Startup sells solar like cell phones in India

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Simpa Networks, a startup based in Bengaluru is taking advantage of the popularity and standardisation of pay as you go cell phone plans and mobile payments in developing countries like India, and the group has launched a home solar system for off-grid customers controlled by a mobile, pay as you go system. Customers pay for only the electricity produced by the solar panel at their home, in addition to a small upfront payment for the system.

The basic solar system size Simpa sells is around 25 watts to 50 watts, which can power a couple of CFL lights, a mobile phone charger and maybe a fan or a TV cable box, according to Simpa co-founder, Jacob Winiecki. “Remember, these are off-grid, often rural homes that don’t have access to the power grid, and the households commonly live on $4 or less a day. These customers often don’t have predictable income and are often farmers who only get paid when they sell their goods at the end of the growing season. ”

Simpa doesn’t make or install the solar panels, but works with a partner – Selco India – which installs a Simpa-powered solar system for Simpa’s customers. The customer pays a certain amount of their choosing as a down payment for the hardware — say, 10 per cent of the total cost of the solar system (the total cost of the system can be between $200 and $300).

The customer then also pays for the solar power as they go, using purchased pay as you go cards commonly in the increments of 50, 100, or 500 rupees. Customers type the code on the cards into the keypad on the Simpa box, which unlocks the system. Over time, usually two or three years, the customer has paid off the system, then owns it outright and can use the solar power for free.

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