Given such market demographics, Mobisol is testing whether drones can provide important benefits for distributing its solar products. It remains to be seen whether such an approach is feasible.
“Transporting goods in remote rural areas of East Africa is expensive, unreliable and time-consuming. That’s why we are currently testing the leap-frogging of infrastructural deficits by piloting over-the-air delivery by solar-powered drones.
“During the pilot phase we will evaluate customer acceptance and analyze technical constraints. In order to address the issues of recharge capabilities and bridging larger distances, we are utilizing the already existing and ever-growing network of our solar home systems in East Africa as recharge hubs.”
Mobisol features rent-to-own product options, where customers pay for the cost of solar panels and household appliances over a three-year period and own their equipment at the end of the term.
Business development manager Thomas Duveau said the cost of solar has declined sufficiently that governments and international agencies should move straight to distributed energy rather than investing in large grid projects.
“Most families just want six or seven lamps, a fridge, a TV, a stereo and a charging station,” he said. “Assuming you could build it, you could never manage to refinance it, simply because the average consumption of electricity is so low.”
Developing the Mobisol market with a drone boost
Mobisol’s systems cost at least $21 a month over 36 months. But Duveau says it’s more useful and eventually allows families to become micro-entrepreneurs, for instance charging phones and laptops for other villagers, and setting up barber shops or small cinemas. “We’re the only company that can claim to substitute the grid,” he said.
The company states its possible drone operation “…is carbon free, powered by the sun; and it creates decentralized income as customers are provided with an additional stream of income by charging the copters with their solar system’s electricity. The project underlines the vast possibilities for Mobisol in the off-grid market and the many opportunities for innovation to create leap-frogs, saving resources – and again improving the lives of our customers while contributing to world-wide climate change mitigation.”
Drones may prove to be an attractive delivery option in some of the vast off-grid areas in Africa lacking in a road delivery system.
This Vimeo video provides a glimpse into Mobisol’s potential market in Tanzania.
Image via Mobisol