Better Living Challenge


SolarTurtle shows success with first ‘turtlepreneur’

Sep 15, 2015


We caught up with James van der Walt of Ugesi Gold, who developed the game-changing innovation called SolarTurtle – a solar-powered energy distribution point securely housed in a theft-proof shipping container. The container is fitted with a solar battery charging station capable of charging hundreds of battery packs every day.

Many of low-income, off-grid households are forced to rely on relatively expensive and notoriously unsafe fuels such as kerosene. While there are various battery packs available on the market, many of these options are designed for relatively affluent consumers and run on costly, high-maintenance technology. By contrast, the SolarTurtle is specifically aimed at low-income, off-grid South African communities.

Each SolarTurtle is designed to be owned and operated by women from off-grid communities. Equipping them to make a living by selling renewable energy not only helps to uplift their own families, but also helps to make life easier and more comfortable for their neighbours. In addition, their involvement helps to promote the use of cleaner, cheaper, safer renewable energy sources.

“The first SolarTurtle is finished and running like a dream!” reports James this month. “It’s currently deployed next to Ngangonwandle High School in the rural Transkei. There are over 2000 students at the school and none have electricity at home. Every day dozens of students (and others) bring their batteries for recharging at the turtle. Nice clean green energy is making its way into the community and the word is spreading.”

“Currently we are employing three part time staff to operate the turtle and Lungelwa Tyali is our first ‘turtlepreneur’. She is an amazing entrepreneur with a huge heart. We could not have asked for a better partner. She’s taken the big task of making the business work on the ground and already she’s started many extra ventures. Her latest addition is to start a barber shop at the container. She’s also starting an internet cafe at the moment. So we are on track!”


With the first run of the SolarTurtle doing so well, James says the next year will be a busy one engaging investors.

“Next year we will have all the live revenue data to show investors that the franchise does work and that it is sustainable. Of course our biggest challenge now is to get the funding needed to scale from start-up to a fully fledge commercial company. Lots of excitement for 2016!”

Find out more and watch their new video on the website: