Imagine a small village in rural Africa, people working on their fields and living in self-built huts made from clay and limestone. I was living in such a community when volunteering for a local afforestation project near Mount Kenya for a couple of weeks.
It caught me by surprise that every single person living in the village had a cell phone. Still, the options to charge their phones were rather limited.
That is exactly where ‘Solarkiosk’ provides solutions.
Solarkiosk and Mobile Phones in Africa
This situation might be typical for Africa. While it takes time and effort for certain technologies to enter African markets, the opposite is true for mobile phones. The use of mobile phones spread over the African continent at a breathtaking pace, already connecting an estimated 70-80 percent of the population to the world of telecommunication.
On the contrary, around 70% of the Sub-Saharan African population currently lacks access to the electricity grid. Therefore, off-grid and mini-grid solutions are of utmost importance in providing energy access.
Could respective investments pay off?
Investments in energy markets
The UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative estimates that the General Assembly’s ‘Energy Access for All’ objective of universal access to modern energy by 2030 will require an annual investment of 36-41 Billion USD.
More than 60 percent of this this amount would be needed in Sub-Saharan Africa, where vast investment in energy infrastructure is required to keep pace with increasing energy demand, according to the Renewables 2013 Global Status Report by REN21.
The promising message of this report is that Africa is now widely accepted as one of the world’s most promising renewable energy markets and increasingly attractive for investors.
It is in this context that I would like to present the business model of Solarkiosk, an approach succeeding in providing sustainable energy to rural areas, creating jobs and addressing local demands.
Founders Andreas Spieß and GRAFT architects have won several prizes with their innovation, e.g. the ‘Ecodesign Award’ and the ‘Empowering People Award’. CEO Spieß states: “The Solarkiosk is a power-autonomous distribution hub for solar products and energy services. Most rural households throughout Sub-Saharan Africa still rely on dirty and unsustainable fuels for their energy needs and have to pay high premiums for low-quality products, despite the abundance of sunshine and of quality products which unfortunately never reach them. Solarkiosk is meant to change the situation for people in off-grid rural Africa.”
The Success Story of Solarkiosk
The first prototype of the SOLARKIOSK was built in November 2011, and commercial rollout started in Ethiopia and Kenya in 2012. Botswana is next in line.
The Solarkiosk is actually a kit of parts, a modular system to be assembled upon arrival at its target location. Some parts of it are imported, whereas others are locally produced. Solar panels installed on top of the shop provide electricity. The shop itself provides energy, products, tools and services.
It is a franchise company, giving the operator the chance to become an entrepreneur with limited risk, and offering jobs for up to four employees. It generates sustainable electricity, so that local people can charge their cell phones, car batteries, a computer and a solar fridge.
Solar lighting is an additional achievement. By connecting several kiosks, it is even possible to create a mini-grid!
What is its unique selling proposition according to its CEO? “Solarkiosk is a pioneer in the untapped ‘Bottom-of-the-Pyramid-Market’. The main difference to previous endeavors is that every Solarkiosk is supported by a strong central company structure, which provides marketing, logistics, technical support and further services. What is more is that it empowers people to get involved: The local operators are the ones who can make a difference in their community.”
So far, the Solarkiosk is a success story, and it seems as if Andreas Spieß and his team hit the mark.