Solar device helps vendors in Africa

December 4, 2015

Solar device helps vendors in Africa


Nashville resident Mawuli Tse has brought solar power to more than 600 homes in urban parts of Ghana and nearby countries through his company, Solar Light, and a new prototype. Jae Lee / The Tennessean

Nashville resident Mawuli Tse has brought solar power to more than 600 homes in urban parts of Ghana and nearby countries through his company, Solar Light.

Now, he is using energy from the sun to help those in more rural communities — this time through street vendor umbrellas and a mobile phone charging kit.

With the help of a $100,000 grant from the United States African Development Foundation and General Electric, Tse is creating a portable charger powered by solar panels that fit on top of large umbrellas that often accompany street vendors’ stands.

The charger can provide vendors with an extra source of income as customers pay to charge their phones. The solar product, called “Sunana,” will also mean additional power options for the vendors, whose homes typically lack access to an electrical grid.

“At the end of the day they can take the system home and use it for lighting or … continue working in the evening when they may have had to close shop and go home,” said Tse, a native of Kpando, Ghana. “Their livelihoods depend on very small margins during the day, so anything we can do to boost their incomes is a good thing.”

Many street vendors set up stands along highways or in marketplaces, selling prepaid mobile phone cards, along with other goods, so the charging service is a natural fit. The Sunana product will cost close to $300, a sum that vendors could pay off within three to six months, while having a power source for themselves and their families at home — enough for a lamp, running a small fan or radio, Tse said.

Tse is developing prototypes for the charger and will conduct demonstrations this month in Ghana. He plans to begin production in March.

Solar Light and 21 other companies were chosen among more than 300 submissions to the African Development Foundation’s Power Africa Challenge, which helps fund African alternative energy companies offering off-grid energy alternatives.

President Obama announced the Power Africa initiative in 2013 as an effort to double the number of people with access to power living in Sub-Saharan Africa. With 70 percent living without access to electricity, even with more grids, many would continue to go without electricity, so the challenge was meant to develop other solutions for underserved areas.

Solar Light stood out as an innovative company targeting marginalized communities, said Ion Ghetie, program analyst at the African Development Foundation.

“It was different way to use solar,” Ghetie said. “They had an understanding of the market price and the demand from the street vendors.”

In Ghana’s urban areas, power outages are not uncommon and electric power is at times rationed, with households going without power nearly every other day, Tse said. Those who can afford it rely on a generator, or they go without.

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