All-in-One Solar Kiosk Business Solution for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Kiosks are ubiquitous throughout commercial areas in the global South. These highly efficient little business outlets enable small-scale entrepreneurs to sell necessary products without the expense of renting and running a shop.

While they are a great solution for entrepreneurs and customers alike, they often lack connection to municipal services such as electricity and water. That means kiosk owners need to use batteries or a generator if they need a refrigerator to cool food and drink – an expensive proposition.

A new product launched this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia offers a solution.

Created by a team of German architects, the Solarkiosk (solarkiosk.eu) is an autonomous business unit designed for remote, off-grid areas. With solar panels across the top of the kiosk, it generates its own electricity and is basically a mini solar power plant. Inside, it is just like a conventional kiosk, with display shelves for products and a counter in the front with a flap – which can feature advertising and messages – that can be opened up for business and locked shut when the kiosk is closed.

The kiosk captures solar energy and the electricity generated can be used to run a computer, lights or a refrigerator. That makes the Solarkiosk capable of offering a wide range of services needing electricity, from Internet access to car-battery charging and mobile phone recharging – a now essential service as mobile phone use explodes across Africa.

The first kiosk was prototyped in November 2011 and the makers incorporated their first subsidiary, Solarkiosk Solutions PLC, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March 2012.

According to Solarkiosk 1.5 billion people worldwide have no regular supply of electricity – 800 million of them in Africa. The makers of Solarkiosk consider this a huge market and hope to make the most of it.

The kiosk comes in a kit form ready for assembly. The kit is designed to be easy to transport and is light enough and compact enough to be transported on the back of a donkey, its makers claim.

Solarkiosk operators receive training in running and managing a kiosk. They learn about solar technology and how to maintain the kiosks and run a sustainable business. Once the operators are trained and up and running, they typically hire others to help with running the kiosk and offer the services at convenient times for the customers. The Solarkiosk then, potentially, becomes an income and employment generator for the local community.

The kiosk is designed to be durable, secure and difficult to tamper with from the outside. The kiosks have been designed to suit many environments and requirements. There is a basic platform that can be added to or expanded depending on local needs and a series of models depending on the customer’s needs. Cleverly, the largest kiosk model is powerful enough to provide electricity to telecom towers. This has proven attractive to mobile telephone companies who can power a telecom tower and make money from running the kiosk as well.

The Solarkiosk is especially useful for countries near the equator where nights are long (12 hours) and the kiosk can help people get light to read, study and work.

Solarkiosk is targeting off-grid customers who are using up to 40 per cent of their household income on electricity substitutes. According to Solarkiosk, people in off-grid households collectively spend more every year (US $30 billion) lighting their homes – using candles for example – than do all the people living in electricity grid connected countries (US $20 billion).

Solar technology is becoming more affordable at the same time as demand in developing countries for electricity and the products powered by electricity is on the rise. Mobile phones are now essential tools for doing business and staying connected – and all of them need to be kept charged up.

Solarkiosk believes it can save the average off-grid household US $10 per month, while each kiosk could supply solar electricity services to between 200 and 5,000 households.

For now, Solarkiosk is available in Ethiopia. It is based in Berlin, Germany and receives money from the German government. The kiosks themselves were designed and built by Graft Architects (http://www.graftlab.com).

Resources

1) How to maintain a solar panel. Website: http://www.ehow.com/how_2005490_maintain-solar-panel.html

2) How to start a kiosk business. Website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/63012

3) Kiosk Innova: A Turkish pioneer of hi-tech kiosks for retail services. Website: http://www.kioskinnova.com/english

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