Bringing low cost refrigeration to off-grid communities

By Simon Collings, Director of Learning and Innovation, Energy4Impact
As well as being eco-friendly, solar-powered fridges can provide huge benefits for small businesses in developing countries.

It goes without saying that the more use a family or small business can get out of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, the more value it has.

Energy-efficient appliances compatible with small solar PV modules like fans, TVs and fridges are key to expanding the value of these energy systems, and should help to stimulate sales.

DC TVs are becoming increasingly available at affordable prices. Off-grid refrigeration is a more nascent sector, and the products still expensive, but innovation is happening.

For small retailers the electricity provided by a small solar PV system can create business opportunities.  One such opportunity lies in the refrigeration of drinks and perishable food products, and small businesses are probably going to be the most likely customers for off-grid fridges in the near term.

In Senegal Energy4Impact (E4I) is supporting a number of women-led businesses which are acquiring fridges in order to be able to sell cold water, juices, yoghurt and ‘pain du singe’ made from baobab seeds. All of those products are in demand in the area where the businesses are located.

The challenge for small entrepreneurs considering such a venture is the cost of the fridge, and the power it consumes. Driving down costs to make these products affordable to a wider group of customers is essential if significant numbers of people are to benefit. 

Global LEAP has just launched an off-grid refrigeration prize which aims to highlight the best current products in the market which are compatible with small solar PV systems, and stimulate innovation when it comes to performance and cost.

If you are the manufacturer or designer of a fridge suitable for domestic or small retailer use which can run on a solar PV supply, the prize is an opportunity to gain international profile, distribution support, and potentially funding.

Energy 4 Impact is directly involved in support for the Global LEAP prize through the Ideas to Impact programme funded by DFID. E4I will be managing field trials of the best performing products and prototypes as part of the prize evaluation process. See link above for more details.

The prize organisers recognise that refrigeration also plays an important part in vaccine distribution, and in larger scale agricultural processing but for now the Global LEAP award is focusing on smaller scale appliances suitable for use with solar home systems.

Find out more about 2008 Ashden Award winner Dulas’ work on PV-powered vaccine refrigerators.  The application process for the 2017 Ashden Awards is also now open, deadline 8 November 2016.