The Solar4Africa.org project started as "Kuyere!" in 2015:
Our current approach is the result of 7 years of innovation based on our continuing work in rural Malawian villages
A brief history
Solar4Africa.org started out as a small social enterprise working in Malawi called Kuyere! (which means "let there be light!")
Kuyere! was founded by Bereket Lebassi Habtezion (BLH) and Robert Van Buskirk (RVB) in 2015 with the support of a wonderful group of family and friends and in partnership with Laurence Kachione in Malawi.
RVB & BLH first met and began collaborating on technology and African development 25 years ago in the newly independent country of Eritrea, East Africa in the mid-1990’s. At that time Robert was a Physics Professor teaching with a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Asmara and Bereket was one of the top Physics students at the University. Creation of the Kuyere! social enterprise was the culmination of this long-term collaboration.
After testing dozens of different solar electricity technologies and business models in partnership with diverse Malawian collaborators, Kuyere! discovered over time how to provide extremely low-cost solar electricity to very low income Malawian villagers. The solution?: Provide Malawi-made solar systems that use "forever batteries" that can potentially last 10 to 20 years., or provide solar systems that don't batteries at all.
"Forever batteries" use Lithium Titanate (LTO) battery chemistry which is more expensive and than other batteries chemistries, but which has a cycle life of 10,000 to 30,000 cycles. Meaning that they can potentially last 10 to 20 years or more.
In 2021, the Kuyere! project expanded the application of LTO batteries to cooking and solar electric vehicles and now has a portfolio of four key technologies and systems: (1) Forever lights, (2) Portable, battery-free solar pump systems for grassroots village groups, (3) Solar home systems with cookers that have LTO batteries, and (4) Solar electric vehicles with LTO batteries.
In 2022, the US organization re-branded as Solar4Africa.org and became a sponsored project of the non-profit: The International Collaborative for Science Education and the Environment (ICSEE).
Where we are today: Maximizing customer benefit with affordable, very-long-lasting solar systems
It took many years of exploration and experimentation, but we have come to realize through our work that rural African customers benefit the most from clean energy when solar systems can last 10 to 20 years rather than just 2 to 4 years.
The key to producing a solar system with a 10 to 20 year lifetime is a new type of battery cell chemistry that has a cycle life that is ten times longer than lithium ion or lead-acid batteries. This battery chemisty is Lithium Titanate (LTO).
We are now committed to making highly affordable, African-assembled LTO-based off-grid solar systems widely available throughout rural Africa.
We are currently small, but we have ambitions to spread the knowledge and methods we have developed far and wide. We think that LTO-batteries can enable affordable, very-long-lasting solar systems not only in rural Malawi, but throughout rural Africa.
To this end, over the coming year we are hoping to develop partnerships with socially-minded solar implementers in Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Rwanda. Then over the coming decade, we hope to develop partnerships in many countries. Through these partnerships, we will strive to spread the benefits of "forever lasting" LTO solar batteries to millions of low-income households across rural Africa.