What are the existing low cost options for consumer solar power in developing nations and how much do they cost in USD as well as percentage of per capita in come in the specific nations?

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What are the existing low cost options for consumer solar power in developing nations and how much do they cost in USD as well as percentage of per capita in come in the specific nations?

Hello! Thanks for your question about solar power options in developing countries, their cost in USD, and the percentage of per capita income. The short version is that making solar power accessible and affordable works best with a two-part solution, providing both the power source and a means to finance it. Below you will find a deep dive of my research / findings along with all the details for how I came to this answer. I personally loved researching this as I have a background in environmental biology and have studied renewable energy in detail.

Though slow to catch on in the United States, solar power offers great potential for developing countries. Several factors influences this situation. First, off-grid usage is possible. This is critical for counties lacking an infrastructure to support a large operation. It also brings down costs. However, despite this advantage, costs remain high for the individual.

An estimated 1.4 billion people have no access to electricity. Solar power offers a cleaner, safer solution. One option lies with financial plans that are part of a household's solution for solar power. SunFunder is one company offering investment opportunities to fund off-grid projects. To date, the company has financed $2 million of solar projects, with 16 solar companies in six countries. USAID is also financing several projects with its Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP) in Uganda, India, and Haiti.

Developing countries have enormous potential for solar power. For example, virtually, the entire continent of Africa has the highest potential worldwide, with most areas experiencing about 325 sunny days a year, delivering over 6 kWh energy per square meter a day. The same situation exists in South America and central Asia. Another factor affecting the future for solar power is the current market for photovoltaics or solar cells. In recent years, development has shifted to Asia, India, South Africa, and other nations in closer proximity to developing countries. This shift can make solar power more accessible due to reductions in transportation costs.

Combining solar power solutions with energy-efficient appliances can further reduce costs. Lars Koerner, a project engineer with SolarWorld, a German solar company, estimated that installation of these appliances with an off-grid solar solution could reduce the cost of providing power to a Chinese village of 29,000 from $35,600 to $8,300. The current GDP in China is $7,590. A breakdown of the cost savings goes from $1.22 per person to $0.29 or about 1.4 percent of the GDP.

Fortunately, costs for solar power have dropped significantly in recent years, making it a viable option for developing countries. The potential for development is high as is the opportunity to use other devices such as radios, cellphone chargers, and other electronics. While the power itself has negligible costs, the bulk of the financial barriers lie with installation costs. Many solutions are available that tackle these obstacles and open the door for more opportunities to use solar power.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems
These systems use solar cells to create a reliable source of power. The advantage to using these products is the flexibility of the size of the installation, and thus, costs. They can power several devices, depending upon the setup. They generate power by converting light into an electric current. In countries near the equator, they offer a reliable system especially in areas with little fluctuation in daylight hours.

Another option for increasing the efficiency of these systems is product called SunSaluter. By keeping solar panels facing sunlight, the device can boost efficiency by up to 30 percent. The products is available for purchase worldwide. The company also actively solicits entrepreneurs for investment opportunities to bring their products to those who would benefit most.

The Simpa Regulator by Simpa Networks offers another type of microcontroller and regulating system to streamline the process of delivering solar power. The consumer can pay-as-you-go pricing system with the convenience of mobile payments. One of the challenges of bringing solar power to developing countries is the remote locations of some villages. This system provides a cost-effective solution for the consumer.

Solar Lanterns
Another solar power solution uses solar lanterns. Indian company NEST LTD manufactures these items at a cost of $35 each. Consumers can purchase them in installments over one to two years. Over a one-year plan, they would cost about $0.10. per day per lantern; on the two-year plan, $0.05. Compare this figure to the typical situation with a kerosene lantern for light. The average annual cost is $40 to $80. This figure translates into a range of $0.11 to $0.22 per day.

Another solar-power product developed by Danish Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy cost about $27 per lamp. However, manufacturing the product in China instead of the United States reduces the cost to $7 a day. This figure represents a cost of $0.02 per day per lamp.

While these figures are impressive, the fact remains that the initial cost is prohibitive. The cost for either of these solar-powered lamps, for example, is nearly the totally annual cost of kerosene for many. To get past the cost barrier, many banks such as some local branches in India offer solar loans to finance these purchases, thus making them a more reasonable solution.

Good ideas often come from those trying to help. LuminAID produces a solar-inflatable light that uses a lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Light is provided by LED lights. To date, the company through its Give Light program has distributed their products to people in need in over 50 countries. The lights are rechargeable, with the ability to hold a single charge for one year. The unit charges in seven hours, making it a practical solution for regular use at no cost in some situations.

Other Off-the-Grid Applications
Solar power offers other ways to use electricity and improve the quality of life in developing countries. These solutions combine existing PV technology for other uses, such as solar refrigerators, solar water disinfection systems, solar water pumps, and solar-chargeable cellphones. In some areas, solar power has allowed developing countries to take a quicker route to communication and electricity by bypassing infrastructure development in favor of off-grid solutions.

Kerosene is by far the main source of lighting in developing countries. At an average cost of $40 to $80, this figure is about 2.5 to 5 percent of the GDP in India with a GDP of $1,581. In China with a GDP of $7,590, this figure is much lower at 0.5 to 1.5 percent. Solar power solutions like solar lanterns can potentially offer even greater cost savings. At the high end, the Simpa Networks solution ranges from 8 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

A survey of new solar power capacity (MW) per $1 billion GDP reveals that Bulgaria leads the worldwide market with 15.03. Developing countries lag far behind. China, for example, is 0.60. India is 0.54. However, the new solar power capacity (MW) in these countries tells a different story of potential with 767 in Bulgaria, 5,000 in China, and 980 in India.

Regarding per capita of solar power, batteries in PV systems represent a significant portion at 40 percent of total cost. Standalone solutions like solar lanterns, on the other hand, are less expensive and make up a smaller portion of the per capita GDP. While grid-connected systems have seen rapid growth, off-grid solutions applicable for developing countries have also risen dramatically since 1995. At the same time, costs have dropped, making solar power more attractive. In China, for example, the average total installed cost of residential solar dropped from nearly 3,000 USD/kW in 2012 to just over 2,000 in 2014. And adoption of solar power has increased. In Morocco, for example, solar power increased from 18 to 98 percent from 1995 to 2012 with a myriad of grid and off-grid solar power solutions.

The potential for solar power continues to grow in developing countries. It offers a low-carbon and affordable solution in even the most remote areas. Herein lies its potential for continued growth in developing countries. Thanks for using Wonder! Please let us know if we can help with anything else!

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