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How the sun is powering sub-Saharan Africa

More than a billion people around the world live without access to electricity. By harnessing solar energy, M2M connectivity and good design, a German company aims to change this
First published on November 02, 2015

If you live in the developed world, chances are you take electricity for granted. It travels underneath your feet and over your head, powering the devices and appliances that make your lifestyle possible.

It's not so simple in developing countries, where it is often prohibitively expensive to build the roads, lay the cables and develop the infrastructure necessary for traditional power grids.

Imagine having to walk for two days just to charge your mobile phone - a mobile phone that is pretty much your only way of accessing money, healthcare and other vital services. That's the reality for people in the areas of Africa without electricity. In fact, two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives "off the grid," according to the International Energy Agency.

But just as Africa has leapfrogged traditional banking systems (see our video animation here) and embraced mobile financial services, its rural areas are beginning to do the same when it comes to electricity.

How? The answer is right above your head: the sun. Solar power is clean, renewable and, importantly, can be generated without the grid infrastructure so many developing regions lack.

Good energy
One example of a company putting the sun's power to good use is Berlin-based Solarkiosk, which designs and supplies solar-powered energy and retail outlets to off-the-grid communities, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. It launched its first pilot projects in 2012.

Each Solarkiosk E-HUBB unit is powered by at least 2kWp of photovoltaic capacity, enough to charge about 150 mobile phones every day, power small appliances such as laptops and run solar refrigerators containing perishables and medicines. They also come equipped with secure M2M wireless connectivity modules, allowing consistent monitoring and reporting on the performance of each E-HUBB.

What the local Solarkiosk operators in remote communities do with that power is where it gets really interesting. "We are using the input of our operators to make the most of the E-HUBB," says Sasha Kolopic, Head of Business Development for Solarkiosk. "The E-HUBBs can be used as cinemas and butcher shops, and eventually as banks, schools or internet centers, among other things."

The possibilities are endless: the E-HUBB was designed by the Berlin-based architecture firm Graft and is modular and lightweight, yet secure, meaning it can be combined with other Solarkiosk components to create structures such as health clinics, mini power grids and telecom towers. And unlike the "dirty" fuels commonly used off-grid, such as charcoal, diesel and kerosene, solar power is clean and renewable, so using it helps to improve the local environment. Smart meters ensure that the hub is operating at optimum efficiency and that power flow is reliable.

Solarkiosk also offers training and support for entrepreneurs, particularly among women, in areas such as business management, logistics and computer skills. In fact, the vast majority of kiosk operators are women.

By the end of 2015, more than 100 E-HUBBs will be installed in 10 countries around the world. A bright future indeed.

Image © Solarkiosk AG

TAGGED IN m2m; solar power; africa