Using APM:Copter to bring solar panels to the developing world

From Fast Company, an interesting application of APM:Copter powered drones:

Distributed energy systems are a good idea for homes that aren't hooked up to the grid. But distributing solar panels to remote areas in the developing world is hard. That's why Mobisol, a German installer, is testing whether drones could do some of the heavy lifting.

"The last mile can be a headache, and, since we have a couple of engineers who can develop drones, we thought maybe there's a leapfrog we can make in how we bring appliances and pieces of kit to a customer," says Thomas Duveau, the company's business development manager.

Every Mobisol customer has a solar home system that can be put to productive use, he says. The company is testing the idea that it could put a little recharging station on every customer's roof—that way drones could move around, say, large areas of Rwanda or Tanzania. In other words, Mobisol's customers would become part of the drone network, offering their rooftop panels as micro-charging stations. In return, customers would get credits on their bills, offsetting their monthly repayment costs. See more in the video here:

Mobisol has a rent-to-own business model, whereby customers pay back the cost of solar panels and household appliances over a three-year period and then own their equipment. So far, the company has signed up about 40,000 families, or 200,0000 people in all.

Duveau believes 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.

"The money the World Bank and others have spent has never materialized," he says. "People have been waiting 10 or 20 years for the grid and the grid is not going to come, because it's much too expensive and it's too big an infrastructure for what people really need."

"Most families just want six or seven lamps, a fridge, a TV, a stereo and a charging station. Assuming you could build it, you could never manage to refinance it, simply because the average consumption of electricity is so low. [Generally] they have more efficient appliances than we have."

About 1 billion people still lack electricity, according to World Bank figures, and plenty of other places have grid infrastructure that isn't reliable.

Mobisol's systems are bigger than others sold in the developing world. M-KOPA, which has connected 300,000 homes in East Africa, typically sells 8 watt kits. That's enough to power two LED lights, charge five phones and a torch, and run a radio. Mobisol's packages start at 80 watts, complete with a TV, mobile recharger, radio, and five lights.

Its systems cost at least $21 a month over 36 months. But Duveau says it's more useful and 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 argues.

It's early days for the drones. But one day they could allow Mobisol to extend its reach further while piggybacking on the company's existing solar network.

Views: 1254

Comment by Thomas Stone on February 10, 2016 at 11:18pm

This is a bit off-topic, but I like the 'landing gear-to-pad' design.... I have seen a very similar design from another UAV company. Maybe they had similar inspiration. Or perhaps, great minds think alike. :)


Moderator
Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 11, 2016 at 12:08am

Sadly those panels get stolen from roofs before you can say why is my roof buckling. You can buy kits in many stores to power just that here. Generally costing around R1200 which is about $75. The kits on offer by Mobisol are massively expensive. $756 over the contract period.... I would wage a backhander deal has been done with a government official. Here's a more expensive unit http://www.sustainable.co.za/ecoboxx-160-dc-plus-portable-solar-pow... worth saving for $250. Can I put this in another way. That TV mentioned will most likely be connected to our sat TV service, DSTV that is in the order of R700 a month. It is astounding how many shacks have a dish. Saving for personal solar would not be tricky. A clever marketing trick by Mobisol I am not impressed with their price. In the small village that I live in we have two tiny stores, a hotel and a solar panel shop! Renewables have a bright future here, many folks are going off grid because our state power supplier is awful. sUAS News is off the grid.

Comment by Laser Developer on February 11, 2016 at 1:17am

@Gary - eeish!

Comment by Pascal P. on February 11, 2016 at 1:58am

I agree with Gary, few people in Africa can afford (for security reason) to simply put a panel on the roof. That's a tempting amount of money. So in fact only middle class and up, with properly fenced house with watchman use them. Main use is to supply during numerous grid breakdown.

On the other hand, I see a high potential use of drones for small transportation here, because of the awful transportation problem.Having sparse recharge stations is a good concept.

Pascal (from Cameroon)

Comment by turdsurfer on February 11, 2016 at 4:15am

It sounds so impractical, that it's most probably an EU sponsored project, like many of the other impractical EU sponsored projects I've come across where the real underlying goal is to hook up on to the EU money infusion, which unfortunately is way to easy to do.

Comment by JB on February 11, 2016 at 8:24am

I think drone deliveries are daft anyway. Recharging them on roofs can't be any smarter.

In regards to the PV system the 80W PV panel itself is only worth $100 tops wholesale. The rest of the system, solar regulator (probably not even MPPT) $15 and then the battery (1s 15000mAh?) with a USB charger $35 doesn't add up to much more either. Rechargeable torches are $5 or so each, dunno what type of TV, could be a 10" LCD with radio, maybe $100? So about one third of the cost?

Comment by Darius Jack on February 11, 2016 at 3:14pm
"
Mobisol's packages start at 80 watts, complete with a TV, mobile recharger, radio, and five lights.

Its systems cost at least $21 a month over 36 months.
"
--

21 x $36 = $756

250W solar panels are traded today max at $200

You can buy today 100,000 solar amorphous panels 50W at $3 a piece (loco Europe).

Problem is delivery to Africa since UN Foundation is not operating in Europe and World Bank is operating in Asia.

BTW
I assembly semi-flexible solar panels for EXPO Fair (24W - 120W)
lightweight solar panels laminated on semi-flexible substrate (white).

240w semi-flexible solar panel is only 3.5kg.

darius
Global Solar Consortium

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