The launderette project is an ongoing e.quinox project which aims to develop and implement an off-grid automated laundry service unreliant on external infrastructure. This project endeavours to demonstrate the feasibility and sustainability of a novel model of rural electrification through the provision of electrical services and its potential to address developmental challenges.
The launderette project was conceived in the context of the need to evolve existing energy kiosks to test new projects with more sustainable models, of higher research value as well as maintaining e.quinox’s identity as a student-led R&D project in backdrop of a rapidly maturing rural electrification industry with increasing private sector involvement.
From 2010 the proportion of electrified households in Rwanda has doubled to 24.5% in 2016, with the national grid extended to every District in the country. Up to 200,000 are now provided with electrical access via off-grid solutions such as solar home systems and micro-grids which have seen successful commercialisation in recent years. By the end of 2018 the government aims to achieve a 22% off-grid connection rate involving these solutions. Against this backdrop of a market experiencing rapid commercial growth, e.quinox is seeking new opportunities, in the development of untested models of rural electrification, specifically in services derived from off-grid electricity.
According to surveys we conducted at the site of implementation, the amount of time residents spent on laundry per week averaged to 5 hours per week. In the US during the 1940s, the commercialisation of domestic washing machines reduced time spent on domestic laundry from 4 hours of manual labour to 40 minutes of automated washing per week. It served as a catalyst for the increase of labour participation rates of women, and with the introduction of other domestic appliances had largely eliminated the domestic service profession. From surveys conducted in September 2016, respondents have expressed the possibility of productive alternative time use in retail and agricultural work. As such, our core motivations for the launderette project are found in its capacity to contribute to the reduction of rural time poverty and gender inequality.
Further the project has the potential to be an instrument for the promotion of public health and wellbeing. For example, in serving rural health centers (postes de santé) to better reduce risks of disease contamination associated with laundry activities. Ultimately e.quinox aims to demonstrate the commercial feasibility, that is, the sustainability, cost-effectiveness and scalability of a new model of off-grid electrification that has the potential to promote standards of living and growth in locations with low infrastructural development.
e.quinox’s previous projects have demonstrated the suitability of the ‘pay as you go’ (PAYG) model for the provision of goods and services in a low-savings environment. As is the case with providing electricity, the PAYG model is relevant for launderette due to high capital costs to obtain a washing machine even for higher income households with electrical access.
Our prototype solution involves using the existing installed 600W photovoltaic capacity at the Batima energy kiosk, coupled with 5kWh of deep-cycle batteries; a water system to collect, purify and store rainwater to provide for electrical and water needs of a commercial washing machine. Finally, a wastewater system which includes a ultrafiltration module enables water recycling to ensure the supply of water during dry seasons, while also concentrating effluent to be stored in a septic tank and periodically removed for treatment.
The initial implementation of our project in Batima, which is a Sectoral administrative center and population center will allow for an established customer base which will enable e.quinox to better investigate the performance of the project and to further develop the project into a reliable infrastructure-independent model that can be replicated in more challenging and varied rural settings.
Having obtained governmental authorisation for the project, e.quinox plans to deploy the project in the summer of 2017. In preparation for this, work is currently being conducted in the testing of the water-recycling system. This deployment will serve as the trial to accurately assess the engineering and business model of the project.