May 6, 2016 By Lisa Cohn
NovoMoto, an award-winning startup, has plans to provide remote-controlled energy kiosks and microgrids in the Congo of Africa, supplying electricity that’s 40 to 60 percent lower than the cost of kerosene.
The student-led startup from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently won three awards and $90,000 during the Clean Energy Trust Challenge.
NovoMoto’s founders, Mehrdad Arjmand and Aaron Olson — Ph.D candidates in the college of engineering and physics at the university — say their goal is to empower communities in Sub-Saharan Africa by providing renewable, sustainable electricity with their MicroPlant technology as an alternative to kerosene.
The company will begin with an energy kiosk and then add microgrids to its offerings in Congo, says Olson. It has developed a small energy kiosk prototype that will allow NovoMoto to work with local partners and control the kiosk remotely.
Under the energy kiosk model, the company sets up a kiosk consisting of a few solar panels and a battery bank. The customers take a fully charged battery home, use it to charge lights and cell phones and other equipment, and return it for another when it’s fully discharged. Under the microgrid model, the company will run wires from the kiosk to people’s homes.
The prototype provides solar from six 285-watt panels. In the kiosk, 60 batteries can be charged. At any given time, 60 batteries will be charging and 60 will be in people’s homes, says Olson.
The company assumes customers use about 100 watts a day for LED bulbs and phone charging. Two partners in Congo are now signing customers up for the service.
“Our software has the capability of remote control,” says Arjmand. “At the first level, local operators work with the software and manage the day-to-day battery kiosk. The software can manage how batteries are being charged and the performance of the batteries.”
The second level of the software is the administration version, which allows the company to control the kiosk remotely and shut off the systems if payment is not received.
“Basically the customers come to the energy station or the local partner. They pay our local partner 60 cents and exchange a battery for a fully charged battery,” says Olson. About 70 to 90 percent of the revenue goes back to NovoMoto.
“Depending on the area of the country, people now pay $15 to $22 a month for kerosene and mobile phone charging,” says Olson. “We beat it by providing electricity for $9 a month; that’s a savings of 40 to 60 percent.”
In Congo today, 59 million people live without access to reliable grid electricity, using kerosene to meet their lighting needs. The kerosene is expensive — making up 25 percent to 30 percent of residents’ income — and poses environmental risks, the company says. What’s more, the lighting is often too dim.