Solar-Powered Solutions to Support Mobile Phones

Published on: Aug 28 2009 by Wayan Vota

While there is an explosive growth of mobile phone usage in Africa, there has not been a corresponding growth in the national electric grid to support these phones. In Kenya, there are more than 17 million cell phone subscribers but only 1.3 million have access to constant electricity.

So how can entrepreneurs fill the gap between the demand for mobile phone recharging and the limited supply of grid electricity?

Battery-based mobile phone charging

At the most basic level, small-scale entrepreneurs have been devising ad hoc mobile phone recharging solutions that span the gamut from pedal-power electricity generation to many homemade dry cell battery powered systems.

The best are recharging stations that take the ubiquitous 12 Volt car battery and wire a number of phone chargers to it for community usage. Yet these stations are still ad hoc, with no standardization or scalability of the solution, which is a market opportunity.

Solar powered handset solutions

Big mobile phone operators are looking at that opportunity with solar powered handsets. Safaricom has just introduced solar powered cell phones that retail at only Kes. 2,999 ($40 USD).

While this phone is locked to the Safaricom network, one 8 hour charge lasts for a several days and as an added bonus, its made with all recycled materials.

Solar power business opportunity

It also gives me an idea for another business opportunity in Africa. I can see an African entrepreneur designing a simple yet durable solar power recharge station.

Imagine a solar panel and change controller designed specifically to sit atop and recharge a 12V battery under African conditions. Incorporating voltage meters and other electrical indicators it would be a distinct advantage over the current charge status guesswork.

Models for different countries would have alignment instructions just for their geo-solar conditions, and would come with ports for all the major mobile phones recharging adapters. The whole unit would be mall enough for a single person to carry – the entrepreneur who would sell charge time for 12V battery owners.

Wayan Vota is a Senior Mobile Advisor at FHI 360 and is a regular contributor to ICTworks. He co-founded ICTworks, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, Technology Salon, Educational Technology Debate, OLPC News, Kurante, and a few other things.
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