Affordable solar power for the developing world

University of Cambridge spin-out company Eight19 has announced the launch of a new product which brings affordable solar power to those living off the grid in developing countries.

IndiGo is a pay-as-you-go, personal solar electricity system. By combining solar and mobile phone technology, the system is affordable and allows users to light their homes and charge mobile phones as a service, paid for using scratch cards.

More than one fifth of the world’s population, some 1.6 billion people, lack access to electricity via a grid and pay high prices for kerosene to serve basic needs such as lighting. Solar lamps and phone chargers have been available for some time, but the initial cost is beyond the reach of many potential users. By offering solar power as a service, without high purchase costs, these users can now access clean electricity for less than they currently spend on kerosene.

IndiGo enables a new generation of solar power products that are affordable, providing customers with access, often for the first time, to clean low cost energy that eliminates the health risks and carbon emissions of kerosene.

Simon Bransfield-Garth

The IndiGo system consists of a low-cost solar panel, a battery unit with an inbuilt mobile phone charger and a high efficiency light emitting diode (LED) lamp. Users put credit on their device using a scratch card, which is validated via text message.

Customer trials are now underway in Kenya and will be extended to Zambia, Malawi and the Indian subcontinent over the next three months. The commercial roll-out of IndiGo will start in early 2012.

Steve Andrews, CEO of Solar Aid, a charity that is supporting the Kenya trials, said: ‘We are excited to be working with Eight19 on this revolutionary technology. Solar energy offers huge economic, health and social benefits to the world’s poorest people; for lighting and mobile phone charging. Eight19’s technology opens up these benefits to many more people. This is a major breakthrough.’

‘We are very encouraged by this new way of delivering energy to off-grid applications in emerging markets,’ said Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Eight19. ‘IndiGo enables a new generation of solar power products that are affordable, providing customers with access, often for the first time, to clean low cost energy that eliminates the health risks and carbon emissions of kerosene.’

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