Solar Power in Poor Rural Areas

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Solar power works best of course where the sun is brightest. However, another major factor is the capital cost for a solar installation. If your are poor, you cannot get started easily. One of the big opportunities positive climate action has presented the developing world is the chance to leapfrog a generation of energy technology straight into clean, green generation without the intervening capital intensive and dirtier aspects of energy technology. A British company thinks it has a potential and intriguing solution. Cambridge-based Eight19, named after the eight minutes and 19 seconds it takes light form the sun to reach earth, has developed this technology, and the business plan to tackle these challenges.

Eight19 is developing a novel printed plastic solar cell technology based on organic semiconductor materials.

Organic semiconductors originate from abundant and therefore potentially low cost materials. Their strong light absorption (100 times stronger than silicon), the tunability of the absorption spectrum by chemical synthesis and their deposition from solution under ambient condition resulting in an ultra-thin solar absorber makes them a highly promising materials class for large scale electrical solar power generation. The unique properties of organic semiconductors in contrast to inorganic semiconductors like silicon allow for the development of low cost, highly flexible and low weight solar modules

Customers can pay an up-front fee of $10 for a 3W solar panel, battery, two LED lamps, a phone charging unit and a module that enables them to purchase electricity using their mobile phone.

“In Kenya for example we provide solar power for around $1 a week,” says Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO, Eight19.

“They tell us they are saving about $2 a week on kerosene and a further $1-1.5 on the electricity that they would have to spend on putting electricity into their mobile phones.”

“The plastic solar cells will reduce the overall cost of the installation. If you put solar cells on your roof in the UK probably half the cost is for the framing, wiring, the metalwork and everything else that goes around the solar panels,” claims Bransfield-Garth.

“You can’t put a 30kg solar panel onto the traditional thatched roof of a home in Malawi. With the plastic film, you can just literally stick it onto the roof.”

There are over a 1 billion people without or with minimal electricity in the world according Garth, 300 million or so which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

This part of the world is where Eight19 will concentrate its efforts. Since its first install in Kenya in September, 2011 the company’s IndiGo system is now in Malawi, Zambia and South Sudan as well.

“We thought avoiding Kerosene fumes would be a really big driver for these sorts of things. Kerosene fumes kill 1.5 million people a year, that’s more than malaria. But in reality, if you have been brought up with kerosene fumes for ever, you have a slightly different view on that sort of thing.” Kerosene is a common means of lighting in this area of the world. It is used because of its relative low cost.

In fact, the ability to charge mobile phones, is the biggest advantage to those who use the IndiGo system, their customers have said.

Customers will on average take a couple of years to pay for the full cost of their system in these poor areas of the world.

“We’re running on commercial terms but it’s not our job to go and exploit some of the poorest people in the world. That’s why we have this upgrade initiative. We could charge a $1 a week indefinitely on the basis that that is half what they were paying for kerosene,” says Bransfield-Garth.

At this stage customers can either buy the 3W set-up outright or they can upgrade to a larger 10W system that supports an additional two lights and a radio.

The companies energy plans ends with a 80W system capable of running four lights, radio, TV, sewing machine plus the invaluable phone charging.

For further information: http://www.rtcc.org/energy/flexible-solar-revolution-could-bring-power-to-1-4-billion-people/ or http://www.eight19.com/technology

Article appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

5 Comments

  1. Taking things a step further… education is going online in a big way. Classes are being put in multimedia form and translated into multiple languages. Do a search on big shot camera or Khan Academy. Cell towers reach almost every area on earth. If solar PV power can be used for cell towers, cheap tablet type e-readers, and EV’s the only stumbling block for a very high level of education to reach the very poor is motivation. Don’t feed a man a fish – teach him to build a system of virtually free energy and use that system to communicate education.

  2. Initiative and of course money is the main hurdles in building up solar power in rural areas. But if you think of it, if the government are pro-solar, we can save more by using solar power with PV’s than the traditional electricity line post.

  3. With innovations like these, some of the most destitute countries can have a fighting chance for a technological and ecological growth.

  4. I defiantly like Ralph’s last comment about giving a man a fish instead of teaching him how to make a fishing pole and sell it to his neighbors at a profit.

    I fell getting poor countries involved can’t just be foreign money being brought in in the hope of helping humanity. I strongly feel that if you educate people to take the time and effort to be successful they will be. At our site http://www.completesolarco.com we are going to launch a free class to show kids how to make money not just in solar but in anything they can provide willing buyers in their communities.

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