Un-Conventional Wisdom: Take high-tech solar solutions to villages...

Social enterprises can not afford to allow conventional wisdom to hold back inspiration. In the field of energy access for villagers, conventional wisdom assumes that Village life = Low-Tech so therefore, only energy solutions which are low-tech are capable of taking firm roots among the lifestyles of rural populations. From this logic, many providers of solar solutions are driving toward simple solutions at low cost and away from alternatives which might be sophisticated, multi-functional, scalable, and provide premium features. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom is wrong. Villagers want features and functionality, particularly because they have already experienced high-tech in the palm of their hands...

That's right. The mobile phone is the perfect example of how highly engineered products can find a huge market in the fields, hills, and valleys of rural India. As far as cultural fit is concerned, within 10 years, most mobile phone users have incorporated the device into all aspects of their work, social, and family life and couldn't conceive of giving it up. 

This is the result that energy access providers must also seek to achieve, and based on the comparison with mobile phone adoption, isn't likely to occur in response to introducing low-tech options. Consider that the total amount of money spent every year on mobile handsets and the purchase of pre-paid minutes in India alone is enough to fully electrify many villages if that purchasing power were applied on distributed generation. 

What does this mean for the Energy Access community? Clearly, it indicates that consumers can pay for relatively high-tech products if they are convinced of the value. Perhaps the entire catalog of solar solutions available in the market aren't high-tech enough to interest end-users... 

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Comment by Aarif Mirza on December 17, 2013 at 5:11am

Where I would like to agree with you, I beg to disagree on the ability for the end-user in villages to be able to go with the most cutting edge technology.  I find it vastly different in the basic economic model of comparing a 500 rupee charge card for the mobile phone to 500,000 rupee solar setup.  I can safely assume you already very well know the sub-continent market and how more than 90% of families operate on a month to month basis in terms of finances.  I just can't see someone even have the luxury of spending on something to prepare for the future, when they can barely make it 30 days.   I completely agree with you on your point, I just don't see it ever being feasible until a large financier takes it upon themselves to create opportunities for extremely low-wealth, high-risk families.

Comment by Yotam Ariel on September 11, 2013 at 9:43pm

Very interesting!

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