Adeena Schlussel

Energy for the BoP: Energy in Da House

Delivering energy to homes and businesses is not enough; the ways in which low-income customers are able to utilize this energy supply, as well as the ways in which people adapt household tools to be most efficient and affordable, is of equal importance.

The following innovative organizations creating appliances to tame Mother Nature’s harsh climate, and to deliver a neat and continuous stream of energy, are truly worth applauding. The two most prevalent problems of enabling a continuous supply of energy to homes in the developing world are familiar: A) the lack of an established and far-reaching grid makes energy intermittent, if available at all, and B) the cost of appliances necessary to employ the energy are severely expensive. Here are a few organizations willing to think outside the grid:

In the Kitchen


Many environmentalists may throw up their hands (and spatulas) in protest of Toyola’s charcoal powered cooking stove, and those interested in sustainable development could retort that charcoal is not a renewable resource. However, because most Ghanaians are unable to afford a switch over to the more expensive electrical powered stoves, and because 30% of Ghanians use charcoal as their primary source of fuel, Toyola delivers a fitting solution in a pool of limited possibilities.

Furthermore, Toyola takes great heed to manufacture energy efficient stoves, cutting the cost of fuel while benefiting the environment. In the way of efficiency, Toyola’s mobile stove delivery system gives the organization a leg up by simplifying the purchase and installation. Toyola cuts costs as well as it cuts CO2 emissions; the team employs the informal sector to reduce costs and uses scrap material instead of purchasing new, raw, and much more expensive materials. In the same vein, instead of employing regular salaried workers, Toyola is able to recruit artisans and other market players in manufacturing their goods.

The population’s inclination towards charcoal and the benefits of ovens in comparison to the threats of cooking over an open flame is a recipe for success. To date, Toyola has sold their energy efficient stoves to 35,000 households, and has offset 15,000 tons of CO2 emissions- a significant double-bottom line ROI indeed. With 200 employees, Toyola is kind not only to the environment, but to the local population looking for employment. For the reasons stated above, and because the perfect can be the enemy of the good, using charcoal as a source of alternative energy despite its shortcomings is a Toyola accomplishment of note.

Pot in Pot Cooler

Another example of an organization fueled by innovative thinking is the Pot in Pot Cooler. When most people think about benefits of having a steady supply of energy, they think about heating, cooking, and lighting. Most don’t think about cooling, but in parts of Africa, it is hard not to think about cooling.

The Pot in Pot Cooler manages to keep food and medicine cool despite the lack of continual energy – all without harnessing solar, wind or hydroelectric power that we have become a familiar component of solutions to the BoP’s crippling energy shortage.

The idea is simple, cost-effective and does not rely on the undesirable climate:

By nestling one ceramic pot inside a slightly larger one, and filling the space between with sand and water, the creators of Pot in Pot engineered a valuable refrigerator of sorts. As the water evaporates from the sand composition, it sucks the heat from the inner pot, creating an insulated chamber in which one can effectively store produce. In the absence of electricity, this method of preserving crops is invaluable to families and farmers alike and frees owners from having to babysit (or furiously consume) their produce. How well do the pots work? Tomatoes can last 2-3 days sans cooling, and can last for 21 days when potted. Eggplants can survive the sun for 3 days, but stay fresh for 27 days with this technology.

Mohammad Bah Abba – the brain behind the design – first constructed his product with mattress foam as the space filler between the pots; it is probably for the best that the widely available sand was more effective. Once the technology was finalized, the next challenge was distributing it. In a unique publicity approach, the founder partnered with a local drama group who projected a performance of the founder’s mission onto a community center wall, providing both clever advertising and the community’s night activity in one fell swoop.

While this alternative energy initiative is not reliant on erratic weather or a grid, the technology is only useful for a singular purpose. Still, hundreds of thousands of pots have been distributed and Mohammad bah Abba is now the worthy recipient of various awards such as the Rolex Award and the Shell Award for Sustainable Development.

Lighting in the House

Portable Light Project

You need two key words to understand the Portable Light Project’s goals: portable and adaptable. The Portable Light Project is nonprofit design and engineering initiative run by KVA MATx and enables decentralized, renewable light. By sewing a flexible PV strip onto a textile of one’s choice, the group’s design allows for a transportable light to match any adaptor’s style. The advent of a portable light facilitates not only reading, education and medical care, but can also include a USB port in order to charge cell phones and other small electronic devices.

According to a CBS article, this prototype’s success is in its “fabric that can soak up the sun,” making Bounty’s advertised powers seem pretty banal. Ten hours after the sun has set, the BoP can enjoy solar powered light thanks to this crafty design. The PV strips have been sewn onto flat textiles, and most recently onto bags, the ultimate testament to their transportability. Both PopTech and Elle are proud partners.

One of the coolest things about Portable Light Project is in the aggregate of units, and like most things, the whole of the Portable Light Units (PLUs) are greater than the sum of its parts. When PLU’s are linked, a digital communication system tracks charge status among units, and thus enables them to charge more efficiently. While an individual can incur much benefit from a PLU, a community or coop can garner that much more. In the case of PLUs, “too much of a good thing” does not apply.


D.Light’s Nova, Kiran and Solata lamps are other prototypes that utilize the power of LEDs and exhibit the diversity that some organizations are able to strike when lighting the BoP. The selling point for D.Light exists in the products’ trifecta of affordability (lamps costs roughly between $10 and $25), transportability, and durability. While kerosene can consume between 5-30% of a family’s weekly income, D.Light products pay for themselves in 6 months and allow for increased income generation. The lamp is lightweight and user friendly and bolsters the organization’s goal to extinguish kerosene lamps across the globe and thus reduce carbon emissions and securing many homes from inevitable kerosene fires.

The organization’s goal for the close of 2010 is to improve the quality of life of 10 million people by introducing solar electricity into their regular product consumption diet of the BoP. The product design is fueled by simplicity and the marketing efforts are grounded in basic user studies to acutely understanding of the domestic market.

Wilkin Solar

Wilkin Solar was born from a privately owned electrical engineering company, but unlike its parent, Wilkin Solar is solely dedicated to providing devices for the BoP; Wilkin Solar imports and deploys solar lamps and street lights to illuminate those of the BoP that have previously been in the dark. Replacing kerosene and oil yields many benefits as previously enumerated, but Wilkin Solar enacts the additional benefit of bringing safety to the nighttime streets by way of light.

The Gentlite Solar Lantern is one of the star products. It is lauded for being a portable lighting device that caters to all; both people of the BoP and tourists are attracted to this product for its versatility and affordability. Promising safety and versatility to its consumers has earned WilkinSolar the reputation for being a household name at the BoP.

With the above applications of energy, power is transformed from an abstract concept to useable ojects. Daily household tasks are reinvigorated with a fresh sense of ease, and the quality of life at the BoP is increased- even if just a bit- with each Watt of power available to its population.