Power to the people

Courtesy of Khaya Power
Date:20 May 2013 Author: Anthony Doman Tags:, , , ,

Stellenbosch on most days is a treat. On an unexpectedly warm and sunny autumn day, with the oaks not yet naked, it’s sublime. So I was glad to be out there to visit Carinus Lemmer, a bicycling veteran with many irons in the cycling fire – and, let it be said, a stoker of note.

But this isn’t about Carinus’s story – or should I say stories? It was while we were saying our farewells, admiring the mountain bike bearing the unmistakably extravagant deep curves of track handlebars on its way to becoming a cyclocross machine, that I said, “But hold on, what are they busy with?”

The “they” was two workmen, busily cutting up plastic 5-litre bottles and assembling… something.
“That’s Khaya Power,” Lemmer said. “My friend Billy… .”

Long story short: a girl studying by streetlight set Billy Hadlow thinking that there had to be a better way. His solution was a 12V rechargeable power pack housed in a 5-litre plastic container – the kind you’d usually see containing fruit juice or cleaning fluid. Essentially, it’s a recyclable jug, wires, battery, cords, adaptors and a bag.

Not only does it supply power (typically 3 days’ worth) to charge a cellphone, energise a light or drive many common electronic devices, it is inherently ergonomic: there’s even a built-in handle. There is, though, a specially designed bag.

But the idea goes one step further, turning the technology into a business model: charge the units at a central charging station and rent them out. The idea is to create a business opportunity within these communities for power “agents”. It’s the kind of thinking that had entrepreneurs onselling telephone services in the townships. And you don’t need to ask the LP gas industry how well the swap-and-refill model has worked.

Khaya Power uses a standard cigarette-lighter socket and can be charged by the 220 V mains, 12 VDC and solar energy. Accessory options include a Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and even a mobile barbershop.

Lots of people think this is a bright idea: it won the Community category in the prestigious Eskom-sponsored eta awards last year.
For those who need a portable power source, it’s quite convenient. For those who simply don’t have access to suitable power sources of any sort – people living in informal settlements, for instance – it’s a godsend.