A REEEP-supported initiative is bringing solar-powered reading lamps to rural Peru, providing an affordable, clean alternative to polluting, dangerous, and expensive forms of lighting such as diesel lamps. The key to the project—called “Digital Diesel: Pay As You Go Financing for Solar Energy in Rural Peru”—is a cellphone app that allows users to buy the lamp via small weekly payments.
The solar lamps are the first step in a broader plan to expand the use of solar technology in Peru. PowerMundo, a social enterprise which is based in the U.S. state of Colorado and has a field office in Lima, is working with another Colorado company, diviPower, to implement the pilot project in off-the-grid areas in Peru’s San Martín region.
PowerMundo receives support for the initiative from the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), whose regional secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean is hosted by the OAS, and from the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). PowerMundo also received an award last December from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), as part of its IDEAS 2013: Energy Innovation Contest. The company was chosen as one of 10 winners out of a pool of 563 applicants. Along with the $100,000 prize, it is receiving technical and business development support and access to other experts, policymakers, institutions, and potential financial partners to implement and scale up its ideas.
According to PowerMundo, more than 4 million Peruvians lack access to electricity and often rely on diesel lamps, which produce harmful indoor pollution and can lead to fires. Low-income families often end up spending more than 10 percent of their daily income on fuel for a diesel lantern to provide lighting at night. Or they may end up using candles or firewood, which can also be dangerous or polluting.
Solar reading lamps are much more expensive initially, but in the long term are cost-effective and sustainable. PowerMundo has implemented a technological interface that enables users to pay for the lamps in small weekly amounts as they use the lighting. Instead of buying candles or diesel fuel, customers use a cellphone app to pay off the solar LED lamp they are already using, which they will eventually own outright.
One customer told PowerMundo that her solar lamp is much safer than candles, which can cause a fire. “I can leave it on all night without a problem. I can also sew better at night…In the evenings I can walk around safely, to check on the animals or water the crops.”
Founded at Colorado State University, PowerMundo recognizes that a lack of information, high energy distribution costs, and a lack of financing all make it difficult for low-income families to gain easy access to clean energy. With support from the IDB prize money, it hopes to scale up the pay-as-you-go scheme to offer other forms of solar-powered lighting and additional clean-energy products.