Recently Sierra Club chairman Carl Pope issued a call for international government-level investment in small-scale solar in Africa, arguing that a relatively small amount of money could save lives, transform communities and cut significant amounts of CO2 in the process. (The CO2 output from kerosene lanterns was said to almost equal the total emissions from the UK.)
But it's not just governments that can make a difference.
We've already seen charities developing solar solutions for isolated rural communities, and now Solar Aid and lantern-maker IndiGo are launching a revolving loan fund to keep the solar revolution spreading:
Kickstart is a new type of profitable, self-sustaining Revolving Fund that provides working capital to accelerate the roll-out of IndiGo pay-as-you-go solar lighting products in rural off-grid communities. Users receive high quality solar lighting and in-home phone charging, which they pay for on a weekly basis using scratchcards, just like a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. The revenues from the scratchcards recover the cost of the units and are returned to Kickstart to allow the deployment of additional units to new users. In this way, consecutive Kickstart investments revolve from the original fund, ensuring the money works harder to provide benefit to multiple users over time. Kickstart, accepts donations or defined-term, interest-free loans from impact investors, to provide working capital to stimulate the growth of pay-as-you-go solar products.
Given that solar is now cheaper than kerosene in many rural communities, it seems likely that market-driven solutions and micro-entrepreneurs will plan an increasingly large role in solar development in Africa. But it will be innovative financing models and savvy non-profit organizations that help to kick start that movement—overcoming cost of entry barriers, and beginning to disseminate a technology that will ultimately market itself.
If you're not sure why this matters, check out the video from Solar Aid below.