Small is beautiful (and affordable)
Over the years, solar has, quite rightly in many cases, got a bit of a bad press in Africa. The reason for the bad press typically revolves around the fact that many off grid solar systems, once installed, fall into disrepair after a few short years. Indeed, at SolarAid, we installed 415 solar systems on rural schools, clinics and community centres…but each system will face a challenge to survive over the coming years…so we are now lighting up institutions with smaller, more affordable systems (Read more).
A key reason for this is that it costs a lot of money to buy replacement battery banks for large solar systems and that money is not always available.
Thankfully, the solar sector is changing and this means that it’s time to revise alot of preconceptions about solar in Africa. You will be forgiven for not knowing( as, frankly, its happening so fast) .. but there is a solar revolution going on…
- Think the mobile phone revolution and how that has changed lives.
- Think the advent of smart phones and tablets and how they have changed your life.
- Now think Picosolar
Picosolar refers to small solar systems using extremely efficient LED lights and state of the art battery technology (made possible because of the rise of the laptop and the smartphone). Picosolar systems are opening up a world of opportunities across the world, enabling people to light up their homes, charge their phones and play their radios.
And here’s the thing… Picosolar systems are a fraction of the cost of traditional solar systems…which means that when it’s time to replace a battery after, say, 4 years…. It’s much more affordable to do so. Which means … people are much more likely to do so…which means…
Picosolar systems are less likely to fall into disrepair due to cost barriers.
Indeed, people are more likely to be able to pay for a replacement battery or, alternatively, opt to buy a new system out right. Another great thing about picosolar is that these products can be repaired using much the same skills as mobile phone and radio repairmen. The challenge is, of course, to ensure replacement batteries are made available. (The good news here is that just as with mobile phones, the batteries used to power picosolar devices are now lasting much longer than just a few years ago..e.g. NiCd batteries tended to last up to a year. New Lithium based batteries last up to 5 years).
And let’s not forget, picosolar systems can actually increase the amount of income available at household level – they save people money as you no longer have to spend money on kerosene for lighting or pay someone else to charge your phone each week.
In fact, it is only because picosolar systems exist today that we have felt able to announce our Big Hairy Audacious Goal…to eradicate the kerosene light from Africa by the end of this decade.
So yes, small is more affordable, it is making the impossible, possible and that’s why it’s beautiful. It’s also worth noting that never have we been able to do so much with so little electric power. Today, LED lights, mobile phones, smart phones, e-readers…. all can be powered with picosolar products.
So the next time you read something which highlights why solar has failed in Africa (I may well agree with with them) think about picosolar and how it is different.