Thermo-electric technology providing energy solutions to rural households
Thermo-electric technology is the future of Carbon emission reductions. The technology is not new as it has been around since the 1800s. But the last 20 years has seen a lot of research go into this field with the growing need for conservation. Thermo-electric generators are some of the inventions that are fast becoming commercialised and soon they shall be able to power automobiles.
Powerspot, a Spanish company founded five years ago are market leaders in the manufacturing of user-end portable thermos-electric power generators. They were able to develop miniaturized power generators to be used where there were no electricity grids.
The device generates electricity when its base is heated with any material such as coal, wood, alcohol, kerosene, or with a flame from a stove. Also necessary is a coolant that can either be water or air. Once it starts producing electricity the generator can be connected to charge phones, tablets, electronic equipment, rechargeable batteries or light LED bulbs or any other USB device.
Initially their move to Africa was spurred by the need to improve the lives of refugee camp dwellers and rural households. They noted that despite the major urban migration into African cities, a large population, about 80%, is still living in the rural regions. These regions still do not have electricity let alone power grids. These statistics motivated them to bring their innovation to Africa to ensure that they reduced the population percentages that had no access to electricity.
They began expanding their product line by developing the PowerJiko from market research conducted in rural Kenya. The ‘jiko’ is a stove in Swahili and is commonly used in many households across the continent. They found an inventive way to combine the mini generator with a jiko to produce the PowerJiko. The idea behind it is to provide an energy solution while preparing a meal. The energy it produces can then be used to charge devices such as phones, tablets and also for lighting purposes.
The devices they have developed will generate energy for at least 15 years without any additional costs on repairs. The devices operate between 15-20 years without breakdowns, replacement with spare parts or maintenance.
In its initial phase the generator has reached more than 20,000 users mainly through collaborations developed with NGOs in Kenya, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Cambodia. They currently have more than 250 requests for the distribution of the PowerJiko in 29 different countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are in talks with various United Nation agencies for a possible collaboration to enable access to the product in Sub-Saharan Africa and certain parts of Asia.
“We opened a subsidiary in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania seven months ago with a local partner and we have begun commercialization and marketing as we have done in Kenya. The company is called TMBM Powerspot Limited,” says Alfonso Acebal, the Regional Director, Africa.
They are finalising a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kwango Province, where they are providing clean micro-energy to thousands of people in the region. In addition they are going into collaborations with several Kenyan organizations such as Safaricom, KWFT, Chai Sacco and KCB to provide rural households with a payment instalment plan, to allow them affordable access to the product.
At Kenya Climate Innovation Center they are in the Incubation programme to receive business acceleration and market development services.
Powerspot also offers a range of products focused on outdoor activities, such as adventure or survival, which are in four categories designed for different needs: Lanyard+, Micro and Nano, Mini Thermix and Thermix, and the Explorer. In addition, the company also markets a wide range of accessories like connectors and adapters, extensions, lamps, bulbs and cases.
By Michelle Mung’ata