Community Update

Digital Empowerment Toolkit Now Available!

At World Pulse, we recognize the need for ongoing learning—for you and for your community! Our toolkits aim to provide the resources you need to advance your social change work.

We are excited to introduce our Digital Empowerment Trainers’ Toolkit, a dynamic resource to help you bring the benefits of connecting online to women in your community. Check it out today! »

DIY Solar


We offer a low cost pv technique that allows people to have a little electricity and generate some income in developing countries.
It has been shown that it is quite easy to make and use small pv devices including the charging of mobile phones.

We find it best to first send our usual pdfs and the spiel below to check that people
understand the limitations of this pv technique and then, when they come back, go into more details.
It is essential to NOT see it as being like a conventional Solar Home System with 20 watts or more!
For the poor, this requires high-interest loans which they often can ill-afford to repay!

We have no ambitions of that sort - just small and simple devices so almost anyone can have a little solar electricity
with no chance of shocks or sparks - so no expensive security devices.
In order to minimise costs, we do not sell conventional 'products' but the means for people to pv convert their own lamps, etc.

While DIY Solar involves solar pv, we see it more for income creation/empowerment possibilities than for its renewable energy.
It is difficult, but possible, to produce enough power for small computers and TVs, but little more.

Most interest has been shown by NGOs and individuals who are using this low cost technique in developing countries
to produce small simple solar battery chargers/lights/mobile chargers, etc.
Local labour is used to assemble the pv panels as well as adapting radios, etc for solar powering.

Above all, it needs imagination in finding its best potential for each situation!
The ultimate aim is to have many small self-sufficient enterprises requiring no further financial support.
It has been done in a few places!

We will send several pdfs (if possible) and when you come back we will mail you leaflets, a CD ROM and a free small demonstration sample.
If you wish to receive this please forward a 'safe' postal address.

When you read the price list you will note several kits at the top but bear in mind that we can only provide one small kit per enquiry
We expect normally to produce a proforma invoice, after being contacted, so clients can see exactly what parts cost for their first project.

Below is information about a DIY Solar project in Kenya and how a project was started in Haiti.
There is much more to be found at our website

Solar Aid are using this technique in Malawi and elsewhere but operate quite independently from BioDesign.
Visit to see an excellent video on using the DIY Solar technique.


Graham Knight
BioDesign (non-profit)

P.S. We send out an eNotice about once a month that contains info, news etc about DIY Solar but some contacts don't get it.
If you want to make sure of receiving it, please tell us soon so you are put on the list of subscribers!
Otherwise you may receive samples etc but be missing the latest news while we assume you are getting it.

In a CNN TV broadcast you might have seen their Global Challenges program which included information
about one of the projects in Kibera, Kenya!

A video of a project in Malawi using the DIY Solar technique is found at

The following article is from a Nairobi paper:
A start-up outgrows its dream - from Nairobi's Nation

Solar panels dealer finds a huge market in rural areas which is powering its growth

In a cramped and sweaty one-room office at a Nairobi go-down, a sharply dressed man in a beige suit leads
several dozen young men and women in a motivational cheer
"Juice up! Juice down! Juice all around!" shouts Mr Fred Migai, founder and manager of Fomax Direct Units.
The gathered youths repeat the odd slogan gleefully, throwlng their hands up and down in unison.

On this Wednesday morning most of these young sales people are heading out across Nairobi
and other parts of the country with a single mission: to sell inconspicous-looking black squares with several attached wires.
But looks are deceiving because, according to Mr Migai, the power these small solar panels harness from the sun
can change lives and make him and his "youths" a tidy profit.

Kenya has major holes its power grid that may never be fllled due to the cost of extending lines into remote rural areas.
For people in those areas, radios and, more recently, cell phones are often the only connections to events in the wider world.
But keeplng them powered usually requires expensive and short-lived dry-cell batteries.

Solar power, which came to prominence in the 1970s, has been touted as a potential solution, especially given Kenya’s sunny climate.
But this doesn’t fully explain the success of Fomax, shorthand for For the Maximum

"The secret of this product is it’s uniqueness," says Mr Migai in his office, where the walls are covered in inspirational posters.
"At the same time it saves money because it’s renewable power, you use the sun’s energy to power all these things,"
He demonstrates how one of his panels can directly power a radio, re-charge a mobile phone
or be used with a rechargeable battery to provide power even at night, "The cost of batteries is around Sh 5O for a pair," says Mr Migai.
With the panels, "instead of buying batteries you buy food for the family or clothing or other things".

Mr John Keane is a British volunteer who has been promoting solar panels in Kenya for nearly three years.
He is involved with projects in Kibera and Nanyuki to get youth to make and sell panels using DIY methods from British non-profit group BioDesign.
Mr Keane acknowledges that current cheap solar technology is limited to radios and small appliances
but these can be vital tools, "Everybody needs radio and there’s lots that aren’t turned on in rural Africa
because people can’t afford to buy batteries all the time,"he says.

Initial costs remain relatively hlgh, but they are 90 per cent less than when the technology first emerged in the 7Os.
Down the road, cheaper solar technology could meet more energy intensive needs like lighting and heating.
"The technology is improving and they’re getting more efficient. Who knows in 10 years what will be on the market," says Mr Keane.

Mr Migai, 28. previously worked in sales for a South African company that went under in 2004.
He was looking lor something new when he attended a solar panel workshop held by the longtime solar advocate and businessman, Mr Leo Blyth.
Mr Migai saw it as a perfect opportunity,"I just saw the potential in this because if I can learn how to go about this a
nd make (panels) and assemble them, then I can also use my marketing skills to promote them, ’he recalls.

After some basic training in assembling panels, Mr Migai invested Sh3000 in materials, enough to make three solar panels in his home.
When he sold out in Nairobi in three days, he went back and made 10 more.
Next he did 20 then 30, and then decided to try his luck outside of the capital.

In Eldoret and Kisumu, Mr Migai found even more interested customers.
He invested in a small workshop and taught his cousin to assemble the panels.
Three months after starting out with three panel sales were growlng and one sales person was no longer sufficient.
Today; through job postings in newspapers and shopping centres, Mr Migai receives hundreds of applications from young people.
Since many of them have no experience in sales, he and senior salesmen "trainers" teach them the arts of selling, marketing and basic management skills.

Fomax’s 45-member sales team range in age from 17 to 36, but Mr Migai calls them all "youths".
Many are still at campus, and can "make money during the holidays that can help them pay for college;"says Mr Migai.

Mr Walowa Geoffrey, a lanky 19 year-old, eagerly tucks four panels into his briefcase for a sales trip to Thika.
"l’m going to sell all of them,"he says. For each panel Geoffrey sells today he will get Sh 25O, a commission of around 16 percent.
That is why he likes his job. "I get some good amount of money here", he says .

At 28, Ms Rosie Ojiamho, one of several female sales people, is among the older Fomax staff.
Since joining the company in September, she says her life has been changed,
"I couldn’t talk to senior people in public," she says of her shyness before joining Fomax.
"Now I can talk even to ministers."

Although it often means getting permission from worried parents before week~long sales trips up-country,
hiring young workers is point of pride for Mr Migai.
With rampant unemployment in Kenya, he says his company offers hope to youth who are willing to work.
"We are going to train youth so that they start getting self-reliance," says Mr Migai. "We inspire them that you can succeed when you are working hard."

Fomax is test-marketing a new product, the Solapak, which Mr Migai shows off in his office.
It is a rugged-looking backpack containing a large solar panel, a rechargeable 12 volt battery and LED lights. It includes adapters for attachment to mobile phones and radios and other small appliances.
The product is significantly more costly than the basic panels but Mr Migai says he hopes to find ways to manufacture it cheaply using local products.

This is a description of how the AMURT NGO people in Haiti started a DIY Solar project.
It seems the ideal approach whether visiting as a foreigner or entering a village from a local town!
However the project seems since to have failed - the local people were not sufficiently involved to feel they had 'ownership of this project!

So what we did so far was a preliminary investigation.

We went around in the villages talking about the opportunities this technology gives, and approx. prices.
And then we listened to their reactions, which were very enthusiastic as you can imagine.

So, we presented some possibilities like charging mobile phones and powering radios... we bought an used
mobile phone adapter on the street in Gonaives that suited our cell phone battery and a small radio... and a motorbike battery...
and we played with those things.... with the help of local electricians .
People started to think fast and make their own calculations.... so we got a number of questions....
can that do this can it do that...... many houses already have car batteries and small inverter, so they wanted a panel to be able to charge 6V/12V.
A guy thought of those little machines used to cut hair... for hair dressers.... others had personal CD player or small things like that.
Then there is an entire fat market for bigger panels... there isn't one single person in Haiti not interested in solar....
each time I was presented as the one working with solar, people wanted to know if they could buy from me..
So for example, to power refrigerators out in the villages, people would be more than happy to invest some money.
Now they do with car batteries and they send them to be charged to Gonaives (for one village we visited it's 5 hours drive).

The idea though was not to produce a finished product.... these things mostly have to be produced on demand,
so they fit the exact purpose of the purchaser... you see, first of all there isn't any protection resistance so if the panel
is not of the right size you can burn the machine, furthermore, the support, the connections,
everything are not industrially produced so it can break, disconnect etc.

Finally, the best is to fit the local availability of material.
So, for example, if you want to power a radio in a bar, maybe you can directly fit the solar-glass on the roof
and you don't need a support, so it's cheaper...
I don't know , just an example... but the concept is that we were planning to find/train people in each village
so that the village would be independent and can do their own implementations.
Then you have a selling point and customer support on place and a job created.

Some villages opted for a cooperative approach, while in others they were more thinking of a private business... generally the commitees decide.
It was just before the football championship last year so everybody was very interested in powering radios and small TV...
In two weeks they had collected the money from interested families....



Genice Jacobs's picture

Hi Graham

I would love to learn more about your program and I am embarking on a solar development program myself. What is the best way to reach you?

Genice Jacobs
Oakland, CA USA

Genice Jacobs

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Community »

Connect with women on the ground worldwide

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative