Pay-as-You-Go Solar: Cheap, Affordable, Accessible

October 5, 2011

More stubborn, smart-alecky third-worlders unwilling to wait for a nuclear plant and a power grid.

In a model parallel to that described in last week’s post on Snap Goods,(“own less, do more”) customers dial in the amount of solar energy they are willing to pay for at a given time, and avoid having to purchase what they do not need.

New Scientist:

Pay as you go is a common way of paying for calls on your cellphone. Now the idea could help make solar power a more realistic option for families in Kenya and other African countries.

The system, called IndiGo, consists of a low-cost flexible plastic Movie Camera 2.5W solar panel that charges a battery. This is connected to a USB mobile phone charger and an LED lamp that provides around 5 hours of light from one day’s charge.

Developed by solar energy firm Eight19, based in Cambridge, UK, IndiGo costs $1 a week to run, though the unit itself must be leased for an initial $10 fee. Users add credit by buying a scratchcard that they validate by sending a text message from their phone.

IndiGo is being trialled in Kenya and will be tested in other countries in the next few months. Eight19 hopes the device will go on sale early next year. The company also plans to offer higher-power systems as demand for solar energy increases, such as a 50W system that could power a small TV.

No more kerosene

Many rural areas of countries such as Kenya are not connected to the electricity grid, so people light their homes using kerosene lamps. As well as being relatively expensive, these create smoke pollution and carbon emissions. Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Eight19, says the high cost of fuel locks people into a cycle of poverty. “They’re paying disproportionately large amounts for their energy,” he says – typically $2 or £3 a week.

One Response to “Pay-as-You-Go Solar: Cheap, Affordable, Accessible”

  1. sinchiroca Says:

    As always, the development of new business models is every bit as important as the development of new technologies. We’ve seen several such innovations having huge impacts: the micro-financing schemes starting some decades ago; then the cellphone system as a way of bypassing the corrupt and inefficient fixed-line system in many Third World countries. That in turn has triggered an explosion of new services, such as real time price databases that tell fishermen where they can get the highest price for their catches. And this looks like one more such innovation.

    One of the tough problems with solar PV is that it’s all up-front cost, requiring lots of initial capital. Poor people have no access to credit to enjoy the benefits of a capital-intensive approach, so this scheme has the rental agency getting the loan — a more efficient system. The only weakness I can see in the scheme is the security of the equipment. They will surely lose some equipment to theft and breakage. Those losses will make or break their bottom lines.

    It’s still a great idea.


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