Dial-a-Photon: Cell phone and small solar panel buy African power

Africa leading the way in off the grid power and how to pay for it – from Smart Planet By 

A small solar panel provides power to this house in Nimule, South Sudan.

A British startup company is offering rural Africans an energy efficient pay-as-you-go solar lighting kit and service that can illuminate two rooms for 7 hours using LED lamps and a rechargeable battery provided at minimal up front cost to the user.

Eight19’s IndiGo solar powered battery pack includes USB slots for charging cell phones.

Cambridge-based Eight19 last week started offering the service in Africa’s newest country, the Republic of South Sudan, in partnership with Colorado-based Christian charity WorldVenture. It aims to deploy 1,000 kits through the first half of this year, in the Nimule region.

Eight19 first launched in September in Kenya, and has expanded into Malawi, Zambia and now South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan last July.

The service, called IndiGo, is aimed at replacing expensive and environmentally hazardous kerosene-powered lighting in off-grid rural areas.

Users spend nothing up front for the hardware except for a deposit of around $10. They buy a scratch card for $1.00 per week from a local store, send the card’s number via text, and in return receive a code via text that they enter on a keypad mounted on the system’s battery. The code works only on that user’s system.

The kit includes a small 2.5-watt solar panel measuring about  25 cm by  15 cm (10 inches by 6 inches), a lithium iron phosphate (lithium ion) battery, and 2 LED lamps. The lamps shine at 55 lumens, which is dull by some standards –  generally a 40-watt incandescent bulb provides about 450 lumens – but which offers lighting options that didn’t previously exist, including reading at night. In principle, LED light bulbs require only about 20 percent of the electricity of an incandescent bulb.

The battery pack also includes a USB slot for charging mobile phones.

Eight19 says the system can light two small rooms for 7 hours at at time. After around 18 months, users own the gear. The company also offers an “escalator” option to provide additional power for more money.

Photos from Eight19

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