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Pay-as-you-go solar power

Eight19, a company focused on solar electricity for off-grid applications, has announced IndiGo, a pay-as-you-go, personal solar electricity system for the developing world. By combining solar and mobile phone technology, the IndiGo solar electricity system is inexpensive to buy and allows users to light their homes and charge mobile phones as a service, paid for using scratchcards.

Samuel Kimani of Mwiki

According to the company, some 1.6 billion people, over one fifth of the world’s population, 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 their current spend on kerosene.

The availability of affordable electricity stimulates social and economic development and provides the energy to power Internet connections and electronic devices.

The IndiGo system consists of a low-cost solar panel, a battery unit with inbuilt mobile phone charger and a high efficiency LED lamp. Users put credit on their IndiGo device using a scratchcard, which is validated over SMS using a standard mobile phone.

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

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Eight19, added: “We are very encouraged by this new way of delivering energy to off-grid applications in emerging markets. 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.”

Samuel Kimani of Mwiki who has installed the IndiGo system in his house, commented: “I am very happy now because this new IndiGo system replaces my kerosene lighting, which has been a very poor quality of light and creates a lot of air pollution. I am very happy because I can do the charging right here in my own house.”

Eight19’s mission is to develop the technologies and manufacturing processes that will bring off-grid solar power to a new generation of users, transforming lives and accelerating economic development. Based on work at Cambridge University, Eight19’s printed plastic solar technology is designed to deliver flexible, lightweight, robust and lower cost solar cells for a variety of solar-powered applications.

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