Lack of widespread power grids in rural Africa has forced the Danish entrepreneurs in PP Power think different and develop a power distribution system that fits into an African context. The solution is to literally carry the power with you.
The portable power hub is basically a battery that can be charged at a stationary solar panel installation and carried to wherever you need to use it. At the core of the invention lies the idea of bringing power to rural African families without having to spend time and money on establishing a gridwork, says PP Power CEO and founder Steen Kramer Jensen.
“Instead of using time and money to lay down a cable grid, you simply carry the battery from the charging station to where it’s needed,” he says.
Portable, versatile and scalable
Over the last five to ten years Africa has seen a rise in small individual solar cell products such as lamps that can be charged during the day and turned on in the evening. However, most of these systems are poorly made and quickly break. At the same time there is a growing demand for larger and more versatile solutions that allow the user to plug in various electric gadgets.
One of the challenges of setting up a grid where all the houses are connected to one solar installation is that it is hard to scale. In many cases this means that when the system has been paid out, the need for energy is bigger than what the system can provide – making it necessary to invest in a new and larger installation.
PP Power - short for People’s Portable Power - addresses the issues above in a single unit solution: an easy-to-carry Lithium-Ion-battery (weighing around 2 kgs) with a built-in SIM-card and a range of plug-in options that allow the user to use the power to pretty much anything he or she needs; lightning, radio, phone charging, laptop computers, televisions, refrigerators etc.
As the need for energy rises, larger batteries can be fitted to the solution.
Creating a new energy market
The business model is based on users paying a small amount over their mobile phones to lease the batteries. The built-in SIM card enables the operator to control whether the battery can be used or not.
However, for the solution to work, there is also a market for the energy providers themselves. Owners of solar power installations or even diesel generators will be able to sell surplus energy for battery charging, thus creating a new energy market locally as well as making better use of excess power.
“During the test phase we are offering energy from a solar installation at a flat rate, but the idea is that we could work with schools, health care clinics, NGOs or kiosks that are interested in investing in solar power systems that can be used as a charging hub for the portable batteries,” says Steen Kramer Jensen.
The PP Power-hub is currently being tested by ten users in a school near Eldoret in Kenya, in collaboration with the Kenyan power company CX Power. The pilot project will be running throughout 2018. By January 2019 PP Power expects to be ready to launch a fully operational version for the East African market.
PP Power is supported by InnoBooster and the initial testing stages are funded by PIVØ through access2innovation.
An average African family burns off about 500 kgs of CO2 every year on kerosene and diesel for energy consumption. That amount could be nullified by switching to solar energy.