The initial demand for distributed solar, electricity generated right in the household rather than wired from a grid, is lighting. People already do have kerosene lamps, so solar lanterns and hanging lights are an upgrade that makes all kinds of economic and aesthetic sense. Simply, the lighting is much brighter, far superior to kerosene, without flames and smoke. But when solar can also deliver mobile phone charging, the deal is even sweeter.
Simon Bransfield-Garth, head of Azuri (featured in Tool 29, Pay Till You Own Electricity) confirms what I hypothesized, that once people have paid-off lights, they want more more more. More lights means more studying and home-based income generating activities. But then they want what everyone else seems to want in modernity: entertainment and connection.
“But demands are moving beyond lighting. Three years ago, Bransfield-Garth says consumers in rural Africa were excited about getting solar lanterns but today they are asking for additional products like TVs, fans, phones and internet connectivity. However, consumers don’t want to pay for these products upfront, instead preferring to make small payments as they use the gadgets.”
Bransfield also reports that their model is being refined in rural areas, where electrical grids are simply absent. But they find their innovations move to urban areas to replace or supplement balky grids.
What seems to me to be a fruitful direction for solar-powered appliances to go is food prep. How about a hand-mixer or blender?