Living off the grid necessitates and demands innovation. A happy new innovation for some off-grid, energy poverty–challenged folks is solar power in a bottle. The organizations to thank for this new option are the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Elephant Energy, and divi, Inc.
Justin Gray and Vrinda Manglik, writing for the Huffington Post, cut to the heart of this problem for those who are poor and off the grid:
“These people increasingly benefit from energy innovations and pay and you go services: Every day, 1.3 billion people (20 percent of the world’s population) that lack access to electricity pay the price in the form of compromised health, well-being, education, and livelihoods. The most glaring example of that is the fact that consumption of Kerosene and other forms of fuel-based energy can compromise upwards of 30 percent of a poor household’s energy budget in Africa. These households keep buying Kerosene because it has a low upfront cost and they can buy it in incremental amounts that reflect their small and unpredictable cash-flow.”
Why does it have to be the sad truth that the poor pay more. Well, the good news is that, as long as there are poor, there are also those service-oriented people trying to make a difference in their lives. And, in this situation, solar power is a great solution… when it can be offered without everything having to be paid up front.
Enter Elephant Energy and divi, Inc. Elephant Energy is a Denver-based non-profit organization which operates market-based distribution networks in Namibia, Zambia, and the Navajo Nation. The organization works with known entrepreneurs and businesspeople in the local areas to deliver solar energy products in rural communities, in addition to providing sales and marketing training to these agents.
Near the end of 2013, they were awarded $500,000 in a second stage funding grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program, to support their Creating Digital Kerosene Project. This project uses a pay-to-own system of credit to make energy products (such as solar lamps and cell phone charging devices) affordable by payment through weekly installments. The goal is to provide light to 16,000 homes in the next two years.
Their unique innovation is a Bluetooth chip that allows specific solar devices to talk to other devices (M2M technology). For rural communities, this means that sales agents can “unlock” solar lamps when customers pay their bills (and “lock” them when they don’t). Once the customer has paid the installments adding up to the full cost of the light, their light becomes permanently unlocked.
This pay as you go technology isn’t entirely new — we’ve covered it before here. What is new is that divi provides the ability for customers to swap credits through M2M technology. It’s like a neighbor having the ability to ‘borrow or sell’ kerosene depending on their cash flow. This is a truly exciting innovation that makes solar energy a fungible commodity; in essence, it bottles solar energy.
Indeed, there are a number of pay-as-you-go solar ventures out there. It’s great to see a variety, and so much continued innovation. This is certainly an exciting one.
Read more on off-grid and pay-as-you-go programs here:
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