Solar Energy Helps Alleviate Poverty in Guatemala

With about 520,000 homes in Guatemala without electricity, millions of people live every day pinched between sunrise and sunset. And once night falls, adults can't work, and kids struggle with homework as candle fumes damage their health. Beyond that, candles are expensive--each family spending about $20 a month.

Enter Juan Rodriguez and Manuel Aquilar in 2010, who launched Quetsol to sell inexpensive solar kits in the poorest regions of Guatemala. For most families, paying off the system costs less than paying for monthly candles; afterwards, each family has access to free power. So not only do Quetsol customers save money, they also enjoy cleaner, safer air.

Unfortunately, Quetsol has only managed to sell 3,000 solar kits. That's because villagers relied on microfinance loans to pay for their systems. It turns out that the banks slowly, cautiously, reviewed only about 50% of the applications, stunting sales. To get around this bottleneck, Quetsol is moving to a new, relatively untested business model--"pay-as-you-go" solar--to eliminate the banks and

the high upfront cost. This should get solar into more homes, faster.

Since most buyers are subsistence farmers struggling with erratic incomes--and this is the beauty of pay-as-you-go--they will be able to pay for power only when they need it with simple cellphone text messages. No more candles, no more waiting.

If you'd like to help Quetsol though this transition and bring solar power to more villagers in Guatemala, donate to Quetsol's indiegogo page. The money will also be used to upgrade the company's technology.

Is this the perfect marriage for cell phones?

Photos: Various, Quetsol