There are approximately 500 million people who have cell phones and who have trouble finding a place to charge them. One example is in East Africa, where approximately 30 million people living in remote locations have to travel a few times a week to access to electricity. Charging a cell phone is a waste of time. The journey can take hours and charging is done on a car battery.

Swedish company Powerfy AB, with a subsidiary in Kenya, can improve the situation by offering cell phone charging in remote locations. The concept includes giving local entrepreneurs opportunities to start commercial charging stations. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that in 10 years, more than 100 million people will recharge their mobile phones using solar energy from Powerfy’s chargers, or similar solutions.

Second generation solar cells

“We want to reduce the environmental impact, but also the risks and technical challenges for entrepreneurs,” says Johan Beckmann, president of Powerfy. “Sure, there are already solar cells that can be used in remote locations where there is no fixed grid, but they are still expensive and complicated to use. There are several studies showing that only half of these devices are actually used a year after they were installed.”

“Our plug-and-charge charger can be used in an intuitive way. Installation is easy and you do not need training to deal with it and no maintenance is needed for at least five years of use. We tested 10 prototypes in Kenya in 2010 and based on that experience we now have a commercial product available on the market there.”

About 500 million cell phone users have difficulty finding a place to charge them

A solar cell has a plus and a minus contact. In between the contacts there is a one-volt difference when exposed to sunlight. Several solar cells can be connected to a module to get higher voltages. The solar cells that Powerfy uses can be described as second-generation solar cells. They consist of five thin layers on a glass plate where one of the layers consists of copper, indium and gallium that capture the solar energy.

Compared with crystalline solar panels, these are cheaper, more efficient and easier to mass produce. The solar cell thickness is less than three micrometers making the material and energy consumption lower in manufacturing compared with the types of solar cell technology that is most commonly used today. To make the solar panels robust and inexpensive, they are made with stainless steel under a special manufacturing method developed in the EU.

The battery charger rented

The business concept is that a contractor can rent the charger to a single user, or a group of local users. This reduces the contractor and user’s financial risk-taking, but it should be remembered that the company is operating in countries where traditional rental models are rare. It is therefore important to build acceptance and trust with contractors.

“We believe that both the product and the way to do business is good, but of course we will further develop the concept so that we can meet local needs in the best possible way. Powerfy’s vision by the end of 2020 is to have established a network of 200,000 entrepreneurs offering charging of mobile phones to 8 million people. The annual profit of the carbon reduction is in the order of 10,000 tons,” concludes Beckmann.

The article was published in January 2013