At a corner store in Lagos, Nigeria, when someone stops by to pick up groceries, they can now also rent a portable battery that has been charged with solar power. It’s a critical tool in a city where the power can go out multiple times a day, and many people rely on expensive, loud, and polluting diesel generators.
“Our goal is to make energy access as easy as buying milk,” says Olugbenga Olubanjo, CEO of Reeddi, the startup pioneering the new service. Customers pay a small fee to rent a Reeddi “capsule” for a day, and then can use it to plug in lights, mobile phones, laptops, fans, or other devices. Because the batteries are modular, multiple capsules can also be linked together to provide extra power as needed. When the power runs out, they bring the battery back to be recharged, and can pick up another.
It’s a way to make solar power more affordable for people who can’t easily afford the upfront cost of installing solar panels, he says, or people who live in apartments and don’t have access to a roof. Because the capsules are portable, it’s also possible to carry them between work and home.
In the first system set up at the corner store, the startup collects the used capsules and recharges them with solar power at a separate location, keeping a fresh stock at the store. But the company’s future model will be to install solar panels directly on the roofs of corner stores, so customers can insert the capsules back in a solar-connected vending machine that will automatically recharge them and dispense another.
The company plans to expand across Nigeria and then launch in other parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, where large percentages of rural populations still have no electricity at all. It may get a boost from the Earthshot Prize, a competition that recently selected the startup as a finalist in the running for 1 million pounds ($1.36 million) in funding.