Solar power has long been touted as the solution to Africa's lack of power generation capacity, and South Africa's almost year-round sunshine makes it an ideal remedy to lack of electrification in rural and under-serviced areas. According to the Department of Energy, most areas in South Africa average more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year, and average solar-radiation levels range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 in one day.

While much focus has been placed on the role of solar systems in alleviating the country's current power crisis, their use in providing power to the over 10-million South Africans who have no access to electricity whatsoever has been largely neglected. However, funder agency Community Chest has partnered with a technology company to provide portable solar power solutions to township and rural communities.

Community Chest believes that providing solar-powered electricity to these areas will encourage and boost economic development, and launched the Amandla! project with the slogan "Power your home, Empower your life".

According to Community Chest Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Davids, the small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMME) sector is crucial to lifting people out of the poverty trap, and the lack of a reliable energy supply to these businesses is one of the biggest hindrances to these businesses. "The chances of freeing themselves from poverty and contributing to the economy are greatly diminished by their lack of access to a basic service like electricity. The crisis within Eskom and the resultant irregular supply of power due to load shedding further threatens the survival of small businesses and lessens the chance of entrepreneurs emerging and contributing to the economy."

It was with this in mind that Community Chest, as part of its Amandla! Project, introduced the portable solar powered EcoBoxx Entrepreneur Kit. The kit will help entrepreneurs in townships and rural areas to not only "electrify" their homes but also use it as a business tool to provide an income into that home and community.

The lightweight, portable kit, which is charged through two solar panels, provides 50 hours of power. Included in the package are two bright LED lights, a USB-driven fan, a pair of hair clippers, and a multi-device cellphone charging cable. It is easily transported and instantly ready for set up at any locale. An aspiring entrepreneur now has the ability to generate an income by opening up a barbershop and selling cellphone charging time anywhere in the community, all powered by free energy from the sun.

The projected earnings from utilising the kit are substantial. "An entrepreneurial barber, who had selected the right location, could earn up to R800 to R1000 per week if they did eight haircuts at R10 and 16 mobile charges at R5 per day, over a 5-7 work day week," says Davids.

963 candidates from the larger Cape Town area will benefit from this project and will be equipped with the business skills, through basics of business training, and the tools, through the portable solar power kit, to start their small business.

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