Providing affordable mobile power and Internet service to off-grid Asian communities
With operations in Asia, Solar energy provider BuffaloGrid has joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA) by committing to reach 27 million people with solar energy and reduce global CO2 emissions by 11,771 tons while creating jobs for 74,000 local entrepreneurs – all by 2020.
There are over 1.4 billion people globally without access to power and more than 95 percent of them live in Sub-Sahara Africa or in developing Asia. Nearly 500 million people worldwide have a mobile phone but no access to the electricity grid. Most off-grid power in developing regions is provided through highly unsustainable fossil-fueled methods, and internet connectivity is exceptionally limited. Off-grid mobile phone users must often travel 15-20 km to the nearest third-party charging kiosk.
Like in developed nations, staying connected is increasingly important for communities in developing countries. A fully charged phone can allow them to do everything from getting the best prices for their produce to connecting with relatives in an emergency.
Founded in 2011, BuffaloGrid’s inclusive business model combines solar power, mobile money, wifi and cellular technologies while supporting small entrepreneurship. To reach its enormous off-grid market, the company developed a unique solar-powered hub system in which mobile phones (or other devices) can be charged through a central server. These hubs also provide rural communities with reliable and affordable access to mobile communication and internet connectivity.
The hubs are operated by small entrepreneurs – called agents – who can take advantage of BuffaloGrid’s emerging partnerships with online service providers to establish e-education or e-health services in their communities. The local agents can also use these hubs to promote side businesses such as selling newspapers, food, tea and household accessories. In this way, each hub functions as a community small-business and communication centre.
BuffaloGrid aims to deploy 70,000 of these hubs in India and sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, and has plans to bring hubs to refugee camps across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Each hub is provided cost-free to agents, who receive 30 percent of their total revenue.
Once the company’s hubs are firmly established, BuffaloGrid plans to add additional services, including the provision of lights, radio and TV, personal authentication (for voting, property sales and other private transactions) and micropayments for household utilities.