Rampant electricity load shedding in Pakistan has made electricity one of the main concerns of its citizens on a daily basis. Days are planned on the unannounced yet patterned load shedding schedule, UPS and generator markets have become commonplace, businesses need to plan for the extra expenditure on generator fuel to operate properly. In this bleak scenario, the households in rural Pakistan that have almost no electricity are often ignored. Once upon a time, rural electrification was advertised as a sign of the nation’s progress, but today, everyone is scampering for whatever electricity is made available via the national grid.
Life Without Electricity
EcoEnergy Finance is an initiative targeted towards providing a solution for the electricity-less lives in rural Pakistan. It is hard to imagine life without electricity in today’s world, but it is the reality for millions of people in the country. One of the key needs of these households, in the absence of electricity, is lighting. Without access to electricity, they spend money on torches, kerosene lamps, batteries and other electricity storage devices. These lighting solutions are extremely inefficient, costly and dangerous (in case of kerosene lamps).
Clean Energy Solution
EcoEnergy is providing household financed solar energy solutions such as solar lanterns. The need for financing occurs because many in the target population cannot afford the upfront capital investment needed to solve their lighting problems for the long run.
The solar lanterns cost between PKR 1000-4000, but the usual monthly expenditure on lighting needs by households without electricity is around PKR 300. The financing option bridges the gap between the two cash flows. The solar lantern has a 2 year warranty and is portable.
Systems being piloted this year involve mobile payments and “Prepaid”/PAYG solar energy devices. This makes centralized control of the distributed devices and payments possible. This pilot is supported by the GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation. Mobile money is a growing market for the unbanked households living on the peripheries of society. Solutions such as this integrate that service with development efforts.
According to their website: “In partnership with the Karachi Relief Trust and UBL Omni, EcoEnergyFinance will be implementing a new model involving Pay-As-You-Go (“PAYG”) technologies and mobile money in the district of Thatta across 2014.”
Marketing and Community Involvement
“Word of Mouth” marketing is being used in this business model to spread the word about this service. The task at hand is tough as the target market is remote off-the-grid communities with different backgrounds and therefore motivations from the usual customer profile. EcoEnergy has been trying to spread the word using various tools such as setting up stalls in markets to attract the attention of the local communities.
The usual community model for microfinance might also have some relevance for this business model. If whole communities can be taken aboard, it would mean that the technology would spread faster (community to community) and payment mechanisms can be secured in a more reliable manner.
The use of remote data collection and the need to picture the electricity shortage situation in the country has motivated EcoEnergy to map out the electricity situation in the country (currently limited to Sindh). The interactive maps on their website show the percentage of non-Grid lighting usage in different regions as well as duration of electricity availability at different locations. This data is focused on the lighting needs of the rural population – which is the target niche of this enterprise.
The map shows large segments of the population that use non-grid sources for their lighting needs. The data is collected by EcoEnergy’s field staff of “community mobilizers” who collect and report this information with Android phones.
Technology and Development
Helping these sidelined communities manage their lighting needs better is a small step in terms of improving the living conditions of millions of Pakistanis. There are several lessons in EcoEnergy’s story: the use of technology in implementation and research, marketing tools and techniques for remote rural communities as well as the relevant products in alternative energy sector for the poor.
It would be interesting to see how this venture grows in terms of coverage, ideas and successes.