One of the challenges of rolling out mobile phone services to remote rural areas that are off the power grid isn’t just powering the base station, but also supplying customers with affordable power just to keep their phones charged.
UK based Solar energy company Eight19 is proposing a solar-power solution that enables people in such areas to pay for power incrementally by SMS.
Eight19 recently unveiled its IndiGo system, which consists of a low-cost flexible plastic 2.5W solar panel, a battery unit with an inbuilt USB mobile phone charger and an LED lamp. The idea is to take the prepaid “pay as you go” model for mobile phones, and apply it to solar power.
Here’s how it works, according to the Eight19 web site:
Each IndiGo power unit has a unique serial number. To add credit to the unit, the user purchases a scratch card for a period of time such as a day, a week or a month. This scratchcard number, along with the unit serial number, is sent by SMS text message to the IndiGo server which validates the number and sends back a unique passcode. The user enters this passcode into the unit and the output is enabled for the period of the credit.
Customers can use the power to charge their handset, or to use the LED lamp for reading (the lamp gets about five hours of juice from a day’s worth of solar charging).
According to New Scientist, the IndiGo unit must be leased for an initial $10 fee, and costs $1 a week to run. But for users, pay-as-you-go solar is a cheaper (and healthier) option than kerosene. And "solar as a service" is cheaper than buying expensive standalone solar-powered phone chargers, the company said in a press release.
Eight19 says IndiGo customer trials are now underway in Kenya and will be extended to Zambia, Malawi and the Indian sub-continent over the next few months, with a targeted commercial roll-out in early 2012.