Bernard Hulshof – Affordable Solar Home Lighting Madagaskar

Bernard Hulshof – Affordable Solar Home Lighting Madagaskar


When you start with something new, there are always people who don’t believe it can work. You just have to keep going. My graduation project entailed solar home lighting in Madagascar. I thought: what is the biggest problem in the world? Can we do something about it? The assignment was initially: perform research about what people want and what’s already available. What people want to pay was an important aspect, and getting it ready for manufacture. You want to achieve some minimum level of light. It turned out to be a fairly simple design: a solar panel you would place on your roof. Then a ball with two halves and a battery, a connector for the solar panel, a button with four modes. Technologically speaking, that was a time when solar panels were becoming cheaper and cheaper, LED lights were becoming more efficient. Now every product has LED lights, but you still had a lot of incandescent bulbs at that time. Lithium-ion batteries were becoming more affordable. And that all really took off. Not just efficiency, but also when it came to costs. And it all just started at that time Every time an innovation takes place that decreases the energy demand of a product, you’ll see developments happening fast. An important factor for us was that we wanted people to pay for it. Some people told us: shouldn’t you just hand them out? We really wanted to sell these systems. We believed that if people pay for something they would take better care of it. And then you’re also supporting local entrepeneurship. It’s funny, when you look at it. At certain moments, we were out of money, we developed different products, that would not work. We tried other things, had some success. Eventually we found investors in the USA who had experience coaching these kinds of companies. That was a very good move. They helped us out a lot with strategy. They argued: it’s good for people to pay for it, but maybe you could match their needs more by offering your system on a lease model. 5 dollars per month, for three years. After those three years, the system is yours. And will be good for another seven years of use. In about three or four years, we then grew to about 300 employees. I brought it to a certain level, other people are better at bringing it to the next, higher level. So I stepped aside and started with something new. What I brought from 0 to 1, they can bring to 100. It’s awesome to see that working out. That’s always challenging. I’m very proud of how they’re doing now.

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