ASHER MOSES August 10, 2012
Boyd Whalan on his trip to Ghana last year.
Almost every entrepreneur says they want to "change the world", but for Australian Boyd Whalan, the phrase is more than just a cheap cliche.
The master of management student wants to bring cheap, clean energy to the world's poorest consumers in Africa - and his business plan, built with a team of fellow students from the University of Sydney, recently beat out global contenders to win first place in the 2012 CEMS Global Social Business Plan Competition.
Whalan's start-up Hessex, wants to provide bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers in Africa with access to high quality, clean energy through pay-for-use solar technology.
He's already built a prototype, having come up with the idea when he spent six weeks volunteering in Ghana last year with not-for-profit organisation Energy in Common.
"[With] 2.4 billion people lacking access to reliable electricity, indoor air pollution caused by fuel-based lighting kills more people every year than malaria," said Whalan, adding that many spent $2-$3 out of a $7 weekly income on expensive fuels such as kerosene.
"I believe that providing clean, reliable electricity to the bottom of the pyramid is a sustainable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help millions of people improve their own lives."
With the Hessex technology, users pay as they go using their phones and are given a code to enter into the keypad, which unlocks more power.
This allows them to avoid high upfront costs and once the sum of the repayments equal the total cost of the system, the solar lighting is free to use for the lifetime of the system.
The world's poorest people lack access to banking and related services but many obtain loans through "microfinance" institutions. Whalan spoke to loan officers in Ghana and found two main problems impeding the widescale distribution of solar lighting systems.
"Firstly, solar systems have a high upfront cost and payment plans are often inflexible and don't match the inconsistent nature of the bottom-of-the pyramid consumer's income," he said.
"Secondly, microfinance institutions must make weekly or fortnightly visits to remote villages to collect loans, which is expensive and time-consuming. These frequent trips make it infeasible to service remote areas."
Whalan is working on the start-up with Dan Wilson, a PhD candidate in aerospace engineering at the University of Sydney.
They aim to launch a pilot in Ghana next year involving 100 solar lighting systems.