BusinessDay
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How free energy will change the world

Most of us pay for our electricity. Many complain about the cost but in reality, the benefit far outweighs the expense. This top-down approach to power, starting with a power station and the grid to a socket in the home has been with us for a hundred years. But as mobile phones disrupted the landline that had been around for about the same time, so stand-alone power is beginning to make inroads into the way we get energy.

Interestingly, this energy revolution is not happening in Silicon Valley or London but in towns and villages across Africa and Asia. In the last 4 years, Azuri estimates that 10 million people have purchased off-grid solar home systems comprising of multiple lights and digital devices, which provide power from the sun at no additional cost and emitting no carbon. Recent figures suggest this number is growing fast, with the potential to double to 20 million people within the next 24 months.

Something that started as a way of providing power to off-grid households, replacing candles and kerosene lamps, has grown into an industry that is providing everyday items like a 32-inch TV with satellite content that is powered entirely with solar, without the grid insight. From the consumer point of view, these stand-alone solar systems are now indistinguishable from the grid, except that while the grid is often unreliable, the sun has a pretty good record of turning up on time. In 5 years, systems of a similar affordable cost will provide not just grid-like lights and TV but also fans, fridges and Internet access around the clock. For many households, that is all the basic needs covered.

Children in Ukambani, Kenya, watching cartoons on PayGo solar-powered AzuriTV

Free is very different to affordable. When power is free, you can leave a security light on all night, watch TV as much as you like and keep the home cool with a fan 24×7. In a world that is waking up to the impact of climate change, ironically, wasting power becomes cool. After all, why not? The sun’s energy is going to hit the earth anyway, why not use it to do something useful?

Just as the advent of free Internet access over wifi and unlimited data plans changed the way people used technology, so free energy will change the way people we use appliances. Even in well-off households, consumers will have the choice between free energy from solar or paid for energy from the grid. It’s not hard to see a drive to more efficient devices that run without cost, powered by solar and a USB socket.

The future of energy is about to get interesting.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO at Azuri Technologies

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