If someone offered you a solar system for $12, you’d probably be immediately suspicious. Once they told you it only powered a LED light bulb and charging plug for your cell phone, you might chuckle… such a device might be kind of cool, but hardly useful… right?
Not in this country… or in most of the rest of the developed world. In the developing world, however, such a simple device has immediate impact on quality of life. As a December article from the New York Times notes, micro solar systems not only allow people to stay connected to the larger world more easily (by charging their phones), but also to avoid the health, safety and environmental impacts of the most common form of lighting in off-grid villages: kerosene lamps. They increase both educational and economic possibilities for people that are often disconnected from both.
As Josh Suskewicz at Environmental Leader argues today, these simple solar systems don’t just have enormous transformative potential for people around the world, but also huge financial potential for entrepreneurs willing to embrace such markets. Most of us equate renewable energy with either large-scale developments (think wind farms) or technologies for individual homes and buildings in the developed world. The micro solar system (Suskewicz points specifically at Barefoot Power‘s Firefly line) represents truly disruptive technology in that it offers an “…entry point to a holy grail of economies around the globe, developing or developed: affordable, decentralized, renewable electricity.”
You might also call such technology the holy grail of social enterprise, in that it combines massive potential for changing lives and creating wealth (for both sellers and buyers). At the smallest scale, a villager in, say, Kenya (the focus of the Times article) can not only charge his/her own phone (rather than traveling hours to do it), but also offer charging service to other villagers. Since cell phones are often the only means of connecting with the outside world in these places, there’s an immediate demand… there’s also more opportunity for those with cell phones to engage in economic activity. Many already use them for money transfers and such, but there’s no reason that some couldn’t engage in some basic forms of e-commerce through their phones.
The Times article also takes note of how such technology creates more educational potential for children in these villages, as well as cost savings for all concerned:
Since [Kenyan Sara] Ruto hooked up the system, her teenagers’ grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs — and the $20 she used to spend on travel.
Sure, there are downsides: if the sun’s not shining, a user will have little or no power, so accessible battery storage systems might represent the next logical step up for such development. There will need to be options available eventually for responsible disposal of the small amount of waste created as such systems become more prevalent. But even with these hurdles, these kinds of systems represent opportunity for real change for people in many parts of the world… and a not-so-obvious, but potentially very lucrative, opportunity for social entrepreneurs.
Know of similar technologies and efforts? I have written about Suntrica solar chargers at SUNfiltered, but would love to hear about other projects on this front…
These micro solar systems could prove useful in the developed world too. Using micro solar panels to charge your cell phone would save a tiny amount of grid electricity but as a small part of embracing eco-friendly, sustainable living, these systems would be ideal. South Africa is a mix of First World and Third World; there are still many areas where main grid electricity is either non-existent or the poor cannot afford it. Sunny South Africa is particularly suited to solar energy systems. Solar panels continue to collect solar power even in overcast conditions; the only time they do not work is when it rains (and at night). Solar energy is ideal for ‘off-grid’ living and remote bush camps and is one of the cleanest, quietest and most accessible ways of generating renewable energy.
Water Rhapsody Water Conservation Systems has incorporated Yes Solar Mpumalanga so that we can offer solar water heating systems to further reduce your environmental impact (water and energy are linked). Yes Solar is a distributor for Solsquare Solar Solutions- high quality German-engineered solar energy systems that are competitively priced. Solsquare solar geysers are SABS- and Eskom-approved and are fitted by qualified, Eskom-accredited solar installers. Now is the time to install a solar geyser while the Eskom rebates last (this money will run out eventually) and before the looming energy crisis arrives. Solar water geysers can reduce household electricity costs by up to 50%.
Water Rhapsody’s WWF AWARD-winning water conservation systems (see product demo) include rainwater harvesting systems, grey water recycling systems, swimming pool backwash recycling, water-saving toilet flushing mechanisms and rainwater tanks (we are authorised JoJo Water Tanks & Atlas Plastics water tank dealers in Mpumalanga and Limpopo- best water tank prices in the Lowveld!). Two new industrial water recycling products have been added to our water system lineup, read about the Poseidon Advantage & Poseidon 1500.
Our water and solar systems will save the environment while you save money on water and electricity bills; get free water and free water heating!
Contact us for a free quote on a solar geyser, water system, rain water tank or water tank.