Eight19 looks to expand "pay as you go" solar across Africa

UK solar start-up Eight19 and charity SolarAid are looking for donations to help extend the company’s “pay as you go” solar system to communities across Africa.

The two organisations have jointly established the new KickStart Sustainable Energy Fund with a combined $200,000 to provide working capital to drive the rollout of the IndiGo system in rural, off-grid communities.

Users receive solar-powered LED lighting, a battery and a phone charger, which they pay for on a weekly basis using $1 scratchcards validated via text message. Larger systems can also be deployed to run devices such as TVs or fridges.

The cost is less than half that of the kerosene lighting and phone charging systems it replaces and receipts are returned to the KickStart fund to help deploy more units. Eight19 says consecutive KickStart investments revolve from the original fund, ensuring the money works harder to provide benefit to multiple users over time.

The initial $200,000 will allow 4,000 lighting systems to be deployed in Kenya in early 2012, Simon Bransfield Garth, chief executive of Eight19, will tell the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.

However, he will add that more donations from businesses, NGOs and individuals will be needed to extend the fund and escalate the expansion of solar power in Africa.

“Providing access to electricity in this way enables communities to bypass the need for the grid and provides enormous social and economic benefits to the users,” Bransfield Garth will add. “In the UN International Year of Sustainable Energy for all, Eight19 can offer a grass-roots electrification system that will empower rural people without the need for a lengthy and expensive grid expansion process.”

The company, named after the length of time it takes sunlight to reach the Earth, has pioneered the production of printed plastic solar modules since it was spun out of Cambridge University in 2010.

A newly commissioned roll-to-roll printing facility at its Cambridge headquarters should help Eight19 achieve its goal of producing its first batch of printed solar film in 2013, soon after a projected £10m funding round at the end of this year.

Eight19 says the facility will be the largest of its kind in Europe and will create solar modules at a peak linear speed of over 3.6 kilometres per hour, aiding the push beyond Africa into the developing markets of India and Asia

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