Using solar energy to turn the lights on in Guatemala
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Using solar energy to turn the lights on in Guatemala

When the sun goes down in rural Guatemala approximately 2.6 million people living in remote parts of the country turn to kerosene and candles — expensive light sources that can lead to serious health problems. But in places where the traditional grid system has yet to arrive, isolated Guatemalans have few alternatives.

Last year, two toddlers in the north of the country were killed when the bed they were sleeping in caught fire from a nearby burning candle. Avoidable accidents like this often occur in the Central American nation, which is why a small company called Quetsol developed a new way to transmit affordable electricity to some of Guatemala’s poorest and most secluded people.

“The total cost of buying candles and walking to the nearest town to pay for charging a cell phone is Q130 (US$16) per month. Our solution will cut this cost to Q90 (US$11) a month, empowering families to sustainably develop,” says Quetsol CEO and co-founder Juan Fermín Rodríguez.

Since it was founded in 2010, Quetsol has distributed more than 4,250 solar power kits throughout the country. The boxes are powered by the sun during the day and then generate light and electricity during the evening. The current model can supply a small house with up to six hours of light each night, allowing children to continue studying and parents to continue working.

Quetsol’s original design involved customers taking out a small loan to cover the Q1,900 (US$238) kit and paying it back in installments. However, over the next five years, the company hopes to reach 100,000 homes with its new pay-as-you-go system, which cuts out banks and puts people in charge of their own accounts — enabling them to generate their own electricity via a single cell phone payment.

Last year, Rodríguez spent four weeks living in a room in complete darkness, refusing to turn his lights back on until he had raised enough money to launch the latest pay-as-you-go model.

“The support of everyone was the light in my dark room, and the goal kept me motivated,” he says. “I was very anxious before I entered, but now I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. My patience levels exceeded my expectations. In general, I just feel more awake, as if a part of my brain that was asleep is now alive.”

However, Quetsol’s leaders say they want it to be more than just one small solar energy company trying to raise money. Instead, they aim to form part of a new generation of utility companies that support rural development and protect the environment at the same time.

Quetsol is in the process of expanding to other regions and ventures, and bringing a name change along with it. Now part of Kingo Energy, the company plans to roll out the pay-as-you-go model in other countries throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa and expand to reach many more families.

“Although our name is changing, our mission and vision is the same: to Turn Lives ON! for families living in the darkness, through clean, safe, affordable and sustainable energy,” says the Quetsol site.

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The solar kits can help power computers at night, allowing students to do their homework. Photo: Anna-Claire Bevan