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Mobisol's solar-dream for Sub-Saharan Africa

Sensemaking / Mobisol's solar-dream for Sub-Saharan Africa

Our vision of 2030 – Solar off-grid at the center of the energy mix

By Paula Berning / 11 May 2016

Imagine a family in rural Africa, 15 years from now. There’s a beautiful, furnished home, at least one mobile phone for each family member - most likely a smartphone/interactive tablet - and the wish to take part in the digital world and benefit from global development as much as possible. In 2030, the internet is a common information source and communication platform for every Sub-Saharan African, and almost each of them is using it on their smartphone/tablet. A reliable, affordable, clean energy source that charges the device is therefore of utmost importance.

We at Mobisol believe that, in 2030, the Sub-Saharan African energy landscape is shaped by many different renewable energy sources and technologies, serving exactly that growing need of lighting a comfortable home, charging devices and running equipment. Solar however is the main source of energy. And off-grid energy access is the central element of the energy system. More than 50% of all households have been able to access the new, digitalized era for rural African communities.

But it does not end with rural homes and small businesses: urban and peri-urban households use solar systems as a back-up for their grid connection in locations where power supply is still unreliable. Economies of scale and learning effects in this still very young market have led to falling prices and pay-as-you-go schemes make solar systems affordable to smaller shops and businesses which have eliminated their sales loss caused by power outages, owning a solar system between 200 and 2,000Wp to their grid-served power supply. They profit from healthier working conditions without pollution or noise, no longer having to rely on generators.

Mrs Macha outside the family hardware shop in Sombetini, Tanzania, which sells cold drinks, offers phone charging and has a TV and a radio using a Mobisol system

The Mobisol “Energy Retail Hub”                                               

In the center of every larger town there is a building, glowing in a bright yellow, the Mobisol “Energy Retail Hub”. Those shops do not only offer the source of electricity in the form of solar systems, but also serve as a retail center for high quality smartphones, tables, stereos, TVs, fridges, cookstoves and more, all running on DC power, being far more efficient than what in 2016 is being used in the typical living room. Products and offerings are presented in a sophisticated, modern way with a focus on end-user information. There is space for featuring a display showing the latest news and trends in the solar energy sector, providing visitors with information on the latest job adverts and opportunities in the market.

Smallholder farmers come to the Hub to take a look at efficient welding machines, irrigation pumps and the like to attach to their solar system. Such equipment increases productivity and helps generate more income for small entrepreneurs. In the long run, even the dependence of communities on the primary sector will be lowered by offering more jobs in manufacturing and services. This in turn helps African families adapt to climate change.

When Mobisol’s customers come to buy a smartphone/tablet, which they charge on their solar home system, they use a customer app for ordering, so for example a book for their children’s studies. Most of the education is received through e-learning, powered with solar-run appliances. As road infrastructure has improved a lot in 2030, but still remains a challenge for some remote locations, the book is delivered in only a few days’ time by a Mobisol drone, remotely controlled and charged on solar-powered rooftop stations.  Welcome to our vision of 2030! 

Paula Berning is Communications Manager with Mobisol who are a finalist in the 2016 Ashden International Awards which reward pioneering sustainable energy enterprises and programmes across the globe. This year’s winners will be announced at the annual Awards Ceremony in London on 9 June 2016.

Ashden is a Futures Centre partner.

Header image: "A Mobisol market hub in Tanzania" | Image credit: Mobisol

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