Eight19. Transforming lives with flexible solar technology.

June 14, 2012 in Appropriate Technology, Solar

Cambridge, UK-based Eight19 combines an innovative technology (organic solar PV) and an innovative business model (pay-as-you-go solar electricity system) to provide a low-cost solution for clean energy access to rural off-grid communities.

Eight19 is a technology company.  They develop and manufacture a novel printed plastic solar cell technology based on organic semiconductor materials.  As compared to the more conventional silicon-based solar cells, Eight19’s solar cells are highly flexible, light weight, and most importantly, do not drop in efficiency in higher temperatures, making them extremely appropriate for off-grid applications in hot climate areas.

Eight19’s flexible organic solar modules are in development phase and large scale deployment is expected to begin in early 2013.

Should there be concern for this unique flexible plastic solar technology?  Konarka, another producer of “solar plastic” technology filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy just last week due to financial issues, technical problems (low efficiency and difficulty in achieving long lifetimes), and simply a precarious solar market.

For the moment, Eight19 seems to be withstanding these risks – and moreover,

Eight19 is more than a technology company.

In addition to its organic solar modules, Eight19 has pivoted and developed the IndiGo system, an affordable pay-as-you-go solar lighting and battery charging system conceived for the 1.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to grid electricity.

The IndiGo system includes a 2.5W solar panel (currently using silicon technology, but eventually to switch to Eight19’s organic PV technology), a rechargeable battery, 2 LED light units (to light two rooms), and a USB port for phone charging.

The upfront costs of such a solar system is a huge blocking point for users, especially in comparison to the incremental payment scheme that people are used to paying for their current lighting solution, kerosene.

Eight19’s pay-as-you-go system is meant to relieve the upfront cost issue, and compare and compete economically with kerosene.

Eight19 uses the prevalence of mobile phones to create a secure and appropriate topup system: A user buys a scratchcard, which contains a code that the user will then SMS to IndiGo, who in return will send a text message with a topup code to the user that will unlock the IndiGo system.  After a certain number of topup payments, the user will have completely paid off the cost of the IndiGo system and the user will become a full owner with the system being forever unlocked.  And not only will the user have access to a cleaner and safer lighting source than kerosene, but the user will also be saving money after several months.

Eight19 has successfully deployed the IndiGo system in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia, and most recently in May 2012, Eight19 began organic solar trials in South Sudan, combining their innovative organic flexible solar technology and their innovative pay-as-you-go business model.

A company that can innovate and adapt.  And hopefully, breakthrough.

Why the name Eight19?  Eight19 refers to the time it takes sunlight to reach the earth: 8 minutes and 19 seconds.

If you are interested in other projects about bringing energy access to the rural off-grid areas, check out Simpa Networks (also a pay-as-you-go solar system) and other amazing projects on the Appropriate Technologies page.