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Colorado College student works to bring more reliable energy to his homeland

January 6, 2015 Updated: January 6, 2015 at 4:15 am
photo - A potential consumer in Ghana tests the Ray 20.
A potential consumer in Ghana tests the Ray 20.  

Just a few days into 2015, it looks like the new year will be history-making for Colorado College student Paul Miki Akpablie.

The 21-year-old is nearing the realization of his lifelong dream to bring more reliable energy to his homeland, the Republic of Ghana in West Africa.

"My friends and relatives back home still struggle with blackouts and an incomplete electrical grid as they try to complete school, support a family or launch small businesses," Akpablie said Monday via email, from Ghana's capital, Accra, where he is spending the holidays.

Akpablie has been working on a solution for years.

When he was in high school, he created a solar collector to power lights in the community center in his village so students could do homework and hold club meetings, said Samantha Barlow, his business partner and a 2013 CC graduate.

"It's been his pursuit since he was young to address energy insecurity in Ghana," she said.

While studying math and bioscience at CC, Akpablie, a junior, invented battery technology. His layered technique is more efficient, longer lasting and provides better capacity in a smaller space than what's on the market. In December 2013, he founded a limited liability company, Kadi Energy, which means "light" in the Ghanaian language of Ewe.

"I believe energy and its associated costs have predisposed most people living in the developing world to poverty," Akpablie said. "I started Kadi Energy to create energy security and empower young Africans to become part of the energy solution that Africa needs to stimulate growth within the region."

A few months ago, Kadi Energy was chosen as a 2014 #GivingTuesday recipient, a nationwide, online fundraising drive for nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and companies that promote social good. Kadi Energy wraps up its crowdfunding campaign (Power Up Ghana with Kadi Energy) on at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

The company has reached its initial goal of $5,000. With contributions that Akpablie and Barlow hope amount to $6,000, the stars will align so Kadi Energy can launch in the first quarter of this year its first product - a solar-powered mobile device charger that can store enough power for 14 cellphone charges and features multiple ports.

The Ray 20, which Akpablie is billing as "designed for the African consumer by African engineers," will be the most efficient energy storage bank on the West African market, he said. It will be available in various portable sizes for personal, family, communal or business use.

"Imagine having a battery that can effectively store power for as long as six months without discharging?" Akpablie said. "With our original battery technology, we are maximizing efficiency so that Africans can have access to energy when and where they need it."

Money raised will pay for manufacturing the units in Hong Kong, shipping them to a distributor in Ghana and selling the Ray 20 to Ghanaian consumers.

"Smartphones are common in Ghana - there are 25 million residents and 27 million cellphone subscriptions," said Barlow, who also works as a fellow at El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs.

Ghanians use cellphones for business, such as checking crop prices or completing money transfers, as well as personal use. Maternal mortality rates have dropped because of increased access to cellphones, Barlow said. But Ghanaians have been stymied by inconsistent electricity.

"People aren't able to charge their cellphones and other mobile devices - about 40 percent of Ghana's population doesn't have access to reliable electricity," she said. "This is really a wave of the future."

If all goes as planned, Akpablie wants to expand his efforts to increase energy sustainability and reduce unemployment to other developing countries.

Akpablie spent his Christmas break lining up distributors and salespeople in Ghana.

The Ray 20 solar-powered charging units will sell for $25-30, Barlow said.

There are no plans to sell them domestically, she said, but donors who contribute at least $70 to the crowdfunding campaign will receive a unit.

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