Space & Innovation

Cheap, Pay-as-You-Go Solar Coming to Africa

A new way to create electricity piggybacks on the country’s mobile phone infrastructure.

<p>Fenix International</p><p><br></p>

In Uganda about 85 percent of the 38 million people living there lack electricity. Many people use candles or kerosene lamps to create light, but "tadoba" -- as the lamps are called -- produce smoke and can cause burns.

Fortunately, a sea change is underway. Several solar power companies have figured out how to piggyback on the country's robust mobile phone infrastructure to offer citizens a pay-as-you-go plan for generating electricity with sunlight.

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FastCoExist reports on Fenix International, a San Francisco-based startup that offers a system called ReadyPay to East Africans. It's both a kit and a banking plan combined. The kit consists of a solar panel, a battery, and two lights, which customers receive after putting down a small deposit.

Once home, customers pay for as little or as much solar power as they need.

To access the energy, they make a small payment -- as little as $0.39 per day -- using a mobile phone. Once the payment is received, the customer gets a text message with a code. By entering the code on the battery's keypad, the customer is able to unlock the battery and use the electricity generated by the solar panel.

"Every day, millions of people spend 15 to 30 cents on kerosene to light their homes," Fenix CEO Lyndsay Handler told FastCoExist.

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A woman in the video below explains that in the past she spent $0.24 per day on candles.

"...if you can bring new technology that's better quality and you have the same daily price point, the potential here is huge," Handler said.

Not only is Fenix working to make clean, safe and affordable electricity available to the millions living off the grid, but the company is also working to establish a next-generation credit score for people who live without banks or credit. This could make it possible for them to invest in ways that increase their income and quality of life.

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