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In developing countries, money transfers, medical care, and weath-er forecasts via mobile phone have become a daily occurence.

Will the demand for mobile phones initiate a solar boom?

Prospects for a rapidly growing solar market look good. For one, because 1.5 billion people in rural regions live without access to electricity, and for another, cell phone networks are spreading rapidly throughout the world. Mobile phones do not require any cross country cables and broadcast towers can be built quickly. But mobile phones must be charged regularly.


The United Nations calls it a "mobile phone revolution" with effects on trade, health, and social life. Of all continents, Africa has the greatest growth areas. Over 300 million cell phone contracts were signed between 2003 and 2008 alone. Kenya's monopoly supplier, Safaricom, estimates that it will have 12 million contract customers in 2010. Roughly one third of all Africans telephone, trade, and transfer money via mobile phones. In southern Africa, cell phone density is nearly 100 percent. In northern Africa it is around 65 percent.
The cell phone market is also developing rapidly in Asia. A study published in Sri Lanka by Lirneasia revealed that the rapid increase of cell phones can be traced back mainly to the poor population groups. Of those surveyed, 90 percent reported that they had telephoned within the past three months, 75 percent that they have access to a telephone within ten minutes.
The Grameen Telecom Corporation (GTC) in Bangladesh deals with the urban-rural gap by helping women in rural regions start their own businesses with so-called "Grameenphones." Women buy mobile phones on credit and offer telephone services in their home villages. Nearly 400,000 "phone ladies" make their living through the sale of telephone minutes in Bangladesh, linking even the most remote villages with the rest of the world.
Cell phones must be charged. And the more services offered (weather, market prices, medical care, money transfers), the more indispensable they become. This is evident, for example, in Kenya where the number of money transfers made with the cell phone is nearly equal to the number of those made with credit cards and cell phone rates are sometimes more important than the price of a loaf of bread. Along with a dense network, required for the reliable use of the small mobile devices is, mainly, a stable electrical supply. Mobile phones with integrated solar cells are only an emergency solution. Practice has shown that use behavior renders the charging cycles too short and the rechargeable batteries quickly lose their capacity. Replacement batteries are expensive and difficult to buy.
Here is where solar power systems come into play. Such systems have long delivered more than just light, and have become multi-power providers. They have run refrigerators, radios, and televisions, and for some time now, have charged mobile phones. Those who use mobile phones in rural areas and want to avoid the bothersome journey to a far-away charging station soon recognize the advantage of having their own solar power system. It is almost a certainty that the demand for solar home systems in non-networked areas will increase greatly and that solar trade will develop along the route of broadcasting towers.


Exemplary facts:
In Uganda, there are meanwhile more contracts for mobile phones than landlines. Additionally, mobile phones are offered at the marketplace with access on a per-call basis. Car owners transform their vehicles into mobile charging stations.
Electrical networks and mobile phone networks: whereas more than 90 percent of the people in the countryside have no electrical network, nearly 50 percent have broadcasting towers.


Source: sun-connect 4 | November 2010 (p. 6)

 

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