The Solar Turtle

Solar Turtle

The Solar Turtle

This post is part of a series about how social or for-profit SMEs, propel inclusion. Local gaps are often big enough for small enterprises to thrive and too small for bigger organisations to bother. We are not blogging about any type of market niche but gaps in the provision of products or services that are essential for people to be included in the mainstream economy. One such gap is the lack of access to electricity and internet due to either availability or affordability. Even at the outskirts of Cape Town, hundreds of thousands of people lack access to electricity and internet to a varying extent. Delft is a big township home to at least 100.000 dwellers. Dwellings are the best description for the living conditions of many. Often homes are in part or full temporary structures. This is the latest place of action for the Solar Turtle.


The Solar Turtle is a container-based energy kiosk with automated solar panels that fold at the touch of a button to respond to threats, such as strong winds in Cape Town or protest actions. Refurbished shipping containers are popular as business premises. So the Solar Turtle is a step-up by not only making the occupant independent from electricity supply but generating its own energy. The vision of its inventor, James van der Walt, is to empower those who need it most. His invention won many accolades. In Southern Africa, many rural areas and informal settlements are still without electricity. Focussing on filling this gap with solar energy makes sense in Africa. In fact, in social housing there is a legal requirement for the installation of solar-heated water boilers.


Many types of businesses can be run from a solar-powered container. The Home of Compassion in Delft that just received a prototype of the Solar Turtle, uses it as solar battery charging station for phones and plans to eventually run a tailoring business. It fits neatly into the many programmes they operate, designed to make Delft a better place for everybody. Having initiated the largest Wifi network in South Africa, the rolling-out of Solar Turtle containers following a successful prototyping in Delft will not only address access and affordability of electricity but also the need for business premises which remain major inclusiveness issues.


Some technical details:

  • The 600kg steel frame system can fold up in just 46 seconds

  • This 6m shipping container-kiosk contains a 4 kW solar PV system that has the capacity to serve 300 to 400 households with basic electricity requirements

  • SolarTurtle recharge phones at R5 per unit or R150 per month for as many times as you want, with electricity stored in power banks.

  • There are five SolarTurtles in operation with a further 10 being built for Lesotho in July 2018

“The SolarTurtle team say they are hoping to serve many more off-grid communities with safe, secure and easily accessible power.” Quoting from their website, their objective is to exploit “the versatility of renewable energy and a simple franchise business model..” to start micro-utility businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. Eventually, they are hoping to use the franchise revenues to bring renewable energy solutions to more communities.


Following the successful exploitation of a small local gap, many such gaps elsewhere offer a lot of growth opportunities – and hope for better inclusion for many.



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