Africa has long faced challenges that inhibit the continents chances of developing and reaching its potential. Among one of the greatest challenges is sufficient energy. Much of the worlds oil supply is sourced in Africa. Nigeria and Angola supply the world with huge amounts of barrels of oil a day. Despite this electricity is often unstable and unreliable. This effects everyone from industry to children in rural areas trying to do their homework.
In many countries, like Ghana, Nigeria and even Kenya, power outages are common place. Load shedding (planned power outages to save capacity) attempts to offer people a way of planning their lives around power outages, but fluctuations in power often cause electrical devices to fail and batteries to explode. Renewable energy is being lauded as the answer, but there are still challenges facing it. Storage capabilities still do not take into consideration peak times and night time usage of electricity, although storage innovations are offering hope. Increased storage capabilities will make a huge difference to on grid power, but with so much of the continent still not connected to the grid, off grid solutions are equally as important. The solar sisters offer one method of offering power to houses by empowering women to sell small solar appliances like lamps and mobile chargers to rural households. Another scheme in Kenya looks to actually enable people to afford their own solar panel and be able to run any appliances they wish.
MPAYG aims to democratise solar ownership. Wherever you are in the world, solar technology is only affordable for certain social groups. It is a long term investment that some simply can not afford. Using a pay and work model, often used in the taxi sector (See here to see how this system is changing the Okada system!) people will be able to lease the solar system, and pay in small increments using mobile money. The increments enable you to access the power from the panel and also go towards the payment of the solar equipment, so people will finally have ownership and have the full benefit of the solar power. This method gives people living below or around the poverty line an opportunity to have much needed power to run their families. With this they can store food in a fridge, keep up to date on local news with a television, charge their mobile phones (and we have seen how much benefit a mobile phone now gives in Africa!)
MPAYG are not the first to come up with this method of bringing low income families into the world of electricity. M-KOPA, another Safaricom innovation, also give families the chance to pay $35 deposit for a solar kit and pay the rest off with mobile money payments of as little as 50 cents. By April this year they had sold more than 300,000 household kits: roughly 260,000 in Kenya, 40,000 in Uganda and 20,000 in Tanzania. Solar energy is changing the face of Africa, and the view from space will soon be a lot less dark!
I can envisage communities coming together to support their local schools to also gain access to the MPAYG system. This poses another questions; is it possible to make solar systems secure? Well, yes, now it is! One company has come up with an easy way to pack solar panels away at the end of the day when school closes, to prevent thieves (heartless thieves!) from coming at night and pinching them. The SolarTurtle solution is a simple, scalable and secure solar battery charging system housed in a shipping container. The power station arrives in a box that will be unlocked by the women of the village in the morning. (Here is another method to empower women in rural Africa) The solar panels are then revealed and the suns energy harnessed to power anything the school or the community needs it to, at a small price. At the end of the day, the solar panels can be folded away back inside the container for night time protection (just like a turtle hides away in its shell to sleep). Theft is very damaging for small communities and this system enables them to keep their life changing investment safe.
There will no doubt be more blogs in the future about other solar innovations, both in storage solutions and solar for the masses. If you know of any solar solutions that we can feature, please get in contact with us on Twitter @InventiveAfrica and please also share the blog on Twitter and Facebook.