What The Developing World Can Teach Wealthy Countries About Clean Grids

9aeb60f4-3fcc-4ffe-9280-7db26aa849b3-2060x1236Just like the developing world has leapfrogged wealthy countries with telecommunications — jumping right to cell phones over land lines — it may be doing the same with clean electricity grids.

Greenbiz reports on some of the microgrids being deployed in developing countries like Haiti, involving solar, some energy storage, and “internet of things” monitoring and control for customers. Essentially, the software can deploy specific amounts of electricity to individual customers based on their needs, like lighting and television watching.  If they don’t pay, they lose service, but can restore it the next day if they have the money:

“We started with the idea that the poorest people in the world make the shrewdest financial decisions,” said [business owner] Thakkar. And he believes they have proved their point.

“Our first customer was an old gentleman in a small village. Everyone in the village came out to listen to our presentation. He asked two or three questions and then went back in his hut and came out with 1,000 rupees, which was the equivalent of about $20. He said, ‘Great, give it to me,'” he recalled of the 2008 start of the company.

The big difference in these low-income markets is that many customers just want basic electricity service for things like lights and charging phones.  Obviously, developed markets have much more intense electricity needs.

But by scaling the market at this initial step, we’re learning what works and what doesn’t.  And as costs come down and the business model proves itself, it could become a model that scales to the developed world.  While the vision of communities going completely off grid may still be impractical or too expensive, these developing world examples show that we can get pretty far along that path.  And with new technological breakthroughs, it could one day even enable a complete break with the traditional grid model even in the developed world.


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