The battery box is an essential part of our electrification solution. This approach allows for a centralised power production facility, our energy kiosks, and distribute the electricity for consumption using the boxes. This reduces significantly the infrastructure cost associated with a conventional grid. This is also applicable for the standalone solution.
Since e.quinox started in 2009, we have been through a few designs, all based on the lessons learnt from previous models.
Our first battery box offered 12V DC to run appliances such as light bulbs, radios and mobile telephones. However, during our implementation phase in September 2009, we noticed that interfacing some of the appliances proved to be very difficult. We noticed that 12V DC with our specialised plug proved to not allow the degree of flexibility conventional grid offers. It is important to remember that the target market are people that earn least in the world and their expected load profile can be estimated to be 40Wpeak.
To extend the variety of appliances that can be used with the box, an inverter was integrated. Having a standard 230V AC plug allowed our customers to use AC lighting as well as all other standard low power appliances. The second generation box was decreased in size and weight to increase handiness.
Problems concerning the inverter and the AC lighting in the second generation lead to a third box that combines the advantages of the previous models and minimises the weaknesses. Returning to the DC lighting uses less energy and the inverter is switched on only if needed.
Research has shown that the main uses for the battery box are lighting and phone-charging, and to this end, the 4th generation boxes only have 2 DC outputs. One 12V output for the lights, and one 5V USB output for phone charging. This eliminates the need for an inverter, which in the past has proven one of the more expensive and most unreliable components of the design.
The simple design means e.quinox started exploring the exciting prospect of local manufacturing. 200 boxes were manufactured in Rwanda during this summer’s expedition, sourcing the majority of the materials locally and using local labour. This project has the dual benefit of supporting the local economy through the use of local resources, and spreading the knowledge of the battery boxes to the local population.
A lot of lessons learnt has been leant during the implementation in 2012, and this year, the team is working on a new design, which will simplify the manufacturing process, and also increase the safety and reliability of the boxes.
Due to the increasing number of energy kiosks, it has become a high priority for the e.quinox team to obtain regular updates to track the performance and capacity of the equipment installed in Rwanda and Tanzania. Because most commercial solutions cost thousands of pounds to implement and maintain they are incompatible with the aims and ideals of e.quinox. The Data Logger project was thus started in 2010 to provide a bespoke, cost effective and flexible solution that could grow and adapt to the increasing requirements posed by the growing scale and number of energy kiosks. With two units already installed in Rwanda, the team is currently developing a next generation system to further reduce costs, improve the design and move towards becoming an open source alternative available to external organisations that share our aims and interests.
When deployed at one of our sites in Africa, the Datalogger system collects data from various sensors and transmits the information to our servers in London using a standard GSM/3G connection. These units gather information about the local environment such as temperature, light and humidity as well as power generation and consumption within the kiosk at each stage of the electrical system. This system also allows the team in London to download, visualise and analyse the data received through a graphical web interface.
During the summer expedition 2012, it became apparent that the system needed a redesign. It is currently far too complicated which makes debugging very difficult (especially in the field) and can add problems which members may not know how to fix. Our proposed design will be a much more generic one board system aimed at sensing in a wider range of places. This will include several voltage and current sensors (not aimed at a specific point) and some common digital inputs with the possibility of adding multiple other sensors as well. Data collected will be stored in an SD card and also uploaded to an internet server via a MBed microcontroller.
The Standalone solution has been implemented in summer 2012. Find out more about it here.
Our Standalone team is currently working on the next generation of Izuba.Box, our standalone battery boxes, after feedback obtained over the trial implementation period. A physical re-design of the box will make manufacturing simpler and fine-tuning the type and quantity of outputs will yield a solution better tailored to our customers. Updates to the software will make the second generation more intuitive and user-oriented. Specific software bugs and poor design choices will be eliminated.
Also, in cooperation with a Rwandan start-up company, the goal of automated mobile-based unlocking will be tackled. Instead of using regular mobile payments to purchase an unlock code based on the value transferred, an app will be written (for all old and low-cost cell phone models) that allows users to select the wanted unlock duration, pay, then automatically receive a reply from an automated web-server with their box-specific unlock code. This method would cut out the middleman, thereby reducing operating costs and increasing customer response time. Another method being investigated is the integration of a GSM module into the box itself. By enabling the box to communicate with the web-server directly, a customer would only have to approve the payment via text and ensure their box is “topped up” with mobile money credit, the rest is done automatically. This method would increase the flexibility of the business model even further by introducing the possibility of pay monthly schemes similar to direct debit in western countries.