ReadySet Solar Charger
Fenix International Inc.
What is the innovation and how does it address a pressing problem?
The energy market in Africa has been rapidly evolving. The electric grid is expanding and new capacity is being added, however demand is still outstripping supply. Over 1 billion people still depend on costly and dangerous petrol generators or car batteries for their electricity, and countless more utilize kerosene lights risking fume inhalation, burns and house fires. Coupled with the boom in mobile communications, the dependency on electricity has further increased with even greater impact.
To address this challenge, Fenix International created the ReadySet Solar Charger, an intelligent plug-and-play energy system that can power lights, radios, mobile phones and other electronic devices. Designed as an open system, the ReadySet can charge from virtually any source including solar panels, a bicycle dynamo and even mains electricity without special configuration.
The ReadySet provides safe lighting for home use in remote locations, but Fenix’s distribution model relies primarily on the ReadySet’s appeal to entrepreneurs. Using micro-power, owners can charge lanterns and power mobile phones for their community in exchange for a small fee.
What existing practices inspired the innovation and how does it represent something new?
The ReadySet’s innovation rests in its combination of current trends in international development and technology. The first is the drive for sustainable energy sources. The second is the drive for mobile infrastructure—ie. decreasing a reliance on large-scale infrastructure investments to meet basic needs. The ReadySet also incorporates the spirit of open development, encouraging both multiple sources of energy to charge the device, and multiple uses. . Incorporating ideas from the iPhone API, Fenix has published a “Power API” to enable developers, engineers, students, etc. to create their own applications and charging solutions and openly share their innovation.
ReadySet’s business model is based on a careful observation of how people use energy. The built-in firmware enables customers to harness energy from a variety of ‘open power sources’ at all times, even at night or during the rainy season. The system’s intelligence also allows users to expand their system as they earn more income, by adding solar panels and growing the capacity over time.
To ensure distribution, Fenix demonstrated to the mobile operators that the average revenue per mobile user increases by 10-14% when there is regular electricity to keep the phones charged. As a result, Fenix has secured partnerships with the top mobile network operators to provide sales, marketing, distribution as well as after-sales service for the ReadySet.
Please describe the social impact to date, as well as potential impact in the future.
Based on current distribution within East Africa, the ReadySet is enabling local entrepreneurs to power an estimated 5 million mobile phones each year, earning them $1.5M in new income while saving mobile phone users an estimated $2M a year.
To provide a typical customers perspective, Annette, a ReadySet owner in Uganda, has earned enough income to pay back her initial investment in 4 months. She says, “I was able to collect 100,000 shillings ($40) from charging people's phones last month. I also use the light and it saves me 15,000 shillings per month ($6) because I no longer buy paraffin. Even if I'm out, I know that my kids in the house are safe.”
In addition to phone charging, the company is also discovering end-user innovation in order to generate additional income. For example, poultry farmers are using the light to encourage egg laying via improved incubation and fisherman are using the light to increase night fishing capability.
In the future, Fenix is developing a wide range of new ReadySet applications spanning from small fans and radios to water purifiers and vaccine refrigerators. It is anticipated that the ReadySet’s open API will lead to the development of other applications specifically tailored to the needs of ReadySet owners.
Fenix is currently operating across East Africa in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda with the goal of expanding into new markets and powering 1 billion mobile phones by 2016.