Up to 1 billion people in the world still lack or have unsteady access to electricity. For these people, kerosene, a dirty petroleum product, is usually the fuel of choice–or more accurately, they have no choice. This US$36 billion a year industry often consumes 30 to 35 percent of poor families’ income.
Nevertheless there is hope – without giving Westerners the willies that we are going to kill the planet through carbon emissions. Solar energy, specifically solar printing, could be an answer. One company working on this front is Eight19, a UK company that provides printed plastic solar cells that are flexible, lightweight and can be used on a bevy of solar-powered applications.
Eight19 confronts the problem that the world’s poor face when choosing a fuel. While kerosene is relatively expensive, families are accustomed to purchasing the necessary fuel on an as-needed basis. Meanwhile clean energy options like solar power systems require payment up front.
IndiGo, Eight19’s pay-as-you-go solar power system, combines mobile telephone technology to provide pay-as-you-go solar. Users benefit from a unit that can light two rooms, and buy mobile phone credits that can then provide light for children’s homework at night or street vendors the ability to work when it is dark. The system is also scalable and can expand to cover more rooms if required by users. This high tech social innovation scheme provides countless opportunities at many levels.
Now, this social enterprise will ramp up its efforts with Solar Aid’s SunnyMoney, a solar lamp distributor in East Africa, through what they call the “Kickstart Sustainable Energy Fund.” Donations and interest-free loans from donors and impact investors will cover the first 4000 lighting systems to be installed in Kenya later this year. If the program progresses smoothly, the circulating revenues that it generates should be one step in broadening solar lighting (and the all-important) mobile telephone recharging throughout the region.
Eight19 announced a Kickstarter campaign this week at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. With countries like the UAE taking a more active role and providing more international aid, this is one such solution that can offer countless bang for the buck . . . or the dirham. From the Middle East to Latin America, solar as a service could build wealth and clean the local air–and boost countries’ goals to achieve increased energy independence.
Photos of IndiGo rolling out in Kenya courtesy of Eight19’s Facebook Page.