Many people in rural Africa lack access to electricity and have little hopes of getting connected to the grid in the near future. With the usually high temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa, it is extremely difficult to preserve fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products in such communities.
Brazilian company Youmma is solving the problem with it′s pay-as-you-go solar-powered fridge. Youmma is part of Embraco, a worldwide compressor manufacturer. The fridge plays a critical role by allowing individuals and businesses keep products fresh for longer and reduce food waste. In addition, health centres can store vital medication like insulin and vaccines safely using the fridge. About 80% of its 2,000 fridges first sold were to small business owners.
The inspiration behind the project is to bring a better quality of life by reinventing the access to refrigeration to off–grid communities by applying their cooling know-how in making an affordable efficient refrigeration system.
Youmma′s fridges are specially designed for off-grid use. The small 100-litre fridges consume a quarter of the energy of a regular fridge and can be powered by a smaller solar panel and a smaller battery thereby reducing costs. Even when there is little or no sunlight, the battery can keep the fridge running for up to a day and a half. The fridges are part of a solar home system that also includes two LED light bulbs, two strip lights, and two phone charging cables.
The company uses the most advanced compressor technology paired with smart energy management and full PAYGO integration to make refrigeration available everywhere under the sun. Its fridges are designed for extreme affordability based on the needs of off-grid families and daily problems faced by small businesses.
Youmma’s technological advantage comes with the use of an ultra efficient DC linear compressor which allows reducing considerably the size of the solar panel and battery, resulting in a cheaper solution for the end users.
Its first market are communities in eastern Africa where several pay-as-you-go service providers have developed a business model that allows regular minimum payments. Using these services, people can access and pay for off-grid services such as light, radio, tv and now refrigeration.
In Kenya, customers pay for the fridge in daily installments using their cell phones through M-Kopa, a Kenyan solar energy company. New M-Kopa customers are however required to pay a $100 deposit. Thereafter, 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.
Pay-as-you-go “is useful for [rural] households or businesses with an uneven cash flow, such as income based on harvesting seasons,” says Teresa Le, a climate change and energy specialist for the UN Development Program.
It usually takes about 2 years for the average customer to pay off the cost of the fridge. The customer then owns the fridge and the solar power system outright. They also continue to enjoy lighting and continued access to free off-the-grid energy.
Two models of the fridge are available in 50 and 100 litres. This design was made following extensive field tests and potential consumer interviews, habits evaluation, transport conditions, etc. Youmma fridges are a product defined for the people by the people.
How affordable is it?
A major constraint for many rural dwellers is that Youmma fridges cost more than a conventional fridge. Even when paired with pay-as-you-go systems like M-Kopa, solar fridges are still costly and not within the reach of some rural dwellers who live on less than $1 a day. That is why the fridges appeal more to small businesses who can cover payment costs from their profits.
Social & Environmental benefits
Having a fridge is particularly beneficial to women who had to make daily trips to the market in the past. They can now buy food items in bulk and save leftovers, helping to create time for rest or other productive activities.
When the first fridges rolled out in a pilot program, the company found that customers were saving an average of $4.83 a week by reducing food spoilage and saving time on trips to the market, in an area where the average daily income is around $2 a person, or $10 for a household. Some families reported saving as much as 50% of their household income.
The company is sustainability conscious and aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals with emphasis on people, planet and prosperity. It works with people to learn and co-develop solutions to improve quality of life. By understanding off-grid region’s needs and climate change challenges, they designed affordable fridges using clean solar energy, which is great for the planet and environment. Through refrigeration, Youmma makes possible new and lasting opportunities for the prosperity of the entire value chain – individuals, businesses and entire communities.
Over 5,000 families have benefited so far from having access to refrigerated food and medicines. Youmma and Embraco have found a way to be a profitable company while delivering sustainable solutions to the market. This brings an intangible benefit to the company which goes beyond a good contribution margin when selling those refrigerators to the pay-as-you-go partner.
Through its pay-as-you-go solar-powered fridge, Youmma is applying the best-in-class technology to leapfrog off-grid market limitations. Innovations like these demonstrate the power of people and technology to solve some of our world′s greatest challenges. By tackling poverty and improving healthcare, Youmma is making a world of difference!