Solar Power in Poor Rural Areas
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.
Article appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.
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