Shedding light on the charging challenge

(Since this post went up a number of people have been in touch asking where they can get this solar charger. I’m talking with the manufacturer and will post details as soon as I have them).

Barely a week after blogging about the challenges of charging mobiles in developing countries (see February 5th post), I had the chance to meet Clemens Betzel, President of G24 Innovations, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. G24i develop a range of solar charging solutions, some of which are geared towards developing countries, and mobile phone users in particular. I left our meeting with a portable solar charging pack for the ZTE mobile which I recently bought in Uganda, and here it is down my local village green at the weekend (yes, we do occasionally get sunshine in England).

In some rural areas, where the lack of reliable mains power might be the difference between making it worth owning a mobile or not, a small solar panel such as this could be a deal clincher. Of course, solar energy has been touted as a solution for charging mobile devices for years now, but what’s interesting about this is the cost. Suddenly, it actually seems possible. And by possible, what I really mean is affordable.

Here’s the breakdown. My basic, no-frills ZTE phone comes in at around $22 new, putting most rival entry level handsets in the shade. And the solar panel to charge it? Add another $20. So, suddenly, for about $42 we have a works-out-of-the- box rural mobile solution. (Just one short year ago the handset alone would have come in at around that). What’s more, the owner of the solar charger could earn a little extra income running a small charging business on the side. Maybe one day these panels will come as standard in Village Phone programs around the world, if they’re not already.

I couldn’t help but leave the meeting with thoughts of grassroots NGOs running solar powered FrontlineSMS hubs off OLPC‘s or $200+ Acer EEEPC laptop computers.

Now that really would be empowering.