Sustainability has never been higher on the national agenda as government and business respond to the increasing awareness of the need for urgent change. For companies developing technologies that can address the climate emergency, this is a time of opportunity at home and abroad.
As well as bringing increased trade and revenues, products and services that lower environmental impact could create tens of thousands of jobs in the UK and transform the quality of life of millions of people worldwide.
With the international green sector growing rapidly, the UK Government has launched its Clean Growth programme to help boost demand for British innovation and technology, and help exporters tap into the market.
One innovative company that has its eyes firmly set on an international future is Belfast-based BuffaloGrid, which uses solar power to bring phone and internet connectivity to communities without access to electricity.
Daniel Becerra co-founded the business to help close the digital divide in developing countries. “Half the planet’s population does not have access to the internet, but it’s not like they’re all living in rural places with no coverage,” says Becerra, who is originally from Mexico. “The problem is access, affordability, digital skills and relevant content. What we want to achieve is to provide digital prosperity for the underserved and the unconnected.”
BuffaloGrid’s solar-powered hubs charge phones and power banks, supply wifi, and enable content streaming
His team has developed a solar-powered hub that can serve up to 1,000 people. It can charge phones and power banks (these are provided free by BuffaloGrid), supply wifi and bring digital content to communities. The hubs are distributed mainly through partnerships with mobile network operators and convenience kiosks, as well as refugee camps run by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. The first 400 will go to India, Bangladesh and Nigeria, connecting up to 200,000 people.
“One device can have a big impact in the community,” says Becerra. “Next year, we’re planning to produce 4,000 units, to take us to 2 million users. We’re concentrating on areas with the highest population density, where we can have the biggest impact.”
BuffaloGrid is not Becerra’s first business. In 2008, he co-founded Artica Technologies, which developed intelligent systems for the energy-efficient cooling of buildings in the UK. Three years later, with an exit under his belt, he started looking for his next problem to solve. “I’ve fallen in love with the impact tech startups can have,” he says. “And I’ve always believed connectivity is one of the best tools to level the field between the haves and have nots.” The UN sees improved connectivity as key to ending poverty, halting climate change, and fighting inequality across the world.
“We need to be out there, we need to reach these markets,” says Becerra about exporting his products to the places where they are needed the most. To this end, BuffaloGrid has been supported by Innovate UK, the Carbon Trust and the Department for International Trade (DIT), whose advice on the certifications, legislation and taxes for each country proved invaluable. “That was work we tried to do …….