01.02.2012 – Using solar energy to make an impact at the bottom of the pyramid
Onsdag 1. februar 2012, kl. 12.15-13.00, seminarrom 231, Helga Engs hus, UiO Blindern, Oslo
Solar Energy Unlimited – Using solar energy to make an impact at the bottom of the pyramid
Solar technology has been around for at least 30 years. Even in its simplest form, it is extremely effective – it changes lives. The use of solar technology in the developing world offers business and academia with a great “living laboratory” – a laboratory that provides insights into understanding how solar energy can be adopted on a large scale. At the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP), the challenges with solar projects have little to do with technology. Rough estimates would put technology-related efforts to take 25% of the total effort, the rest is communication, understanding political processes and empowering people. The role of political science and sociology appears to be just as important as the role of material science. Social networking and participative technologies are important factors to enable change.
Solar Energy Unlimited – SEU (Norwegian: Solenergi Uten Grenser) is an organization created to address the service-platform challenge in providing solar energy to paying customers at the bottom of the pyramid. By drawing on mechanisms popularized in the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), SEU connects donors directly to an existing vehicle for grassroots involvement. The effort is additive and grows the momentum to create paying customers.
Case study: A successful Fee-for-Service business model was implemented and executed for 5 years in a region in South Africa. Founded by the national government with international supporters, the fee-for-service model is confirmed as being successful by its paying customers. The founders have since withdrawn, considering the scheme to be unprofitable. Unfortunately, this move ignores the interesting challenge of providing citizens with a service-platform upon which services can be provided for at a fee. Customers at the bottom of the pyramid have the capacity to pay for the service but not for the initial investment. The end user at the BoP is a paying electricity consumer, and should be treated as one – not as a beggar with a begging bowl.
Key learning: Focus on understanding the consumer needs and the applications that the consumer prioritizes, e.g. light for reading, water pumping and purification, powering education facilities. To make applicable technologies available on a broad scale and not only to users in the rich world, researchers and research institutions should make a coordinated effort to include the usage patterns in its work as a source for insight into areas of research and development. To continue only to focus on better efficiency of existing technologies and/or development of new technologies without a side vision may give very ordinary results. These insights will help shape new market areas in emerging and developing economies.
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