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Kenyans Welcome First Solar-Powered Phone in Africa

Kenyan telecommunications company Safaricom has launched Africa's first fully solar-powered phone. The mobile phone's timely release comes as Kenya is suffering from a major power shortfall.

The new solar-powered mobile phone went on sale this past week. Kenyans can buy the phone for a little under $40.

Jacque Sherry, a 28-year old accountant in Nairobi, bought the phone for her father and is very pleased with the results of the new technology.

"I can tell you it's just amazing because the old man is so happy," she said. "He stays upcountry and he used to walk for long distances to look for a place to charge his phone, and then it was expensive. But now with the new solar phone life is good."

The phone will likely be particularly popular in rural Kenya areas, where electricity is often scarce and unaffordable. But even in urban areas, many poor Kenyans who live in the slums could benefit by no longer having to pay third-party vendors to charge their phones.

Jacque says that the phone is a big help to her father's business as a small farmer.

"Initially, one had to use one's phone and then the phone would go off and then you could not sell one's vegetables and do your transactions," she said. "But now with the new solar phone one can talk talk talk and deal with your business. It is much easier now."

The phone's release in Kenya is especially because electricity costs are rising sharply and the country is under strict power rationing.

The shortfall in power is attributed both to increased domestic demand and a shortened power supply due to a prolonged drought. Kenya relies heavily on hydro-electric power.

The power shortage has amplified calls from international and local activists that the region take greater advantage of green energy technologies in growing its energy capacity. Besides hydro and solar power, Kenya is thought to have immense and mostly-untapped wind and geothermal power potential.

Safaricom officials have claimed that the phone is the first solar-powered phone to hit the market anywhere in the world, but the mobile-phone company Samsung began selling a cheap solar-powered model in India this June.

The phone does appear to be the first of its kind to be available commercially in Africa.

Some in the mobile phone industry have suggested accessory solar-powered phone chargers are the best avenue to address the phone charging issue in developing regions of the world. Such chargers have been produceable for a while but have been limited in their reach by a lack of uniformity.

The solar-powered phone launched by Safaricom is produced by the Chinese ZTE Corporation.