An Indigo scratchcard (Photo: Ashden/Azuri Technologies)
About 20 per cent of the people on this planet don't have access to electric light, according to the International Energy Agency.
Many of them are forced to turn to candles, kerosene lamps or open fires to provide light when the sun goes down, leading to health problems, pollution and deaths, not to mention heavy long-term expenses.
One solution to the lighting problem is solar. But for residents of many developing countries, the technology is out of reach financially.
That's where a program called Indigo comes in. The initiative, which is currently providing solar lights and solar power to people in Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan and Zambia, uses an instalment plan and scratch cards to help people afford a solar lighting kit.
In Kenya, a solar kit from Indigo costs 10,000 Kenyan shillings (or about $120), but people can take one home for an initial outlay of only 1,000 shillings ($12).
After that, they make weekly payments of 120 shillings ($1.40) for 80 weeks, after which they own the lighting system outright.
That's where the scratch cards come in - when someone picks up a kit, they also get scratch cards with codes enabling the purchaser to make payments from home via SMS on a cell phone.
In addition to providing two LED lamps, the basic kit also includes a phone charging unit. And Indigo users have the option to upgrade to a larger system when they can afford it.
The plan is the brainchild of Azuri Technologies, a UK-based company that manufactures the Indigo kits.
And last year, they were given the first-ever Sustainia Award in Copenhagen. Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the award to Azuri CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth (see above).
"It has been tremendous to see the appetite for Indigo," said Bransfield-Garth, chief executive officer of Azuri Technologies. "At the same time, we are acutely aware of the scale of problem we are attempting to tackle and so all our effort is on growing to reach as many customers as possible."
Although the weekly payment of 120 shillings is a challenge given that many survive on less than 100 shillings a day, many people "prefer it to the high cost of purchasing kerosene and charging mobile phones," says Edward Namasaka, the sole supplier of Indigo currently operating in Kenya.
And once the system is paid for, it will provide electricity and light free of charge indefinitely.
One user of the system, Emmanual Siboe, called it "a revolution." He explains that he used to pay 100 shillings a week for kerosene to light his home, and another 180 shillings to charge his phone and those of his wife and daughter.
"But with this gadget that harvests energy from the sun, I now charge it free of charge," he told freelance journalist Isaiah Esipisu.