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04
Dec
2014
Dec 4, 2014 8:00:00 AM

How Africans Cope With Charging Mobile Phones In The Electrical Desert

How Africans Cope With Charging Mobile Phones In The Electrical Desert

Here in the AMGOO office we charge our mobile phones every day. How about you?

Despite Africa being 'mobile first,' and indeed leading the world in areas like mobile app development, they do have a big problem holding them back.

The lack of adequate supplies of electricity.

Sub-Saharan Africa is far from being a desert. In fact, below the mighty Sahara, much of the continent is lush and green. However, it is an electrical desert.

"More than a staggering 80% of Africans live without grid electricity." (Tweet this stat)

Given that there are approximately 940 Million African people in sub-Saharan Africa, this would be roughly around three quarters of a Billion Africans without electricity in this region!

As you can imagine, this makes many of the simplest things difficult for many African people, including charging their mobile phones!

So just how do you charge your phone in Africa? Are there any ways around this lack of electricity? Keep reading to discover how the mobile industry in Africa has evolved to deal without an abundance of electricity...

Why Does Africa Lack Electricity?

Whilst in many developed areas around the world we take for granted those little white wall plugs, the story is very different in Africa.

Can you imagine not having electricity at home?

Can you imagine having to travel for hours to find somewhere that could charge your phone?

Can you imagine not being able to read at night, watch TV, or listen to the radio?

Well, this is the reality for many people in the Sub-Saharan regions, and it's because infrastructure is poor.

In the same way that poor infrastructure has allowed mobile data to prosper at fixed-line internet's expense, it has also allowed a lack of electrification to creep into many Africans' lives.

Admittedly, this is mainly true for rural areas, but in a continent where a huge proportion of people live rurally and make their living from agriculture, this still equates to many hundreds of Millions of people.

Cash-strapped African governments have been reluctant to invest the vast sums needed to expand the power grid out of cities and towns, and it's no surprise:

"In rural Africa the average population density is only five people per square kilometer, hence a lack of investment in electrification for those areas" (Tweet this stat)

In fact, according to 'Renewable Energy World,' grid expansion can cost up to around US$19,070 per square kilometer, therefore this works out at a cost of about US$3800 per person to receive an electricity supply in rural Africa! An astronomical sum. 

So, Africa lacks electricity due to the cost of building the necessary infrastructure to deliver it. Even if it were in place, following the cost to create the power grid, normal people wouldn't be able to afford electricity, the costs being so high to claw back the start-up costs for the power companies!

It's a pity, because not only does this hold back people's development, but it also holds back the mobile industry in Africa which has surged ahead so promisingly.

 

How Do Africans Get By?

solar cells being used in africa

As you may know by now if you've been reading our regular AMGOO Industry Insider blogs, African people won't let something as tiny as a lack of electricity hold them back for long!

At the moment much power is created by the burning of biomass, kerosene, or by running diesel generators. Of course, these 3 energy sources are neither green, nor renewable, but their ready availability, and the ability to buy them in small quantities makes them a convenient option for many local people in areas with no electricity.

However, lack of electricity is causing Africa to break more barriers with ingenuity, and it's these unconventional, yet clever, ways of creating electricity that I'm interested in here.

Indeed, renewable energy forms are probably one of the future growth areas in Africa...

Solar Power

If there's one thing that Africa does have in abundance it's sunshine. This makes it, presumably, perfect for using solar cells in order to produce electricity.

According to Greg Odogwu writing for Punch:

"Many African countries receive, on average, 325 days per year of bright sunlight" (Tweet this stat)

Interestingly, he also says that if just a small area of the Sahara desert were to be set aside as a solar power farm (remember, it is vast), this could provide renewable energy for the entire world, so great is the power creation potential of that area!

Solar cells also have another string to their bow where rural Africa is concerned, as they only need to be installed once, and will then create energy indefinitely. This is in stark contrast to diesel, kerosene, petrol, and other non-renewables, which need a constant supply train to be implemented and run.

The big issue with solar is its initial cost. 

Solar cells are fairly expensive, and finance is an issue for many African governments and individuals. Long term solar power is cheaper, and will pay for itself, but can people afford to wait?

Other Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy world tells us that:

"The sub-Saharan region offers several promising sources of renewable energy. In addition to solar power, massive hydro potential is available in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, for example. Geothermal power could be harnessed by countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Wind is abundant across West Africa."

As with any long term plans in Africa, it's impossible at this point to know for sure if these governments will realise their dreams of producing enough energy from these renewable sources, but it's fascinating that once again we see Africa getting around problems through ingenuity!

Speaking of ingenuity, how would you feel about producing your own energy via pedal power?

This is precisely what some students from the University of Nairobi have come up with, with their bike-powered phone charger:

Once again, this is the classic case of ingenuity through necessity.

Bikes are one of the most common forms of transport in Kenya, a country at the forefront of the mobile industry in Africa. So it makes perfect sense that they could be used to charge mobile phones, as most Kenyans have both a mobile phone, and a bicycle.

 

What's Next For African Phone Users?

the future of electricity for the mobile industry in africa

Widespread electrification still seems some way off for Africa, so it looks like renewable energy sources to add electricity to smaller areas, and local communities are the way forward. It remains to be seen if government led major renewable projects will bear enough fruit to offer power to many of those living in the electricity desert, but the will seems to be there.

On a smaller scale, many entrepreneurs are setting up mobile phone charging stations which operate from solar cells on their roofs. These charge customers' cell phones, and can also store excess energy in a bank of batteries, for instance car batteries. Clever micro-economy, right? 

Happily, as the demand for solar cells (and other renewable, or energy-saving, technology) increases across the continent, the prices will come down.

What can we learn from Africa's situation?

  • Africa is an electrical desert for many normal people, especially in rural areas.
  • Renewable energy sources could be the solution to this problem.
  • Mobile phones need good battery life if they're to be useful to Africans!
  • Ingenuity from necessity is a driving force behind innovation in Africa.

So next time you plug in your phone charger to top off your smartphone's battery, spare a thought for people in Africa who often have a much more difficult decision to make!

 


 

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Posted: Dec 4, 2014 8:00:00 AM by AMGOO Marketing Team | Filed under: How Tos, Africa mobile industry

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