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.