Solar Mobile Charging Service

A startling 500 million mobile phone users live off grid, lacking easy electricity access. In East Africa alone, 30 million people, mostly living in rural areas, charge their mobiles on average only two to three times a week and pay the equivalent of €0,16 per charge. As mobile charging is not accessible at home or close by, they must frequently travel to recharge, forcing them to spend many unproductive hours per week (at least five hours) in their quest for charging facilities. Unfortunately, the most common ‘facility’ is a lead-acid car battery, hazardous to both the climate and the environment.
Powerfy AB and its Kenyan subsidiary improve this situation by bringing green mobile charging to rural doorsteps. Powerfy enables rural entrepreneurs to start commercial mobile charging services, increasing local employment with higher income than local minimum wages.
Powerfy's innovation is its business-in-a-box concept addressing both the technical and financial hurdles and risks for the entrepreneur. Powerfy’s innovative plug-and-charge solar-powered charger is so intuitive that it requires no training or installation and has an expected maintenance-free lifespan of five years. A business rental model also allows entrepreneurs to offer the charger for rental to a community without entailing large financial commitments.
In addition, the Powerfy charger uses CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) to be more eco-friendly; is based on a substrate of stainless steel for robustness, and is manufactured with a special process developed in the EU to keep production costs low.

By the end of 2020, Powerfy has a vision to empower a network of 200,000 entrepreneurs to: provide green mobile charging to 8 million people; reduce CO2 emissions by more than 10,000 tonnes annually; and run businesses with revenues above local wages.
 

The United Nation’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC, 2010) defined energy access for basic human needs as “access to clean, reliable and affordable energy services for cooking and heating, lighting, communications and productive uses.” In addition, the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2012 maintains that the ability to use ICT solutions from home is an important minimum component of energy access. Despite living under extreme economic constraints, 500 million people now have mobile phones, according to the GSM Association (2011). Yet without grid access, they may be unable to use their phones for long periods of time, and may travel far and pay dearly for recharging.

Powerfy’s Solar Mobile Charging Service is rurally distributed, clean mobile charging to base-of-the-pyramid markets via functional sales (i.e. without the need for any upfront investment for users). WWF estimates that concepts like this can fulfill the need for ICT charging for more than 100 million people by 2022.
 

Powerfy tested ten prototype chargers in Kenya in the end of 2010. Based on the results from these tests, a commercial product was developed which is now available in the Kenyan market. Over the next five years Powerfy will expand its geographical presence to other countries, mainly in Africa. During these years the business-in-a-box concept will be developed even further. What is offered to entrepreneurs today is good, however there is room for innovation of product and services, as well as adaptation of the business model for local needs.

Introducing a new product to any market is challenging. In addition, solar systems are often perceived in rural areas of Africa as being expensive and difficult to install and operate.  Powerfy’s rental business model reduces the financial hurdles for the entrepreneur and end user, yet increases the financial risk for Powerfy. As renting is not very common in rural Africa, a big marketing challenging is to build trust and acceptance for this business model amongst entrepreneurs.

 

Johan Beckmann is the founder and CEO of both Powerfy AB and its Kenyan subsidiary. Kenya has been Beckman’s second home for over 30 years, his father having started AAR Health Services, today a leading provider of health services in East Africa.

Beckman understands the rapidly growing need for easier access to mobile charging in rural parts of Africa. Existing solar solutions are still expensive and inadequate, with studies showing that one year after installation less than 50% of solar systems are working as expected. Beckman formed Powerfy to develop a next-generation mobile charger specifically adapted for use in rural parts of the developing world. He also founded a Kenyan subsidiary to make the mobile charger available to rural entrepreneurs in Africa. In 2011 Powerfy's Kenyan subsidiary won a €150,000 grant from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency's program called Innovations Against Poverty.