400m Indians have limited access to electricity, experiencing 9 hours of power cuts on average daily and 300m have no access to electricity at all (Bloomberg, 2016). Access to electricity is essential for development, education and quality of life improvement (WHO, 2016). In off-grid regions, population growth far outpaces electrification and despite plentiful sunlight, solar produces only 0.2% of electricity due to factors incl poor quality technologies and cost (GSMA, 2013). UN identifies access to mobile communication as the biggest contributor to economic growth in developing countries as they allow access to education, markets, security and banking. However, benefits of mobile phones to off-grid communities are undermined by the difficulty in accessing electricity for charging.
Solution & Challenges
BuffaloGrid (BG) has developed a scalable network of solar powered smartphone charging Hubs for off-grid regions, currently operating at small scale (20 Hubs) in Uttar Pradesh (India) giving users local access to sustainable energy. BG plan to scale its network of Hubs across South Asia and then globally, however, poor mobile data coverage in remote regions prevents Hubs dispensing charge. This in turn prevents offgrid users accessing smartphone charging and limits access to development information.
Funding from the MBR Challenge Fund will allow BG to integrate mesh network hardware into its Hubs. This reliable data connection to the BG cloud platform will enable dispensing of charge in remote areas, expanding BG’s potential operating locations and increasing scalability. This will also enable BG to develop an offline repository of information (educational/farming etc) stored on Hubs and kept updated and synchronised via the mesh network. BG will work with partners to populate the repository with information (websites and videos) translated/dubbed in common regional languages. Where possible, BG will work with these partners to develop purely visual educational and farming information, enabling access by illiterate users. The funding will allow BG to run extensive trials to test/optimise the system and demonstrate improved access to energy and development information.