Powering the Most Remote Off the Grid Places

OffGridBox provides solar power and clean water to communities in far-flung places

Jan 22, 2020

Bringing electricity to places that are too far from power grids requires some out of the box solutions. Or in this case, a box is actually the solution, an OffGridBox, all in one microgrid box.

The company – actually named OffGridBox —  takes clean renewable solar power to the most remote places on earth and is bringing more than just electricity, clean water, and internet to these communities, it is also bringing jobs that empower women according to Free Think.

Over 65 percent of the developing world is off the grid and do not have electrical power in their homes according to the World Atlas. That translates to not having basic things we take for granted like refrigeration, electricity, and running water. But it also means that 1.2 billion people have no communication with the rest of the world because you cannot charge cell phones or get unto the internet if you do not have access to power.

The startup's co-founder Emiliano Cecchini spent 15 years working with renewable energy, said Free Think, and then decided to use his expertise to help resource scare developing countries.

In 2014, Cecchini was working with Davide Bonsignore on equipping kindergartens with solar panels and clean water in South Africa. But in the remote and impoverished Eastern Cape, the work was difficult, and it took weeks to do an installation.

That's when the pair came up with the idea of microgrids that could contain all of the needed equipment in a shipping container. When they did the last school installation, it took them only one day instead of weeks.

The actual OffGridBox microgrid consists of a 6 foot by 6 foot (1.8 meter by 1.8 meter) prefab shipping container that is preloaded to customer specs.  The box comes with a smorgasbord of plug and play options like solar panels, desalination units, or batteries. The box can provide affordable energy and clean drinking water to remote communities.

"Everyone wants to go off-grid. We filter out customers who want to outfit their cabin in the mountains. We want to go for the more  impactful projects," Cecchini told Free Think. "We try to focus on the toughest regions of the world, the area's most in need."

The company uses a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) model that empowers rural communities by providing access to renewable energy and clean water at a very reasonable cost. According to the company website,  an NGO or private company provides the initial investment that covers  production, shipment, installation and training. After that, they charge a small monthly fee. The boxes are designed to last 20 years.

The company said there are currently eight PAYG boxes installed in places like Tanzania and Rwanda  with 40 new ones funded in remote areas. Local women are trained to run the boxes with mobile apps as a way to bring power, water and Wi-Fi to remote areas and to empower women to be able to support their families too by selling cell phone recharging services (selling for around 18 cents) , use of WIFI, and purified water (20 liters a day can be produced). Each box services around 400 families.

The boxes have been used for post disaster recovery in Puerto Rico, Madagascar, South Africa, Italy, and the Philippines. With climate change bringing more natural disasters, Cecchini believes that his microgrids will be able to help communities in need worldwide both for disaster relief and as a low-cost energy solution for rural communities.  

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.