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The Solar Powered Fridge Giving African Small Businesses Relief

Keeping food fresh without refrigeration is near impossible in the scorching climate of sub-Saharan Africa. But it’s hard to power fridges in a region where almost 600 million people live off the grid. That’s where Brazil’s Youmma comes in. The company has developed a pay-as-you-go solar-powered fridge that is being snapped up by small business owners. The fridges help to reduce food waste, store medication safely, and allow shops to keep products fresh for longer. Customers pay for the fridge in daily installments via cell phones, through M-Kopa, a Kenyan solar energy company. New M-Kopa customers pay a $100 deposit. Daily payments range from $1 to $1.50 for a package that includes solar lighting and covers the installation of a rooftop solar panel. If a user doesn’t pay, the fridge stops working until they do. Once it has been paid off — which usually takes around two years — the customer owns the fridge and the solar power system outright. M-Kopa says it costs more than a conventional fridge, but the package includes lighting as well as continued access to free off-the-grid energy. Although other affordable options for solar-powered cold storage are available in sub-Saharan Africa, these tend to be larger shared fridges — such as Nigeria’s Cold Hubs and Kenya’s Solar Freeze — and are mainly used to store produce after harvest or at markets. Youmma sells fridges in Uganda and Kenya, and it is looking to expand into Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Ivory Coast and Senegal.