When it comes to adopting more sustainable forms of energy such as solar power, countries such as the United States have an existing infrastructure that creates barriers to entry.
Though the interest certainly exists among the public and many companies, the problems lie with deeply entrenched grid systems which are often outdated and inefficient. Though they are, to put it mildly, due for a change, this can be a difficult proposition with the extensive infrastructure that already exists.
However, in countries such as Mexico, households in rural areas often do not have access to grid power, leading to entrepreneurs stepping in where governments cannot. I mentioned in an article last month that companies based in African countries have worked to provide affordable solar power to remote villages, and I’d like to expand a little on the efforts at work and on similar projects occurring in Mexico.
Endeavor’s eMBA program is dedicated to providing promising MBA students with entrepreneurial internships. Ben Soltoff, a student at the Yale School of Management, was one such student, spending a summer working with Iluméxico, a solar energy company that works with Mexican households to provide a more financially and environmentally sustainable form of energy to households.
Similar to solar companies in Africa, Iluméxico acknowledges the fact that most families cannot afford the price of solar energy, given high upfront costs associated with installation. It has chosen to counteract this issue by offering its customers micropayment plans that allow them to slowly acclimate to this new system and immediately reap the benefits of cheaper energy.
Still, it can be difficult for a company to maintain a payment plan with low-income customers and keep a level of mutual respect. When Soltoff worked with Iluméxico, this was one of the biggest challenges that he pondered while working with communities across the country. He experimented with different methods of communication, including text reminders and social media. The trip culminated in a meeting with the company’s CEO, where Soltoff provided them with a list of realistic recommendations for bringing the best possible service to its providers.
Iluméxico and other microgrid solar companies seek to be flexible in their offerings, giving each household serviced control over their energy consumption through technology. They also offer programs for community pillars such as health clinics, schools, and community centers. A big part of these companies is a willingness to work on a community-wide scale to help bring in better energy solutions in an efficient and non-invasive manner.
And, in countries such as Mexico and Tanzania, the sun is an abundant resource to leverage. Plus, improvements in the efficiency of lights and solar panels have lead to microgrids becoming more viable as the norm. Still, there are hurdles to clear before solar becomes truly mainstream. For many of these solar companies, the energy provided is not enough to power heavy-duty appliances, and the technology is not quite there to provide homes with their sole source of light and power. Still, it’s a start towards improving both the environment and home life for many.
And it’s exciting to see opportunities improve for many that have lived without electricity. It’s something that inhabitants of the US often take for granted, but even a light at night can allow students to study or work more, improving their future prospects. A need exists, and I look forward to seeing entrepreneurs work to provide affordable ways to meet that need and, by extension, pave the way for even more widespread projects in the future.