Published on October 14th, 2015 | by Glenn Meyers


Energy Entrepreneurs In Africa & India

October 14th, 2015 by  

The notoriously small amount of electricity available in Africa and India is now being addressed, thanks in part to the steady growth of energy entrepreneurs who happen to be selling electrical power by peddling bicycles.

A recent BBC program on The Forum featured the bicycle, and interviewed numerous business people, including Sameer Hajee, CEO at Nuru Energy, an international social enterprise targeting the global problem of energy poverty prevalent in Africa and India.

It is estimated more than 700 million people across Africa alone have little or no access to energy, with some 400 million residents of India facing similar energy poverty.

Seed funded by the World Bank in 2008, Hajee markets affordable LED lamps that can be easily recharged using a human-powered generator — in other words, pedal power. While bicycle-powered technology like this has been around for a while, what is most noteworthy about this platform is how it allows individuals to operate as independent businesses that provide people with needed electricity at a reasonable fee.

Nuru Lights p034ly50

Nuru Energy co-created a unique off-grid recharging platform using human power to recharge both Nuru Energy’s portable LED Lights as well as other low-power devices, such as radios and mobile phones. According to the company, its Nuru POWERcycle is the world’s first commercially available pedal generator.  It requires minimal human exertion (60 rotations per minute), and charges up to five Nuru Lights (NL1s) simultaneously in approximately 20 minutes.

The solar lantern is said to burn for 28 hours and can be recharged from multiple sources. Theses are impressive numbers for potential customers who have had to suffer through the toxic odors from kerosene lanterns. Nuru Energy adds these considerations:

“It is extremely efficient producing enough energy for 420 minutes of light for every minute of easy pedalling.  Because it is human-powered, the POWERCycle is not affected by unpredictable weather conditions and can therefore recharge products anytime, anywhere.”

The POWERCycle not only provides reliable and clean power anytime, the company states this product is hundreds of times more efficient than current solar-based solutions. Plus it comes at a fraction of the cost.  This is of particular importance where poverty levels are as extreme as they are in Africa and India.

Nuru Energy claims to use a “bottom-up approach” for every product it develops and the way in which products go to market. “We work with local organizations to recruit and train micro-franchise entrepreneurs, Nuru Energy Entrepreneurs, who sell Nuru’s LED lights to their community and then offer POWERCycle recharging services for a small fee, typically earning in 20 minutes what they previously earned in an entire day.”

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • Ronald Brakels

    I am holsding in m han

    Okay, now I’m not.

    I was holding in my hand a solar light I bought for one Australian dollar. That’s 73 US cents at the moment. It’s not very bright, but it works and one could read by it if one had to. It charges up on cloudy days and operates for over six hours at night. Looking on the internet I see the Nuru light is expected to cost 4-6 USD and cost 20 US cents a week to charge up. So I’m not saying the Nuru pedal powered light isn’t good, but I am saying that it faces some hefty competition and I wouldn’t want to bet that the pedal light is going to win out.

    And each light is going to require very roughly about 2 cents worth of grain to supply enough food kilojoules to charge it and that’s 2 cents worth of grain that a solar light doesn’t require. Muscles are really quite inefficient. I don’t know where they got the, “…hundreds of times more efficient than current solar-based solutions” idea from.

  • A slum dweller in India getting light from human generator and since it’s DC power, exporting to grid may not be possible with smaller systems..But it can be visualized and to be implemented smartly

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s no reason to export this power to the grid. It’s unlikely one could earn enough by selling pedal power at grid wholesale to keep themselves alive.

      But where the grid does not reach.

      India should be full on business men and women charging lamps and mobiles for people who are too far from the grid and who now spend too much on kero and batteries.

      India should have small factories producing these generators. They should have people making a living by selling the generators on to individuals out in the country and teaching them how to run a charging service.

      This is a natural for India. It can greatly improve the lives of millions while they wait for the grid to reach them.

      • Matt

        Some small towns may find the GRID never reaches them. But instead a local micro grid grows up around them. With local PV and storage, just as we don’t see land lines for phone going up. We might see electric come to these remote areas in totally different ways than was done in 1910-1930 US and EU

        • Bob_Wallace

          I agree. And as battery prices fall I suspect we’ll see many millions who never hook to grid or micro grid.

          Standalone solar should become simpler and simpler along with more and more affordable. The trick will be finding a ‘deep backup’ supply.

  • Marion Meads

    If you install these manually actuated electric generators in all the gyms in America and connect to the grid, and no matter how puny their contributions are, they would encourage people in doing more exercise. As it is, we waste all those precious human energy into friction. Wasted energy for muscle conditioning and not achieving any net amount of work done.

    • Frank

      Conceptually attractive, but you need to buy a bunch of addtional generators, which would probably need to be run through some conversion to be able to sync it with the grid, not to mention extra wiring. I don’t think it would ever pay for itself. The reason this solution they write about works, is that LED lights are very many times more efficient at producing light than kerosene lamps. Actually, incandescent lights were many times better already. Top shelf LEDs are like 7 times better than that. I love LEDs. Love that they gave out a nobel in physics for it last year. Three Japanese dudes who really had an impact on the world. I sure wouldn’t mind shaking their hand.

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