Image credit: Eight19
We already know that solar lighting can be a lifesaver in Africa, and that clean energy can transform school performance too. So it was exciting to learn that solar is now cheaper than kerosene in many remote, rural communities. Yet significant obstacles remain—most notably the high upfront costs compared to ongoing fuel payments. But one company hopes to change all that, using the pay-as-you-go model developed by the cell phone industry to make solar lighting and phone charging accessible to emerging markets across the Globe.Developed by solar film manufacturer Eight19, and being trialed now in partnership with Solar Aid, the IndiGo charging technology is specifically designed to overcome cost barriers in a huge, emerging market. (Previously the domain of development charities, small-scale solar lighting and charging is increasingly becoming a business opportunity for companies and micro-entrepreneurs in poorer rural communities.)
The 2.5w system features a solar panel, an LED light, adapters for most cellular phones, and an IndiGo box with battery. Users simply add credit to the box using top up codes sent to their cell phone&mdah;without which the system does not generate electricity. Speaking to Business Green about the IndiGo pay-as-you-go solar charger, CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth explained that users will likely pay around $1 a week rather than $60 upfront—a much more manageable payment for many rural residents in the Global South. Crucially, in terms of viability as a business model, Bransfield-Garth sees the potential for many residents to upgrade their systems as their energy needs grow:
While the technology could also be used in industrialised economies, Eight19, named after the amount of time it takes for the sun's light to reach the earth, is firmly focusing on the potential emerging markets offer.
"What we've found is that people might start off with a 2.5W system, but want more to run a TV or something," Bransfield-Garth said. "So we not only have new customers, we have scale-ups too."
I am sure there will be those who decry the arrival of television and growing energy demands in rural areas, but most likely those criticisms will be typed by someone in tthe West on a computer that is running on coal-powered electricity.
I, for one, am excited by the potential that this business model represents. With solar leasing transforming the energy market in the US, it only makes sense that it could be applied in other markets too.
More on Solar in Emerging Markets
Why Solar is a Life Saver in Poor Rural Communities (Video)
Solar Transforms School Performance in East Africa (Video)
Solar Now Cheaper Than Kerosene for Poor Rural Communities