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One in five people, roughly 1.3 billion globally, do not have access to electricity that would improve health and education while decreasing poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of individuals lacking electricity rises to seven out of 10.

Right now, 225 million people in sub-Saharan Africa rely on health facilities that have no electricity, and 90 million children in the region have no electricity at school. Energy poverty prevents local businesses from prospering and students from succeeding in their studies.

Providing access to electricity will allow hospitals to keep life-saving refrigerated vaccines on hand, allow students and entrepreneurs to continue their work after dark and ensure that families do not need to rely on dangerous and costly kerosene powered lamps.

But what is the best way to deliver electricity to the parts of the world that are lacking?

Aside from the obvious benefits of expanding clean energy initiatives, solar energy has shown great promise in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Bangladesh is quickly becoming one of the world’s fastest growing clean energy employers by investing in solar energy. Over the last 10 years, the number of solar power systems in Bangladesh has increased from 25,000 to 2.8 million, creating 114,000 jobs in the field. This is on par with many developed countries in the European Union.

Solar power has not been widely implemented until recently due to the high up-front cost of panels and batteries. Additionally, little public funding to assistance programs is allocated to energy access. The private sector has stepped in to fill this gap, and many start-up businesses and entrepreneurs are making clean energy more accessible and creating more jobs in the areas they serve.

Companies like Elephant Energy and divi, Inc. are currently operating in Namibia, Zambia and the Navajo Nation, providing solar energy through “pay to own” programs that allow customers to pay off their solar power technology in weekly installments.

The only problem with systems like these, as well-intentioned as they may be, is the rapid advances of solar technology. By the time individuals have paid off their solar power systems, it is likely they will be outdated.

Off.Grid:Electric has been working to solve the problem of accessible and practical energy. Currently operating in Tanzania, this start-up aims to assume the risk of transferring to solar power that their customers would normally have to bear.

As part of the program, customers have a solar panel, battery storage and charger installed in their home and prepay for the electricity they want. For 20 cents a day, the amount spent on kerosene for a single lantern, a family receives 24 hours of electricity. This provides power to families for less than what they currently pay for lanterns, as they often must use two or three kerosene lamps per night.

In addition to providing lighting, this system also allows families to charge phones and power other appliances such as cook stoves and refrigerators. It also provides health benefits by avoiding the emissions of kerosene and diesel powered lamps, which are estimated to release toxins equal to the secondhand smoke from two packs of cigarettes during four hours of operation.

Companies such as these also create jobs. Elephant Electric provides sales and marketing training to local businesspeople who deliver their energy products, and Off.Grid:Electric utilizes a door-to-door sales system that currently employs more than 300 individuals at roughly three times the pay they were making before.

Despite private sector involvement increasing investment appeal for assistance programs, there is still a need for public funding. A report by the Sierra Club estimates that $500 million in public investment is needed. This will open up a $12 billion market for clean energy services to those in need, and provide clean energy access for all by 2030.

— Kristen Bezner

Sources: The Atlantic, The Energy Collective, One, The Sierra Club, Take Part (1), Take Part (2)
Photo: Earth Times

10 Millions Homes Lit in 10 YearsIt is hard to imagine paying for electricity is like paying for a cell phone. Firstly, outside of the US, the majority of the world pays for their cell phones with ‘pay-as-you-go’ or prepaid plans. This way, companies can estimate their monthly profits and users can get as much as they need without overpaying. This issue is similar to what many living in rural areas or off-grid areas in Africa were dealing with when it came to electricity in their homes.

With 1.4 billion people living outside of the main grids, getting the lighting to their homes was often expensive and an inefficient chore. Many used kerosene or oil lamps. Connecting to the main grids is ridiculously costly, even for an average American.  Off.Grid:Electric has combined the business plan of the mobile industry with the use of solar power and mobile stations to help power homes in Tanzania.

Off.Grid: Electric was founded in 2011 by Xavier Helgesen, Joshua Pierce, and Erica Mackey. It sets up ‘M-Power Hubs’ which use solar energy to charge individual attachments that are placed on roofs of homes. The installation fee is $6 and the weekly charge to run two lights and a cell-phone charger is a mere $1.25. Customers can increase the types of services they want, be it adding a television, radio, or more lights. A major reason why the costs are affordable is that none of the actual products are owned by the customers, the products are rented.

Mackey, a UCLA graduate who also attended Oxford’s Saïd Business School, had spent a good part of her young adult life split between California and Africa. Understanding how companies and organizations must alter themselves to African customers is extremely important, she says. “There’s definitely an art to figuring out how to run a Western-style company in an African context.” She claims that mimicking the way cell phone companies in Africa managed to deal with the unprecedented 72 fold increase in cell phone users from 2000 to 2011 gave her company a good insight on how to market and handle a similar process with delivering solar power.

Off.Grid:Electric plans to extend its services out of Arusha, Tanzania and expects to reach 10 million homes in the next decade across Africa.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: co.Exist