Pilot 2.0 – To new beginnings in Gwassi

After two eventful months, our pilot project in the Nyamira district has recently come to an end. Two local shop owners were able to try out our charging station, understand its advantages over current charging practices and also hear first-hand feedback from their customers. Despite some adjustments due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the pilot project was a great success and a fantastic learning experience for our team as well as for the people of Nyamira.

Our station packed up and ready to be transported to Gwassi. (Photo: Mbegu Solar)

But our station does not get a breather! Our team member Lewis recently took it to Gwassi in the Homa Bay district, where the 27-year-old farmer James will rent it for the next 3 months. James heard about us through his friend Uncle James (yes another James). Uncle James happened to pass our station in Nyamira and it instantly caught his attention. He contacted our team and asked if the station could also be tested in Gwassi at farmer James’ house. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth!

Farmer James (left) and our team member Lewis (right) found the perfect spot for our station in front of James’ house in Gwassi. (Photo: Mbegu Solar)

Farmer James is the sole breadwinner for his family of seven. From the little money he earns from farming, he pays school fees, food and agricultural inputs. With our station, James hopes to gain a sustainable income to support his family and raise their standard of living.

At the same time he wants his community to benefit from the station and bring development to Gwassi. At present, the people are struggling with reliable access to electricity. Many are not connected to the grid, and even those with grid access complain about regular power cuts, which forces them to recharge their telephone batteries in local charging shops. These stores often use fossil fuel generators and provide poor service to their customers.

Phone charging at local shops is common all over Kenya, but many complain about poor service. (Photo: Mbegu Solar)

With our station, James can finally provide a better charging experience to community members, improve his livelihoods and switch to clean and affordable solar energy. At the same time, we at Solar4Schools (Mbegu Solar) are excited to learn more about our customers, the challenges they are facing and how to improve our solution. It’s a win-win!

James (2nd from the right) and Lewis (right) explain the many features of the station to two customers. (Photo Mbegu Solar)

Piloting in times of corona

On March 13, only three weeks after the start of our pilot project in Nyamira county in western Kenya, the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kenya. Two days later, the government decided to close all schools and advised those employed in the public and private sectors to work from home wherever possible.

The Kenyan police shutting down hotels, restaurants and other businesses classified as non-essential. (Photo credit: Solar4Schools)

With most non-essential businesses and markets closed, we soon saw a major drop in the number of users of our charging station. Agwa, who is running our pilot project, reported almost two thirds fewer customers in just one week. He learned that people were referring to charging stations closer to where they live. Many who had become unemployed found it difficult to support their families. Customer Kelvin* told us: “I don’t have money to charge my phone because I don’t go to work right now. The little money I have I use to feed my family.”

As the number of reported cases kept increasing, the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a nation-wide curfew from 7pm to 5am from March 27. 

Since 25 March 2020 a night-time curfew has been in place across Kenya. (Credit: Citizen Digital)

Despite the circumstances, we decided to keep operating our charging station in the daytime and ensure that people in need can continue to charge their phones. “We are helping the community charge their phones so that they can easily communicate in case of danger in these difficult times”, says Agwa. He made sure that our customers can wash and sanitise their hands before and after using the station. He also continued to encourage people to use our mobile payment service M-PESA after the government recommended reducing the use of cash as much as possible.

A customer washing his hands after using our charging station. (Photo credit: Solar4Schools)

When the police came by in late March and asked us to close the station, Agwa convinced them that recharging the phone was essential. “I explained to them that we only want to support people to charge their phones in times of need. I have also promised them that we will strictly avoid overcrowding.”

To date, 374 positive cases of coronavirus and 14 deaths have been reported in Kenya. We at Solar4Schools will continue to monitor the situation closely and publish regular updates. Starting next week we plan to run another pilot project in Homa Bay county.

Our pilot project has started

We recently launched our pilot in Kenya to introduce the prototype of our solar-powered telephone charging station. Since the beginning of March 2020, our local team has been operating the station at various locations in the Homabay area, 300 km northwest of Nairobi.

The station has been placed next to local phone charging shops so that both shop owners and their customers can experience the many benefits of our product.

Up to 12 customers can charge their mobile phone batteries at the same time, and the charging time is between 1.5 and 2 hours, which is much faster than the usual 3 to 4 hours in local shops. Each charging box is lockable so that only the customer and our Solar4Schools employees have access.

Payment is made via the mobile payment service M-PESA. Especially in times of the coronavirus pandemic, enabling cashless transactions is more important than ever.

Our first showcase event

On 25th November 2019, at Kawangware, Nairobi, Solar4Schools successfully conducted its first product showcase event! The warm presence of around 28 people including directors of schools brightened the event manifold.

The goal of the event was to provide a hands-on experience of our products to the local community. Also, to enlighten the audience with the benefits of using solar energy in schools and the inspiring role that we are playing to facilitate them.

Under the capable organizer and our representative at the field, Alvin, the event was adorned with different interactive activities like quiz competition, storytelling and open-mic. There were refreshments for children and guests at the end which allowed them to mingle and interact.

3 notable achievements for Solar4Schools from the event:

  1. Successful product awareness approximately among 28 locals.
  2. Instant product reviews from around 40% of attendees.
  3. Fruitful promotion of the phone-charging business, the unique aspect of our products.

Take a look at our video from the event