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Now available via Kickstarter: An off-grid battery & solar kit

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If you’ve been wondering how you can get your hands on one of Fenix International’s portable off-grid battery and solar kits — previously only available to African entrepreneurs — ponder no longer. The San Francisco-based startup has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to sell their battery and solar kits in the U.S. For a $199 pledge, while supplies last (that’s a $100 discount) you can scoop up one of the first Fenix batteries to land stateside.

Disclosure: I just bought one. I’ve wanted one since I first wrote about the company back in 2010. My dream is to spend a full day blogging in the park, using the battery power and the solar panel. But I digress.

Fenix is using Kickstarter to test the waters for a U.S. market. Up to this point the startup has been selling its batteries through African telecom MTN in Uganda. Last month CEO Mike Lin told me that Fenix had shipped 2,000 of its batteries to MTN in Uganda. On Wednesday in an interview Lin told me that MTN Rwanda had also just signed up with Fenix as well to ship its batteries, and the company has pilots in Kenya and Tanzania.

In developing countries where there’s sporadic grid power, entrepreneurs can use the batteries to sell applications like cell phone charging. There’s already entrepreneurs doing this, but mostly they use old car batteries for charging, which can be costly and unsafe.

There’s some really interesting applications emerging around the battery, says Lin. For example, in places where peer-to-peer mobile payments, via SMS, is popular, a job has emerged called a mobile money agent — like a human ATM — and these entrepreneurs have been using Fenix’s off-grid battery to increase the amount of time they can provide that payment exchange service. Other applications include powering things like a refrigerator for vaccines, or lighting at night.

Mike Lin, Fenix InternationalTelecoms in developing countries are interested in promoting off-grid batteries as a way to increase cell phone usage and penetration. In the way that mobile phone networks have leap-frogged wired phone connections in the developing world, off-grid power could eventually one day overcome grid power in these nations. Maybe — we’ll see. For that to happen they need energy storage, like Fenix’s productized lead acid battery.

Fenix sees its battery — and the secret sauce of the software that manages the charging — as a platform for enabling these energy applications. In the U.S., Fenix wants to encourage the creation of a developer community that will use its open hardware API to develop new applications like micro wind and water energy generation. That’s partly who Fenix expects to buy these early ones in the U.S. off of Kickstarter. The other interested customers in the battery could be the recreational types — imagine this on the shelf in REI next to camping equipment and emergency kits.

Beyond the Kickstarter campaign, Fenix is in the process of raising a $10 million Series B round to help it scale up and start cranking out its orders in Africa and potentially the U.S. Fenix will probably only start a big sales push in the U.S. if the Kickstarter campaign shows there’s a big market for it. However, just two days after the campaign was launched, Fenix has already hit close to $15,000 of its $20,000 order goal (with 29 more days to go), so I think it’s safe to say that it’s got some interest here in the U.S.

6 Responses to “Now available via Kickstarter: An off-grid battery & solar kit”

  1. Tyrell Track Master

    Love it! But good luck “blogging in the park” … I’ve found that even with an infinite battery using a laptop in the sun is a non-starter.

  2. sorry but this is way overpriced. The portability thing is nice but really? the $30 power inverter i have charges my devices just fine when i plug it into my car battery. Aside from that, you can buy a solar kit with battery back up to power your house and tie back into the grid to reduce your electric bills on amazon for $350. Doing that also gets you a 30% federal subsidy so for $245 you get to power your air conditioning and your fridge if nothing else. So this product is good but if you’re like me and the commenter below me and lost power for a while recently, this is not the solution you’re looking for. This product is essentially a toy compared to a real solar solution.

    • No, its not a toy, we just arent the target market for it. We have many different solutions that are accessable. Its pointed at the third world and their lack of…well…anything.

    • IndyEE

      I think this is somewhat unfairly comparing apple and oranges. The ReadySet is not a grid-tie solar system and is in no way intended to provide whole home backup. As an electrical engineer I can assure you that household air conditioners and refrigerators typically use kilowatts of power. I sincerely doubt a bargain basement Chinese $350 grid-tie system would even come close to being able to operate these types of devices. Just for reference, I would also point out that pure grid-tie solar systems do not function as backups during power outages. They store no energy locally and expect the grid to be present to supply any power required beyond what the panels can provide. Unfortunately high quality and reliable solar solutions are still somewhat costly and the ReadySet pricing is really pretty much in line with other similar products currently on the market.

    • GigaLoam

      How silly.

      Of course it’s not a “real” solar solution. It’s not real in the same sense that average person can’t or doesn’t want to maintain a real work shop or real garden in order to save money by fixing their own car or growing soybeans.

      There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but all cost something in the way of time and expertise and are highly depedent on the location and what is or isn’t possible/allowed there.

      This is a simple, versatile, nicely packaged, portable kit that can be used just about anywhere and should be able to keep my phone charged for a quite a while in the event of another power outage. Even at the suggested retail price it stacks up nicely to similar devices in terms of price versus capacity and functionality.

      Also, the developers seem to be in full support of openness in the design/specification as well as some admirable causes.

  3. GigaLoam

    Perfect timing. I just signed up.

    I went looking to order one of these when I read about them (here?) not that long ago. The desire to own one increased about 100x when I, along with several hundred thousand others in the DC area lost power for several days a few weeks back.