit sent to Haiti, reaching an estimated 50,000 people.
Founded in 2009, Fenix International is a venture-backed renewable energy company. Another crowdfunding success, its ReadySet solar-powered battery charger aim to reach those off the grid, providing not only a means to energy, but the potential for employment and income too, such as a recharging shop in Uganda. The company is currently patenting a mobile payment system to allow further ease of access to their product.
BuffaloGrid was founded with the hope to bring power to people, and to allow those in remote, off the grid areas to capitalise on opportunities. Pioneered in Uganda, where 80% of the population has mobile phones but only 5% has access to mains electricity, the system offers customers access to a portable grid. This grid tops up the phone charger when a SMS message is sent, allowing a phone to be charged. This means that vital revenue streams and business opportunities are not lost via traveling long distances to recharge.
Econet Wireless is designed for people with limited access to power grids. Connecting a solar panel to a battery, the Home Station has four USB oulets for charging phones, computers and light sources. The system is currently in use in an estimated 2,000 homes in Zimbabwe. The device is available for a small deposit, making it accessible to those with low income, and is run via a connection to a mobile network.
Succesfully funded via a Kickstarter campaign, the Spor solar charger is a portable solar battery, currently available for pre-order. Each individual unit has the capacity of over three standard phone chargers, and the units can be interlinked to create more power. While initial development was geared for the US market, it’s portability and ease of use could see it become a useful tool for those off the grid.
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