The initial trial for the stand-alone solution was implemented in Summer 2012. The solution was developed to address the principal limitation of the energy kiosks: that people living in the most remote rural villages often live in very scattered communities which made a central kiosk problematic.
What is the Stand-alone Solution?
The Stand-alone solution consisted of a pay-as-you-go solar lighting kit, known as the Izuba.Box, which was installed in the customer’s home. A solar panel is connected to a sealed box which then can provide lighting and charge small appliances (cell phones, radios, etc.). The high capital costs of the solar home system is circumvented through the use of a mobile payment based, pay-as-you-go scheme.
Customers were required to buy credit for the Izuba.Box, which was added to the box via an unlock code entered into the keypad on the box. Customers were given the choice of how long they would like to “unlock” and use the box. Once their “unlock” expires they can use a mobile payment scheme to request a new code, thereby removing the need to travel to buy new credit, and ensuring they always have light. The payment scheme is rent-to-own which encouraged customers to keep paying on a regular basis and to take good care of their system.
Due to the open nature of the locking mechanism hardware, it is possible to formulate a very flexible business model. Unlock codes lasted for as short as 2 days and as long as 8 weeks give financial freedom of choice for the customer and help in reducing the number of people dropping out from the scheme. This is particularly important in a local economy which is heavily based on agriculture and thus an inconsistent income stream, stand alone customers could pay with their mobile phones. In Rwanda, the major carriers allow customers to deposit cash onto a “mobile money” account. The customer can then send money directly to our shopkeeper, who will provide the unlock code by text.
Over the Summer Expedition 2012, the Standalone team successfully implemented a trial of 74 Izuba.Boxes. Izuba is the Kinyarwandan word for Sun and comes in two sizes: Home and Pro. The Home system is designed to provide only lighting, powering a small radio and mobile phone charging. The Pro model is targeted a customers who may be able to use the box to generate more income, such as powering a razor for a barber shop, and has a larger solar panel and battery as well as a conventional AC output. . The trial consists of 65 Home systems and 9 Pro systems, distributed to the villagers of the Minazi and Mataba districts in Gakenke Sector, Rwanda.
A lot of lessons were learnt during the implementation of the Izuba.boxes. Whilst in theory they solved the issues regarding the long distances required by villagers to travel to a central kiosk, battery degradation and maintenance was identified as an issue with the standalone models.