Is there a workable business model for products that are built to last, rather than to fall apart? This is an idea that I explored here in July, in a story about the L.E.D. quandary. That quandary, in short: companies are making a good thing—light-emitting-diode bulbs that conserve energy and last for years—but they can’t make money in the long run from products that rarely need replacing. As global light sockets fill with L.E.D.s, century-old corporate titans are getting out of the bulb business even before “socket saturation” tips sales into a decline. The question remains whether any company has an incentive to make a product that is not designed to fall apart or become obsolete.
Then, last June, the renovation team discovered Ketra, an LED lighting startup from Austin that promised some pretty big things. ... The first was what Ketra calls “natural light”: white light sources that imperceptibly change their color and intensity throughout the day to mimic the lighting conditions outside. The second was an extreme degree of control. Ketra lights could be wirelessly grouped into zones of any number of lights that could all be separately adjusted via custom software on a wall panel, computer, or phone. The third was precision. Each Ketra bulb contained a patented sensor that measured its own color 360 times a minute to make sure the light being produced was the light being requested. Ketra was selling precisely measured, nature-approximating light, accessible throughout the massive office at the press of a button. ... who really needs them? Being all things to all people doesn’t come cheap. A single Ketra bulb costs about $100. ... before you can sell millions of dollars of high-tech lighting to some of the world’s biggest companies, you have to convince them that there is a very big problem with their light. ... At the heart of Ketra’s tech is an LED chip capable of temperature-optical feedback, which senses heat and color output in real time and adjusts itself according to that data.
There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady. A World Bank report, released in May, predicted that, given current trends, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power by 2040. Even those with electricity can’t rely on it: the report noted that in Tanzania power outages were so common in 2013 that they cost businesses fifteen per cent of their annual sales. Ghanaians call their flickering power dum/sor, or “off/on.” Vivian Tsadzi, a businesswoman who lives not far from the Akosombo Dam, which provides about a third of the nation’s power, said that most of the time “it’s dum dum dum dum.” The dam’s head of hydropower generation, Kwesi Amoako, who retired last year, told me that he is proud of the structure, which created the world’s largest man-made lake. But there isn’t an easy way to increase the country’s hydropower capacity, and drought, caused by climate change, has made the system inconsistent, meaning that Ghana will have to look elsewhere for electricity. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the main thrusts should be domestic solar,” Amoako said. “And I think we should put the off-grid stuff first, because the consumer wants it so badly.” ... Electrifying Africa is one of the largest development challenges on earth. Until recently, most people assumed that the continent would electrify in the same manner as the rest of the globe. ... Solar electricity, on the other hand, has become inexpensive, in part because the price of solar panels has fallen at the same time that the efficiency of light bulbs and appliances has dramatically increased. ... It will be years before it makes financial sense for solar companies to expand to the most remote and challenging regions of the continent.
- Also: Ars Technica - Solar energy has plunged in price—where does it go from here? 5-15min
- Also: Motherboard - We’re a Cheap Battery Away From Phasing Out Fossil Fuels < 5min
- Also: Quartz - IIT: An Indian berry contains a crucial ingredient for creating cheap solar cells < 5min
- Also: Los Angeles Times - China has conquered Kenya': Inside Beijing's new strategy to win African hearts and minds < 5min
- Also: Stanford - Bringing Online Shopping to Rural Africa, One Shopkeeper at a Time < 5min