Off the grid, yet connected

It’s the bitter truth: In today’s modern age, an estimated 1.5 billion people still don’t have reliable access to electricity. And for off-grid communities, this could mean losing out on some basic needs, such as a light source at night or a phone signal to call the doctor.

Enter SOLARKIOSK, a compact unit that can be a source of electricity — and livelihood — for many communities. The idea came from Andreas Spiess, CEO of Solarkiosk GmbH. And Graft Architects, a design studio with offices in the United States, China and Germany, designed it.

The kiosk looks like your regular store, selling refreshments and other products. But it has more to offer, from mobile charging to a solar fridge that can store food and medicines. It even has potential to get a telecom tower running.

Solar services, however, won’t be free. In the prototype kiosk near Lake Langana in Ethiopia, charging a cell phone costs 4 Ethiopian Birr ($0.21). But this is cheaper compared with a charge via normal power lines or a generator, which can cost up to three times as much, according to Marketing Manager Sasha Kolopic. That is in addition to “hours spent walking to the charging spot,” he said in an email.

The SOLARKIOSK can be assembled locally and built using local materials, such as bamboo, wood or metal. Electrical components “will be manufactured centrally to ensure quality and durability,” according to the company.

The kiosk’s operator will come from the local community. He will undergo training under a specialized program to be offered in a nearby school or NGO facility, and will be taught how solar products work and how to run a “sustainable business,” among other things.

This could help the community become self-sufficient, which, according to Kolopic, runs “along the same lines as many ideas that are supported by NGOs in Africa and other continents.”

The company is looking into partnering with NGOs or government organizations to get the SOLARKIOSK to communities. But at the moment, the company’s focus is getting more investors for manufacturing and logistics.

The company is currently working on its second prototype, to be piloted in Kenya in late 2012. It aims to start producing the SOLARKIOSK next year; unit prices aren’t yet available.

The kiosk is among the many innovations promising to power up energy-strapped communities. We’ve reported on several other solar-powered devices recently, including a suitcase that provides electricity to rural health centers, a portable solar-charged lantern, and even a toilet that can function via solar energy.

Read our last #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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