Sunday, April 29, 2012

Africa enjoys light bulb moment

London Sunday Times: "In Kenya, where the average income is $2 to $3 a day, the $50 (£30) cost of a modest solar lighting kit is the equivalent of buying a second-hand car in Britain. That cost is the main barrier to the take-up of solar power in countries such as Kenya where many homes are miles from the electricity grid but there is plenty of sunshine.

“The problem with renewables is that you are asking somebody to build their own power plant. They have to pay for the power infrastructure,” said Bransfield-Garth.
It takes eight minutes and 19 seconds for the sun’s rays to travel to Earth, which is where the company’s name comes from. Through its scheme, users pay a small upfront fee of $10 to install a solar panel and can then add credit when they need it by buying a scratch card that gives access to a code sent to their mobile phone by text. Typing the code into the Indigo keypad provides solar power for a set period, typically a week.
People in rural Africa may be leading quite traditional lives, but mobile phones are ubiquitous. Bransfield-Garth, 52, said that after a decade of working in the mobile phone industry, he recognised that they provide a good way for customers to make payments and pass on information.
The initial cost of the solar panel is absorbed by Eight19, which gets its money back over time. After the user has handed over about $100 through the scratchcard payments, the cost is settled in full. From that point on, all the electricity generated is free.
Both Eight19 and Solar Aid, a charity dedicated to solar panels, put $100,000 into a kickstart fund that is helping to support the first 4,000 installations in Kenya and South Sudan.
By the end of this year, Eight19 expects to have 20,000 units installed in several countries including Zambia, Malawi and potentially India. Bransfield-Garth said the company has had inquiries from 51 countries."

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