History in the making

Samuel lives in a township on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. The township has very few amenities; there is no sewage or drinking water system in place, but grid connection is available for those who can afford it, and whilst life is hard, it is not desperate. Samuel, 48, lives with his wife Mary and their three children down a street with no name. His handmade wooden gate opens into a small yard, with a chicken coup on the left and a makeshift stable for his main source of income, a cow named Baraka (‘blessed‘ in Swahili), on the right. The milk is collected daily by hand and sold locally, directly to consumers for 150 KES/day ($1.8/day).

Like the majority of Kenyans, Samuel faces an economic dilemma. His low income enables him to purchase goods for a day-to-day living, but making long term investments that will improve his family’s standard of living is extremely hard. In the case of solar power, none of his neighbours can afford a complete system upfront. Instead, each component (battery, light, inverter, solar panel) is bought one piece at a time, often separated by several years; after 10 years the system might finally be complete.

Samuel says “it would have taken me a lifetime to save up for solar.

Luckily Samuel didn’t have to wait a lifetime saving for the cheapest $50 system; his household was the first in the world to experience Indigo’s pay-as-you-go solar energy system, which consists of a panel, two lights (12 LEDs each), and a battery unit capable of providing 8 hours of light each evening, and mobile phone charging. Samuel purchased the system for an affordable $12 and now activates it automatically with a $1 scratchcard each week.

The family’s single kerosene lamp, their previous source of light which filled the room with smoke and cost them $3/week, is now a piece of history. The two bright lights that have replaced it now enable the kids to study in the living room whilst Mary prepares food in the kitchen. Instead of spending $0.20 to charge each of their three mobile phones at one of the many local kiosks he simply charges them at home, saving $1.5/week in the process.

With kerosene, I couldn’t read comfortably, always straining. But it was the children who suffered most; we used to run out of kerosene four or five times a month, and with no light, they couldn’t complete their studies. Now we have clean permanent light, we are saving money, and I am so happy for me and my family.”

The pay-as-you-go revolution that is sweeping over Africa at scale is not about charity or about solar. It’s about implementing a system that matches technology with the needs of the user, providing a new way for people throughout the developing world to pay for essential technology in instalments. Through Indigo, millions of base-of-pyramid customers have the opportunity to access clean electricity for the first time in their lives, saving money in the process, and empowering individuals to work their way out of poverty. Furthermore, just as mobile phone networks leapfrogged landline infrastructure, Indigo is laying the foundations for a decentralised energy system, without the wires and the carbon.

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A Time for Change
Our lives have changed because of solar