Kenya: “Solar ya Simu”” a solar powered mobile phone to cope with Africa’s electricity challenges

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Michael Joseph, second from right

A new solar mobile phone locally known as “Solar ya Simu” has been introduced to the Kenyan market since August. Safaricom is behind this brillaint innovation, which comes as a relief to a continent that suffers from a severe shortage of electric power. According to them, it is a world first.

A new solar powered mobile phone has made its way into Kenyan homes. Safaricom, the Kenyan Telecommunications Company that launched the solar phone, has indicated that the innovation meets their environmental goals and also deals with problems linked to increasing power outages in the country due to drought and a high demand in electric power. Kenya relies on water-generated electricity.

According to the head of Safaricom, Michael Joseph, this phone will be particularly useful in “rural areas where there is no mains electricity. It also answers to the needs of the urban populations” who are faced with electricity rationing. Many Kenyans receive electricity two or three days per week as part of this policy.

Scarcity and the high price of electricity is expected to favour the commercialisation of Safaricom’s solar phone, S312 ZTE. It was developed in partnership with ZTE, a Chinese firm.

Environmentally friendly and affordable

Michael Joseph, second from rightThe best way to move toward cheaper, greener and renewable energy sources is through “Solar energy”, Michael Joseph said. Safaricom sells the phone at 2 999 Kenyan shillings (about 30 euros) an “affordable” price for most Kenyans. “Solar ya Simu” is manufactured from recycled components. It comes with a conventional electrical charger and has a one-year warranty. “It is readily available to other countries from the same vendor-ZTE”, indicates Michael Joseph. : What is “Simu ya Solar” ?

Michael Joseph : It means solar phone in Sheng, which is a popular urban corruption of English and Swahili. Swahili is Kenya’s lingua franca. : How does the telephone work?

Michael Joseph : The phone has a solar panel at the back and gets charged using solar energy in both sunny and cloudy cover. The phone can get fully charged in 8-15 hours depending on the climatic conditions. An hour of charging can yield between 5-15 minutes of talk time depending on the climatic conditions. : When did you decide to produce this type of mobile phone?

Michael Joseph : The demand for a solar phone has been there for a while but we are the first company globally to launch it commercially. It has been produced under a partnership with ZTE. : What made you decide to commercialise solar phones in Kenya?

Michael Joseph : The solar phone does not need electricity so it is a favourable device for people who do not have access to power and have to travel long distances to charge their phones, a service for which they normally pay a fee of about Sh50. The solar phone enables them to use their phones all the time by charging it in both sunny and cloudy weather. This is a very ideal product in Kenya, where a huge part of the population lives in rural areas where there is no mains electricity. It also answers to the needs of the urban population, most of who live in slums that lack electricity. Kenya, which relies on water-generated electricity, is currently undergoing a severe drought and electricity deficit which has resulted in a punishing rationing schedule. This makes the product welcome even among those with grid electricity. : The solar phone has been on the market for a couple of weeks now. How would you describe its acceptance?

Michael Joseph : Customers are very excited about it and it is already recording tremendous sales. Price is not an issue as it is affordable to most Kenyans at Sh2,999. Mobile phone shops are also very excited to stock the solar phones, given its ascendant popularity among consumers.. : What other environmentally friendly projects is your company undertaking in response to the African market demand?

Michael Joseph : We are in the process of preparing an Environmental Management System under ISO 14001 which is a voluntary environmental initiatives that will help us manage environmental issues internally and externally, thereby enabling us to gain better control of environmental aspects so as to mitigate the negative impacts as far as practicable. Already, 60 of our base transceiver stations run on renewable energy (wind and solar) and this number is poised to grow, going forward. Safaricom uses motion-sensitive light bulbs at its head office complex to conserve energy. Some of Safaricom’s other great green initiatives that suit our customers include; M-PESA, our internationally-acclaimed money transfer system and another global first, is a paperless and convenient way to receive and send money.

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