Load shedding blues? The Baby Turtle's got your back

A Stellenbosch-based green energy company believes it can tackle lack of access to power and youth unemployment in one go.

SolarTurtle, a social enterprise that uses renewable energy designs to create jobs for youth and women, has signed a development and commercialisation contract with the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI).

The result? Portable solar energy hubs that use the power of the sun to let users charge batteries, get WiFi access and other power-related services wherever they are, including remote and rural areas.

The SolarTurtle is an award-winning solar energy hub developed by Cape Town engineer James van der Walt and his team. The container-based energy kiosk features automated solar panels that deploy and fold away automatically for transport, or if there is any kind of threat, like wind storms, protests or anything else, Fin24 previously reported. It retreats like a turtle into its shell – hence the name SolarTurtle.

The so-called 'Baby Turtle' is a smaller, movable version.

In other words, this latest contract will see the design and implementation of three new solar kiosk designs of various portable sizes. They will all be based on SolarTurtle’s existing fold-away designs – which have been successfully piloted in several sites in SA and Lesotho – but with a new software management system.

SolarTurtle designs and builds solar kiosks with a range of applications, including charging stations, internet hubs and portable computer and training labs.

Their Nedbank project involved them developing a solar-powered container solution for providing banking facilities in remote and rural areas.

The latest project with SANEDI sees them combining solar technology with a micro-business model to create access to energy and sustainable business opportunities at a community level.

The original SolarTurtle

Market gap

"There is a gap in the market for a small solar-kiosk that can provide battery-charging and WiFi options to meet the ever-growing reliance on smartphones and other ICT devices.

"What if you can just swap-out your flat powerbank-battery for one charged from the sun? You can take these bite size energy packets to work or home to provide immediate relief without needing a wall power-socket?" says SolarTurtle General Manager Lungelwa Tyali.

She says there is enough output in most power-banks to also power lights at home, thus providing a safe alternative to paraffin lamps and similar devices in areas with no electricity or where electricity supply is inconsistent.

Their vision is to provide access to cheap and sustainable energy to all South Africans for whom this is currently a challenge, whether rural or urban based.

"The demand for accessible electricity in pay-as-you-go increments has been proven across Africa. We at SolarTurtle just want to take it a step further," she adds.

Baby shark? Nope, Baby Turtle

Several years went into the development of these portable solar kiosks, dubbed 'Baby Turtles' by SolarTurtle co-founder and lead engineer James van der Walt.

"New battery charging station technology, coupled with an integrated software platform that manages the process for operators, customers and donors alike, will allow these energy kiosks to not just provide immediate relief to people that struggle to keep their phones charged and lights on, but also create sustainable opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs in these communities," he explains.

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Van der Walt adds that the back-end software that manages the kiosks will make use of various tools including gamification and online training to encourage buy-in from operators and help push these small green businesses to new heights.

The project with SANEDI will run over three years, during which time SolarTurtle will produce, test and commercialise these new solar powered units with the accompanying software packages.

The long-term goal is to provide a wide range of customers with access to safe, cheap energy while creating sustainable business opportunities, particularly for women and young entrepreneurs.