The story about our member OffGridBox
is a perfect transition between the SDG 6 and SDG 7 1MillionStartups weekly SDGs weeks.
OffGridBox is the brainchild of founders Emiliano Cecchini and Davide Bonsignore in 2014. They became inspired to create more efficient technical solutions after working on several OXFAM projects in South Africa that took more than 3 weeks to install purified water and clean energy systems. Since then, more than 35 boxes have been deployed in 10 countries, serving thousands of people in difficult circumstances. Projects range from disaster relief, cooperatively with NGOs, to rural electrification. OffGridBox is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts at Greentown Labs and the company mission is to provide affordable clean water and power in remote areas.
How did it all start?
After 15 years of experience in the renewables industry, Emiliano Cecchini set out on his biggest mission yet: help people in the most rural places meet their basic needs of power and water.
Cecchini’s mission began in 2014 when he and his collaborator Davide Bonsignore discovered just how long and arduous the process of installing clean energy projects can be in rural areas like South Africa’s East Cape. In search of a solution to speed up the process, the duo hit on a solution: a “microgrid,” packaged in a shipping container, with all of the equipment preinstalled.
The box, which they dubbed OffGridBox, is a pre-fabbed 6x6ft shipping container, simple to use, but complex by design. With a buffet of plug-and-play water and electrical options — like solar panels, desalination systems, or batteries — it can provide affordable energy and clean drinking water to a small community, as well as access to WiFi.
In partnership with the UN Development Program, the duo donates the box itself to the community and provides maintenance for the life of the box. Patrons drop by with empty jerry cans or power banks (provided by OffGridBox) for a refill or recharge for 18 cents. They can get up to 20 liters per day, and enough energy to power their lights and charge their cell phones. In return, OffGridBox takes 20%. To manage the systems, they hire a member of the local community, selecting women for this role with the goal of empowering female entrepreneurs.
Ever since they invented their portable energy box, the founders have been to some of the toughest regions in the world such as post-typhoon Madagascar and post-hurricane Puerto Rico. They know all too well how impactful OffGridBox can be for communities, and they hope it becomes a go-to means for bringing water and electricity to communities struck by disaster.
Explain more about what you do.
Desalination as a combination with solar energy, the miniaturization of the reverse osmosis machines, and the efficiencies of these machines (pressure recovery) is an innovative alternative to more common freshwater systems pulling from lakes, streams, wells, boreholes, and rainwater capture. This enables communities in close proximity to sea water access to clean water as well.
Emiliano Cecchini, Chief Executive Officer at OffGridBox says, “OffGridBox is proud to have already developed reliable boxes for freshwater filtration, and with ongoing technological advances, it’s possible to build resilient coastal and island communities by providing them independent means to clean water and electricity too.” The company is determined to empower underserved communities by finding a way to help change people’s lives, starting from the basic resources needed for survival.
This is not the first time the cleantech company tested a desalination model. In response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, OffGridBox partnered with Oxfam Great Britain and Oxfam Italy and sent three boxes for disaster relief. One of the boxes was installed as a desalination pilot to provide a local village access to clean water and solar energy.
Located in a remote village two hours away from the main island, the desalination pilot produced a new alternative source of drinking water for the community’s daily needs. Previously, the village had total lack of freshwater requiring them to bring bottled water from the main island, which is cost prohibitive, but once the box arrived and taps started turning, almost 2,000 individuals received access to fresh drinking water.
Rolando Villacarlos, a box user in the Philippines expressed, “It is a big help to us because we don’t have a source of drinking water. The community is very happy...We promise to take care of it until the next generations.” The box helped the community become independent because they no longer had to purchase and transport bottled water from the main island.
Not only does the box empower communities to become truly self-sufficient, the standard model provides clean water, avoids CO2 emissions by using a renewable source of energy, and is incredibly durable. One unit similar to the one installed in the Philippines even survived a category four cyclone in Madagascar, making the durable and compact box resilient during extreme weather events.
The new and improved desalination model accommodates a variety of purchasing options. The price is approximately USD 45,000, with producibility ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 liters of purified water daily, and an option to provide additional electricity.
For more information about OffGridBox, please visit https://www.offgridbox.com.