Johannesburg - The SolarTurtle, a locally designed and developed solar energy kiosk, has been selected as one of five regional finalists for the Chivas Venture – a global social entrepreneurship competition that recognises and supports business ideas that have the potential to make a significant positive social impact.
Although not winning the award earlier this month, for SolarTurtle founder and CEO James van der Walt, being selected as a
South African finalist was validation for the years of work and focus
he has devoted to the product.
“We are extremely proud that the Chivas Venture judges have voted SolarTurtle as one of their top five impact businesses of 2018, out of hundreds of entries from South Africa. It really is a huge morale boost, and it affirms the belief I have held all along that we are onto something big here,” explained Van der Walt.
Safe energy where it is needed
The SolarTurtle is essentially a portable energy kiosk, built using shipping containers equipped with solar panels and kitted out inside to provide a range of applications and solutions – from charging stations for cellphones and electronic devices, to spaza shops, to mobile banks or even offices.
What separates the SolarTurtle from other similar solar-powered kiosks and containers, is the fact that the entire unit has been designed with security and flexibility in mind.
“In crime ridden areas across Africa traditional solar solutions have failed. The solar panels are typically stolen within a few months of deployment.
"We developed SolarTurtle to address the issue of energy poverty in a secure way - it’s called a Turtle for the way the solar panel system folds away into the hard shell of the container for safekeeping,” Van der Walt added.
An engineer by profession, Van der Walt is excited by the potential applications for his innovation. The company has rolled out several SolarTurtles to date, including the companies’ flagship site in the Eastern Cape that is managed and run by Lungelwa Tyali, who is also the Operations Manager for the company.
“We hope that our energy kiosk businesses will bring light and prosperity to communities that are currently far removed from the grid. These kiosks create employment and supply locals with a secure place where they can charge their phones and buy energy efficient products like LED lights.
"The kiosks are actually designed to cater for the basic electrification needs at high schools. One container can provide basic power needed for e-learning, lights and internet, for example,” said Tyali.
Van der Walt noted that investors have been a tough nut to crack, although there is serious interest from Mozambique and several opportunities brewing in other areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
“We have perfected the technology and are already producing solar containers for customers. We also have a very successful energy kiosk pilot running in the Transkei. Now the challenge is to find investors that share our philosophy – we are determined to have a positive social impact, whereas business can be a cut throat environment.
Once we find the right investor, we plan to launch SolarTurtle into the rest of Africa. It is all about making the right partnerships so that you can create real and lasting change in communities where it is most needed,” he said.
* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER