Tag Archives: Solar

Will the Sun charge the Mobile Devices of the emerging markets?

At MWC’09 I met an fascinating company called intivation that builds solar-powered cell phones. The uniqueness of this technology is the energy efficiency. The company only uses one solar-cell without the need of connecting several small cells to a solar grid.

The are targeting the 1,6 billion people on the planet that do not have reliable sources of electricity. The yearly growth of mobile penetration in emerging markets is over 37%, compared to a 2% rate in developed countries. Combining these two factors give you a clou what the future will bring.

Intivation showed the first solar-powered mobile phone from ZTE distributed by the operator Digicel. The mobile device just needs 1 hours charging per day.

Video Interview at MWC’09 with Paul Naastepad, CEO of Intivation.


Connecting the unconnected

Mobile telephony usage in the emerging markets is growing at enormous rates. One of the biggest challenges for users is the lack of access to electricity, but solar power provides a practical solution for these regions.

New users in the emerging Asian, Latin American and African markets are the key driver for growth in the mobile communication markets. Access to affordable and reliable electricity is a huge challenge in these markets; 1.6 billion people do not currently have access to a reliable power grid. In this light low-cost, autonomous solar-powered handsets represent a major opportunity. Consumers can use the solar powered handset anytime, anywhere, while network operators will benefit from increased market penetration and higher ARPU from existing users.

According to recent statistics of the GSM Association, Africa now has 9% of the world’s GSM subscriptions, up 12% since 2006, with over 340 million subscribers and has been the world’s fastest growing market for the past four years. One of the major barriers in the developing markets is the
lack of access to affordable and reliable energy; according to the World Bank 1.6 billion people worldwide live without electricity. The lack is most acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 500 million people have no modern energy, and as few as two percent of those living in rural areas have access to any electricity. In India the percentage of population with access to electricity was below 50% in 2004. It should be noted that access to electricity does not guarantee that there is a 24-hours uptime of the grid: in many regions the power grid is unstable and very unreliable. The striking deficiencies in electricity availability are illustrated below.

Most of the emerging markets have plenty of sunshine. When measured in peak sun hours, defined as kWh/m2/day, Africa and the Middle-East enjoy more than six peak sun hours per day, whereas large parts of Asia and Latin America have more than four sun peak hours per day.
This makes the potential for solar power enormous. Additionally, in a lot of developing regions, when power is available the cost is very high to consumers, who often spend between 15 and 20 percent of their income on it. This means that a solar powered handset takes away a significant expense while giving them extra freedom.

Intivation’s proprietary and market-proven step-up converter technology uniquely enables cost-effective production of efficient solar-powered handsets. The chipset allows charging a lithium ion or polymer battery from a single solar cell (0.5V output), instead of a series of connected solar cells. Advantages of using a single solar cell include a gain in active area, removing interconnect losses, no partial shading effects, a more high-tech appearance, and reduced costs. At the heart of our solution is a highly efficient step-up converter technology with the
following qualities:

  • – Active maximum power-point tracking capability;
  • – Minimisation of all leakage currents, which cause the phone discharging in dark;
  • – Very high conversion efficiency (efficiency >70% at only 2% of nominal load) enabled by reducing frequency of operation of microprocessor using a
    proprietary approach;
  • – Proprietary and defensible intellectual property.

This leads to a solar powered solution that charges faster under all light conditions, is much more reliable, and simplifies production significantly. In addition to its leading expertise in the design and manufacture of proprietary converter technologies, Intivation also has established expertise in the integration of this technology with commercially available solar cell and power solutions. In short, Intivation provides complete power supply and control management solutions inte-
grating solar cell and battery operation in the consumer electronic device.

By integrating a 15% efficient solar cell of 20cm2 into the battery door of any mobile phone a significant charge current is produced, making the phone autonomous from the power network. Under optimal light conditions–outdoor at full sun–a one-hour charge generates a charging current of approximately 55mA. Research suggests that people in Africa, on average, call 5 minutes per day, send 5 sms messages, and have the phone on standby for 16 hours. The total power consumption with such behaviour is approximately 82mA.

This means a 1.5-hour charge under optimal light conditions compensates the full consumption during a day. Under the sunlight conditions found in Africa, but also in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan e.a., where the number of sun peak hours are > 5 the 1.5-hour charge under optimal light conditions is very feasible, not to say there is plenty of room for increased usage while maintaining autonomous powering.


Intivation, Mobilizing the Sun from Intivation on Vimeo.