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Energy is seen as one of the primary elements for eradication of poverty and human development. Affordability and accessibility are the key issues to be addressed when energy services are to be provided to people living in off-grid areas.

Demand for power for mobile charging has been increasing tremendously in rural areas because of increased use of mobile communication devices. In India, value-added mobile services are quite popular among the farmers for information on forecasting of rains and availability of seeds, fertilizers, etc. In off-grid areas in Africa and India, people spend about 30 minutes to reach an area 2-3 KM away from their homes where they can charge their mobile devices. They wait for 2-3 hours during charging and return back, only to repeat the process every second or third day. This costs the equivalent of almost half a US Dollar for spent for charging and commutation expenses.

Products such as batteries, Kindles, and tablet computers can greatly impact the lives of people in rural areas. But these products are distributed without a thorough plan for providing the power needed to run them.

Charging stations

A program through ADPP program was undertaken in Changalane (Maputo Province) and Quissanga (Cabo Delgado Province) in the Republic of Mozambique in which 74 solar charging stations were set up for charging mobile phones and lanterns.  Mr. CV Rao, founder of Prakruthi Power who has significant experience in innovative technologies area, collaborated with ADPP on the installation of integrated solar charging stations. After the first two were complete, the remaining 72 were installed by the local people who learned from the first two projects.

A single charging station is a room where 60 lanterns with three-step switching for three different light intensities (each lantern having 1 Watt-peak [Wp] LED and 3/5 Wp Lithium-Ion battery) and mobile phones are directly charged from two intelligent charging devices, each of which has 20 ports (see photo above). The charging device is powered by one 100 Wp mono-crystalline panel installed on roof of the building or on ground depending on availability of space. As a fully charged lantern gives 10 to 40 hours of light, lantern owners visit the station for charging after every two to three days.  As people have to pay nominal fee for every charging, they need to use light carefully.

The main challenges that had to be overcome during these two projects were difficulty in communication due to the language barrier, knowledge transfer on the technical aspects and logistics. This programme has significantly impacted the lives of people by giving them reliable lighting for studying, cooking and performing activities like sewing clothes and making baskets.

Stand-alone charging

This program is community based, where people visit a station in their community for charging. However, another way is through the distribution of stand-alone charging systems with lighting. These can make an individual even much more independent. NATCO Trust in India undertook such a program in Andhra Pradesh where along with battery-operated lights, a standalone charging system with 3 Wp panel was given to each individual so that they dont have to pay for charging every time.

Stand-alone solar charging system
Stand-alone solar charging system
Source: Prakruthi Power, India

A concept of solar entrepreneurship based on solar charging services has been proposed and implemented by Dr. CV Rao in Andhra Pradesh, India. Solar charging systems with small panels of 10 Wp can be carried on a bicycle so that mobile charging becomes truly mobile. Typically the entrepreneur is a young person who carries a panel and USB cords on his bicycle and goes from village to village charging mobile devices and lanterns from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. By charging about 50 mobile devices a day, the earning potential is Rs. 150-250 or the equivalent of about $2.50 to $4.50 US.

Solar charging is truly charging lives of people by offering opportunities in that previously were impossible due to the lack of affordable and accessible power. Solar solutions such as these hold a great potential for human development and eradication of poverty.

Written by Varun Mittal, Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Uttarakhand, India.

Labels: case study,India,solar installation,solar charging,rural electrification,off-grid

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