BuffaloGrid: The Solar Hubs Keeping Off-Grid Communities Connected

BuffaloGrid's mini charging stations are helping keep people online and small-business owners earn a bit of extra cash.

Author Julian Furtkamp:

Translation Julian Furtkamp, 01.22.18

Around 1.3 billion people live without, or with only limited access, to a reliable source of electricity. Around half of those are in sub-Saharan Africa and the other half in Asia, with 304 million of them located in India alone. And while that affects and limits their lives in a whole host of ways, it has a particularly detrimental affect on their access to that (ever more important) information technology, leading to a situation known as the digital divide.

And while more and more people around the world are owning mobile phones, and networks are improving – for providing both calls and internet – how can you stay online when there’s a power cut and your phone battery is about to die? That’s where BuffaloGrid come in. They’ve come up with a three element system – consisting of their innovative, transportable (solar) energy hubs, a cloud platform and a network of local “agents” – that is helping people in energy poor communities get connected and stay connected.

BuffaloGrid supplies their energy hubs free-of-charge to agents – usually small business owners who live in areas that could benefit from their services. The main thing they offer is mobile phone charging: the newest version of the hubs can charge up to 28 telephones at once. But the BuffaloGrids are also able to provide other services too – such as offering internet via WiFi.

All agents receive the necessary equipment and training, and are able to make money by selling the energy hubs’ services to people in their village. They receive income from every transaction, with all of the billing information and service data is controlled by BuffaloGrid’s cloud platform. Customers can pay on their phones themselves, either via Premium-SMS, M-Pesa or PayTM. As soon as the transaction has been processed by BuffaloGrid’s servers, one of the charging ports is opened and the customer is free to plug in their phone. The whole process is said to take only a few seconds.

BuffaloGrid’s energy hub has been carefully designed to meet the needs of the local population. There’s an optional solar panel for hubs in off-grid and grid-edge communities, and its clear layout makes it accessible for illiterate users too. The case has even be designed so that two complete systems can be stacked and transported easily on the back of a motorbike.

Currently BuffaloGrid’s services are in active use in eleven different villages in northern India and has sold more than 250,000 charging sessions to more than 60,000 customers. The team is now looking to spread out into other possible markets, possibly in South East Asia and Subsaharan Africa.

This is a translation by Marisa Pettit of an original article which first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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