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“In Uganda, charging a cellphone can cost 500 Ugandan shillings, or about $0.20. That’s a huge burden for those who earn less than a dollar a day, especially when you have to charge the phone two or three times a week. Rural areas need stronger signals from cellphones because there are fewer cellphone towers nearby, a further drain on power. “In rural economies, about 50 per cent of the money spent on mobile phones is actually spent on charging them,” says BuffaloGrid’s Damon Millar. “That is some of the most expensive electricity in the world.”
“The idea for BuffaloGrid came from founder Phil Schluter, who has spent 20 years as a coffee trader in Africa. Schluter saw the benefits that mobile phones were bringing the local communities, but also the difficulties in charging that people were having without access to power. The original idea was for a bicycle generator, but over three years it has evolved through an ongoing design and development process, and intensive field research.”
“Mobile phones are vital for people in developing countries, whether for trading, safety or general communication. The UN, where Becerra presented the project earlier this year, identifies the mobile phone as the biggest contributor to economic growth in off-grid areas. “Mobile phones are really changing the game: they improve quality of life and business activities. If you need a doctor or you’ve been robbed, you need a phone,” Becerra says. “You hear stories of users who would sacrifice their quality of food just to get airtime and a charge for their phones.”
“The premise behind the venture is simple. At a time when the UN is predicting that the mobile internet will be the biggest contributor to growth in remote rural locations across the developing world, telecoms companies have been relatively quick to erect masts and roll out services. However, without access to reliable power supplies, handset users often have to travel for many miles simply to find a source of power to charge their devices.”