Empowering communities by Solar Energy innovation
Electricity has always been on the driving seat of growth and development across globe. However today when we are busy in flooring issues like efficiency in Electricity usage, there is a significant mass of almost 2.5 billion people globally, who do not have reliable access to energy sources. Life still starts and ends with the dawn and dusk cycle in their life. Enterprises like Mobisol are working to mainstream this mass with market driven strategy and innovation.
Electrification is pivotal to future economic development of developing world because of its benefits to social communication, living conditions, and industrial efficiency. Disconnected or poorly served with our conventional grid based supply, lack of reliable power supply adversely affects life and productivity of households at different levels;
be it the students, home based workers, small and medium scale industries or farmers. Giving a thought for a minute, ‘without electricity’ will provide us with a dreadful insight of how unproductive, inefficient and disconnected life can be? Home based workers lose many productive hours due to lack of lighting; students are unable to study in the darkness. For many rural enterprises, the lack of electricity acts as a significant growth constraint – limiting their operational time, ability to increase output, employ more efficient technologies or to raise product quality.
Given the limitations which has been prevailing there year on year; conventional grid based approach has already been rendered as unviable, inefficient and ‘unprofitable’. Decentralization and renewable based clean energy seeks to answer these challenges especially for the rural and far-flung regions. Recently calibrated social enterprise formula is carving new success stories reaching the unreached and making electricity available to the unlit houses in affordable and sustainable market models. Against this broad canvas of energy access, end numbers of social enterprises are working across developing countries to cater this unmet demand.Within this domain, Mobisol; a Germany based social enterprise working in African subcontinent has put into practice simple yet unique solutions that are making odds in favor.
Combining solar energy with microfinance mobile payments and remote monitoring covered by a comprehensive service package has nailed such an ace in end user experience that the company has crossed attention at many international platforms.
Getting insight from some of their customers like Ambrose, who teaches at primary school in Lolovono (Tanzania), is a story of change in itself. He and his wife have three small children from 1 to 5 years. The family always used Kerosene lamps to light up their homes, but these kerosene lamps harmed the health of the children.They had a constant cough and problems with their lungs. Telling his side, Ambrose told the most important reason for buying a solar home system was to have clean light at night for his family. Their whole family life is now lot easier with reliable light at home.
Proceeding with answers as in how? What different? Why needed? And what transformed? We need to begin with the challenges cum expectations of low-income and energy deprived communities. Solar panels are steadily getting cheaper – but still, most low-income households in developing countries cannot afford to buy high-quality solar technology outright. Off course transition from cheap kerosene/ biomass needs to be logical on financial grounds along with health concerns with these price sensitive communities. So ‘Facilitating consumer financing’ ‘Ensuring the reliable, functional capability of the systems’ and building localized servicing and distribution networks along with creating consumer awareness, remains the key challenges or hurdles for enterprises growth in this domain.
The challenges pointed above if countered heads on also pose the opportunity to innovate. Mobisol, defying all perceptions has delivered on ground due to its uniqueness of concept and condition based tailoring of solutions. Its approach to overcome obstacles in owning a solar home system is:
- Affordability of the system
Mobisol’s pay-as-you-go system circumvents the initial investment hurdle for customers who previously could not afford high quality solar home systems. Using the mobile banking and micro financing service M-Pesa the cost can be paid off conveniently via their mobile phones in a 36-month instalment plan. The monthly rates are calculated on what customers in the region had previously spent on kerosene and other fossil fuels as determined by field research prior to market entry.
As opposed to fossil fuels, the customers personally own the electricity source after 3 years!The monthly rates are roughly 9 USD per month for the 30Wp home system.
- Ensuring the reliable, functional capability of the systems
Solar home systems come complete with a three-year warranty for the battery and twenty years for the panel. Included in the package is free customer service for three years that can be extended for a small fee.
Also embedded monitoring system remotely tracks usage and payment patterns, as well as battery and panel data. At several times throughout the day, the function of each panel and battery are checked to ensure they work well.
- Capacity Building
In their operations, Mobisol have created a great network of training courses and workshops for technicians, marketing agents, service hub operators and customers. Along with this training local entrepreneur to run small and viable units of a social enterprise is also ensured that local knowledge and resources are used optimally to grow the business.
It also provides ‘business out of the box’ offers that include e.g. a multiple phone charger, book-keeping essentials, promotional and educational material.
In concluding words, there is no doubt that access to energy creates numerous socioeconomic opportunities. The positive response gathered from Mobisol’s pilot projects has benefited thousands in Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana for 2013. The future looks bright for solar energy in Africa. In the years to come, exemplary work like Mobisol aspires many to reach millions of households in low-income communities to not only stimulate economic and social development in developing countries but also contributes to global environmental protection.
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