All across Africa, low income households without electricity access depend on kerosene lamps or candles to light their homes in the night. It’s not a steady or consistent light, and it’s a fire risk. There are health risks from kerosene fumes too.
There’s clearly an urgent need for electricity for the poorest, and the Rwandan government has plans to connect 50% of the population by 2017. The other half, especially those in rural areas, will have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, there is a wide open market for off-grid energy solutions.
Advances in solar panel efficiency and LED technology have opened up new possibilities, and there are a variety of companies making solar lights and chargers that would meet the basic needs of Rwandan families.
WakaWaka launched their virtual solar grid in Rwanda. They’ve taken their basic lantern design and added a keypad, using similar technology to the personal PIN machines that banks use for their Internet banking customers. Users can buy a solar light/charger for an initial access fee of Rwf 3,500.
They then buy a pre-pay card with a code, which they send as a free text through their mobile phone, and receive an activation code for their WakaWaka light in return. The device is then unlocked for seven days of light and power.
After seven days, they’ll need to buy another pre-pay card, which costs Rwf500 slightly less than people would be spending on kerosene. Since they can charge their phones too, it’s a considerable saving from day one. You could even charge your neighbours’ phones and earn money from the device once the user has bought pre-pay cards of up to Rwf 40,000.
According to Raouf Saidi, the Managing Director WakaWaka Rwanda,WakaWaka uses the most basic technology that is natural – the sun to empower, connect and educate people.
“It’s a very simple, and yet powerful message,” he says, adding that the whole idea is for the device to be accessible to everybody no matter their level of income.
They devised the most efficient solar light and charger on the market, and funded its production through Kickstarter.
WakaWaka Rwanda came into existence in January 2014 but launched its operations on November 1.
The light lamp is also trying to boost learning and reading at night, especially for students residing in rural areas. The two lights it is fitted with provide light that can be set at one’s ideal brightness depending on the task at hand. Once fully charged, the light can facilitate reading for 20 hours.