The io™ system provides a new way to make solar power more affordable for rural, off-grid households in Sub-Saharan Africa. Users start by making a small investment in a basic io™ solar power module, and then scale-up the size of their system adding power and functionality at their own pace.
Each io™ module is a fully-functioning mini solar power system in its own right. However once several are daisy-chained together, they synergise to create a full-size system able to power much larger appliances such as bright security lights, radios, loudspeaker systems, and eventually fridges and TVs.
The main product is the io™ Battery 100 set comprising a 3.5W solar panel, a solar charge controller, a 10W.h LiFePO4 battery and two LED ceiling lights with wall switches. The ceiling lights each provide 80 lumens of light, and will last 5 hours each on a full day’s solar charge (or 10 hours if only one is used). The solar charge controller implements all the most advanced technical features to maximise efficiency and product life expectancy. The output voltage is 12V DC, and is designed to accommodate any off-the-shelf appliance that could be plugged into a typical 12V DC electrical system.
On its own, the product represents a fairly typical 2-light solar power system, and frugal cost-engineering has also allowed it to be priced as such. However, if a second set is purchased and stacked together with the first, the unit’s special circuitry connects the two systems’ solar panels and the two systems’ batteries together as one. This means that the more sets in a single stack, the more power can be delivered to a single appliance. Around 20–30 such units may be stacked together in this manner without fail and this should far exceed the users’ requirements.
The io™ Starter Set, with a 3.5W solar panel, can charge any appliance via a 5V USB port. This low-cost io™ module, is ideal for charging mobile phones, for which an “octopus”, 10-in-1 phone adapter is included for various phone models. A small rechargeable key-chain torch is also included in this set, and the owner is encouraged to use any rechargeable USB appliance available on the mass market (e.g. a small radio). As a result of the crucial cost-saving measure to omit a battery from this set, these appliances can only be charged during the day. However, if an io™ Starter Set is stacked together with one or more io™ Battery 100 Sets then the former will tap into the stored energy contained in the latter to allow charging at night.
Bringing solar power to rural households in Sub-Saharan Africa allows hazardous kerosene lighting to be replaced by electric lighting.
It is a well-documented fact that kerosene lighting is not only a major contributor to global climate change* but also considerable impact on the health and safety of its users. “In South Africa alone, over 200,000 people are injured or lose property each year due to kerosene-related fires, in addition to 79,750 very young children unintentionally ingesting kerosene, of which 60% develop a chemically induced pneumonia. In Bangladesh, kerosene lamps are responsible for 23% of infant burns. Three multi-year reviews of admissions to Nigerian hospitals attributed 30% of all burn cases to kerosene. Even higher burn rates (~40%) are attributed to kerosene lamps in Sri Lankan homes, with 150–200 lives lost and an associated cost of 1 million USD each year to for medical care.”**
The io™ product range is an innovative and affordable, modular solar power system that offers households a more financially viable option for investment. Households that wouldn’t otherwise have invested in a solar power system can afford to do so, and this will contribute to the direct mitigation of the described problems above.
* Brookings in the policy paper Black Carbon and Kerosene Lighting: An Opportunity for Rapid Action on Climate Change and Clean Energy for Development
**Dr. Evan Mills in the paper on Health Impact of Fuel-based Lighting, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2012
Frugal engineering design has minimised production cost to the extent that each io™ module can be bought at the same price as comparable solar lanterns. This allows households to buy each module outright, avoiding microfinancing or pay-as-you-go structures. An analysis based on World Bank data from 2011 estimates that 81% of rural (off-grid) households in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to any financing services. The product targets these 93 million underserved households because the system can be purchased on a modular basis according to a household budget.
The innovation can be disseminated through existing distribution networks which will provide employment to many local retailers and last-mile distributors.
Local partners will handle distribution and allow the company to scale up gradually. These do not need a complex support network, and the product can therefore be rolled-out through more traditional distribution networks in a rapidly scalable manner. In turn the distribution networks will provide employment to many local retailers and last-mile distributors.
Production costs are set at 17.45 USD with a sales price set at 26.95 USD.
Requirements for ios solar power system:
3W solar panel
solar charge controller
9W.h LiFePO4 battery
Two LED ceiling lights with wall switches
Organization: Shamba Technologies
Contact: Edward Matos
Used in: Tanzania