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Spark Solar Kiosks | empowering informal traders, one spark at a time

By • Department of Science and Innovation, SolarTurtle | and the South African National Energy Development Institute

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande launched an exciting new product range from award-winning green energy pioneer SolarTurtle in July. The SolarTurtle Spark range of solar-powered mobile kiosks is aimed at empowering informal traders and micro-entrepreneurs, particular in off-grid and rural areas. The Spark kiosks are developed as part of the BabyTurtle initiative, a partnership between SolarTurtle, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). While the first generation of SolarTurtles are mobile solar kiosk solutions, engineered using shipping containers, the BabyTurtles are smaller, more affordable solutions that come in three different versions – a suitcase (known as a SparkCase), a bicycle trailer (SparkBike), and a motor vehicle trailer (SparkCart). Prototypes of all three versions have been manufactured and are currently being field-tested for mechanical and electrical performance. On-site performance testing will be conducted by deploying the kiosks in identified communities. Speaking at the launch, Minister Nzimande said the DSI’s investments in solar energy research were yielding positive results, with spin-off companies like SolarTurtle developing innovative and sustainable products. As the country grapples with its energy constraints, innovation and investment in renewable energy have become increasingly important. The DSI supports the government’s solar energy research programme, which is guided by the Solar Energy Research, Development and Innovation Technology Roadmap and focuses on policy support, stimulation of industry, and technology research. “One of the focus areas of the research programme is to support the mainstreaming of local businesses into the economy, while supporting the informal sector and assisting marginalised communities with power and Internet connectivity,” Minister Nzimande said. The Minister noted that SolarTurtle’s new product range targeted women and youth entrepreneurs in particular. Women and the youth were critical under-developed sectors of South Africa’s economy, and had the potential to become vital employment generators, especially in a post-COVID-19 era, the Minister said. “By using SolarTurtle’s new products, women, as the nurturers of our society, will be empowered to run sustainable green enterprises that benefit their entire community.” Solar Turtle CEO Lungelwa Tyali said the Spark product range was ideal for rural and off-grid traders, and would make renewable energy accessible to marginalised communities. “Connecting off-grid communities to reliable, mobile energy sources will create untold business opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs, especially those in rural areas and the informal sector,” Tyali said.The Spark design integrates SolarTurtle’s award-winning solar battery charging technology with an upgraded software management system that includes a small business e‑learning and support platform.

would make renewable energy accessible to marginalised communities. “Connecting off-grid communities to reliable, mobile energy sources will create untold business opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs, especially those in rural areas and the informal sector,” Tyali said.The Spark design integrates SolarTurtle’s award-winning solar battery charging technology with an upgraded software management system that includes a small business e‑learning and support platform. “The Spark kiosks’ built-in support and software systems will make it easier for aspiring young people to become the social and green entrepreneurs the African continent needs,” said James van der Walt, founder and Chief Technical Officer of SolarTurtle. “SolarTurtle’s next generation of solar kiosks is critical for job creation in the green economy, while providing a crucial service to customers in the form of solar charging and Internet connectivity. The ‘Baby Turtles’ are small and affordable to give the power of tomorrow to those who are powerless today,” Van der Walt said. SolarTurtle is a spin-off company from the Renewable Energy Hub and Spokes Programme at Stellenbosch University. The company has deployed a number of systems for different applications in both South Africa and Lesotho. With support from the European Development Fund, the company built and deployed solar-powered kiosks at Thaba-Tseka, a rural village in Lesotho. At the Delft community centre in Cape Town, SolarTurtle deployed a solution to support small businesses in the clothing and textile space, enabling them to produce school uniforms for the community as part of improving the township economy. And in Elliotdale, Upper Mncwasa, 60 km from Mthatha, Nedbank partnered with SolarTurtle to launch South Africa’s first solar-powered bank branch. Nedbank used the pilot to explore the use of a solar-powered 3G network to support cashless banking. It is understood that the lessons learnt from the pilot will inform the bank’s strategy for alternative energy powered branches.