Eight19 launches new fund to bring affordable solar power to rural Africa

Cambridge spin-out company Eight19 has launched a new charitable fund which will help bring affordable solar lighting to rural off-grid communities in East Africa.

Launched in partnership with SunnyMoney, a social enterprise owned by UK charity SolarAid, the Kickstart Sustainable Energy Fund will provide working capital to enable the roll-out of IndiGo, Eight19’s personal, pay-as-you-go solar electricity system. The initial investment of $200,000 will fund the deployment of 4,000 IndiGo units.

To date, the growth of solar lighting in developing countries has been hampered by the up-front cost. A solar home lighting system will typically cost between $40 and $250 depending on its scale, which is prohibitive for many who are living on just a few dollars a day.

Since we launched IndiGo in September 2011, the technology has been met with great enthusiasm and the Kickstart fund will further accelerate the deployment of solar power and all the benefits it brings.

Simon Bransfield-Garth

Eight19’s solution is to turn solar power into a service. By combining solar power with mobile phone technology, the IndiGo system provides users with solar lighting and phone charging, paid for on a weekly basis using scratchcards, similar to a pay-as-you-go mobile phone.

The revenues from the scratchcards recover the cost of the units and are returned to Kickstart to allow the deployment of additional units to new users. In this way, consecutive investments revolve from the original fund, providing benefit to multiple users over time.

Eight19 launched IndiGo in Kenya in September 2011. Each device consists of a low-cost solar panel, a battery unit with inbuilt mobile phone charger and a high efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) lamp. Users put credit on their IndiGo device by purchasing a scratchcard, which is validated via SMS message.

The scratchcards cost approximately $1 per week for a standard system, which represents less than half the typical cost of the kerosene lighting and phone charging it replaces. Households that have had the IndiGo system installed benefit from affordable, safe and sustainable electricity, which will stimulate social and economic development.

Worldwide approximately 1.6 billion people, more than 20% of the global population, lack access to mains electricity. Despite the best efforts of many governments, this is a problem that is not going away, with the World Bank estimating that 1.2 billion people will still be without electricity in 2030.

“The IndiGo system makes electricity affordable because it allows users to buy electricity as a service, avoiding the expensive up-front costs normally associated with solar products,” said Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Eight19. “Since we launched IndiGo in September 2011, the technology has been met with great enthusiasm and the Kickstart fund will further accelerate the deployment of solar power and all the benefits it brings.”

Eight19 was formed in 2010 as a spin-out from the Cavendish Laboratory. The company is building upon the research of Professor Sir Richard Friend, Professor Henning Sirringhaus and Professor Neil Greenham in the area of organic photovoltaics.

Photo credit: Alice Springs Airport Solar Power Station by IngeneroSimplyRenewable via Flickr

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