Having a mobile phone is one thing. And charging it is also another thing. This becomes apparent against the backdrop of a continent that is still grappling with providing universal electrical power to everyone. Where there is no electricity, solar-powered kiosks fill in the gap.
In Rwanda, these portable solar-powered kiosks are already being used by people for charging their phones. Apart from charging phones, these mobile kiosks also serve as Wi-Fi hotspots.
It is innovation that is easy-looking but has enormous impact. It is also an innovation that is a clever way of making a living.
The mobile kiosks are equipped with 100-watt solar panels and can charge up to 30 phones at one time. Locally, they are known as "Shiriki hubs". For users to access this, they have to part with 5 cents to fully charge a phone and they have to pay 3 cents for 10 minutes of Wi-Fi at the kiosks. The kiosks are developed by African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED). They call their solar kiosk idea "business in a box." Their objective is to empower communities through providing these easily accessible services.
Only 34% of the population in Rwanda has access to electricity. ARED also wants to tap into the rural areas, where the vast majority of the population does not have access to electricity but uses mobile phones to make payments and to communicate.
Their business model is not complicated. They lease the hubs to the agents through a franchise model - and they collect an average of 1% commission on the agents' sales. Income also comes from the ads on the kiosks.
Solar-powered kiosks are a way to go in Africa considering that many people still do not have access to electricity and yet they are connected, owning a mobile phone. Internet penetration is still a challenge and the fact that they are providing Wi-Fi too through the kiosks is enough evidence to show the determination that ARED has towards making a huge social impact.
The kiosks are a genius way to tackle energy issues. Renewable energy should be widely adopted in African countries so that access to power is inclusive.
Henri Nyakarundi, the founder of ARED, said, "The idea of the kiosk was simple, I saw charging stations at airports when I travel and thought it would be great to do something similar." He also wants to expand these services to refugee camps.
Nyakarundi said that the need for these solutions in Africa is imperative. "We’re the only company out there that has built this muscle of a kiosk with all these functions built into one. This digital inclusivity is tremendously lacking in Africa right now, and the idea is to bring access to applications, storage, and other network resources closer to the user and their devices, therefore eliminating or minimizing the cost of bandwidth, latency, or other costs."
Header image credit - ISS