While many countries are trying to wean themselves off expensive and dirty fossil fuel energy, much of the world is still waiting on any type of electricity. Some 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity, and rather than start them down the same path we’re trying to get off, the hope is that they can forgo the journey and just relax at the renewable-energy finish line.
However, as one would expect, it’s not as simple as installing huge wind and solar farms throughout parts of Africa and Asia. Most of the people in need of electricity live in rural areas, lacking infrastructure to connect to a power grid or the upfront money to install solar locally.
With this in mind, one company from Cambridge, U.K., developed an innovative, affordable way to deliver electricity to that 1.4 billion. Eight19, whose name comes from the eight minutes and 19 seconds it takes for light from the sun to reach Earth, created a way to harness solar power using an organic solar cell that is printed onto a flexible, plastic sheet that produces power for their their pay-as-you-go solar power system, IndiGo.
The entry-level IndiGo system includes a 3-watt solar panel, battery, two LED lamps, phone charging unit and module, all of which allows users to buy electricity using their mobile phone, and is available to customers for just $10.
To use their IndiGo unit, customers buy scratch cards for a certain amount of electricity, and are texted an access code that tells their unit to enable that much of an energy credit. According to Eight19’s research, the cost is much less than is typically spent on kerosene. In Kenya, Eight19 provides power for approximately $1 per week, which is saving people an average of $2 per week on kerosene and $1-1.50 on power for mobile phones.
If 3 watts isn’t enough power or customers’ needs change, they can ride the “IndiGo Energy Escalator” where they can upgrade to a 10-watt system that will power two more lights and a radio, on up to the “deluxe” version which provides 80 watts of energy that can support four lights, a radio, television, sewing machine and the essential mobile phone.
Beyond just solving an issue of access, affordability, and environmental concerns, these off-grid power systems also could alleviate health problems related to kerosene. Although widely used for lighting and cooking, kerosene emits dangerous fumes that are responsible for 1.5 million deaths every year, according to Eight19.
Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa where 300 million people are without electricity, Eight19 first rolled out in Kenya in 2011 and now has systems in Malawi, Zambia, and South Sudan.