by Dan Schnitzer
This entry was inspired by the discussion generated at TED.com in the comments section of Dan Schnitzer’s TEDxPittsburgh talk. In this blog we hope to cover the evolution of EarthSpark, different retail business models we’ve tried, the challenges we face now, and what the next steps are.
The germ of the idea for EarthSpark’s model sprouted from the results of a survey fielded in Les Anglais, Haiti in 2008. Les Anglais does not have grid electricity, a municipal water and sewage network, or many of the other services and conveniences to which individuals are accustomed in the industrialized world. Rather than entering Les Anglais with preconceived notions about what the right portfolio of energy solutions was (or even what the problems were), we opted for a participatory survey approach to inform our work. The model that emerged is reflective of two key survey results: the stated aspirations of the Les Anglais respondents, and the stated energy expenditures.
We sought to understand aspirations by directly asking respondents to indicate which two of ten energy products or projects they would most want to have access to in their town. The results are striking: 65% of the choices for energy products or projects were for either solar household lighting or portable solar lamps. The figure below shows the results for all of the ten items.
The survey enumerators were trained in advance of fielding the surveys, and each had a set of color pictures that corresponded to the list of 10 energy products or projects.
The aspirations of the community tell only part of the story. What was also needed to deliver the services desired by the community was a nuanced portrait of their status quo energy consumption. Understanding how much they paid for energy services would provide an upper bound on the price of the products to which they wanted access. Understanding what they used energy for would help to specify the attributes and attribute levels of the solar lighting products.
We found that, on average, households in Les Anglais spend $10 per month on kerosene and candle lighting, and $18 per month on charcoal for cooking. Surveys conducted in other parts of the country reveal that households spend an average of $4 per month on charging cell phones. These energy expenditures account for roughly 25% of household income.
Spending this much money for such poor energy services is an injustice. It is the epitome of “energy poverty” – the dependence on expensive, inefficient energy fuels and appliances that are harmful to human health and degrade the environment. This reality propelled the creation of EarthSpark as a mechanism to address this injustice in the most sustainable, efficacious way.