Could a Pay-as-You-Go Model Convince People to Go Solar?

Simpa Networks' Paul Needham thinks the key to selling solar power is asking customers to pay for it as they use it.

Paul Needham is interested in why and how people buy things. As a doctoral student at Cambridge, he specialized in a field of economics that asked questions like “What does it cost a buyer to find a seller?” Does the buyer have to travel a great distance, for instance? Does she have to pay a fee to a middle man? So when he started thinking about energy access—how to improve the way people in places without strong electricity infrastructure get their power—one of the questions he asked himself was “Why don’t I own solar panels?”

His answer was that panels cost too much up front. Installing them made the most sense, he says, when he thought about the way he paid his phone bills, in monthly increments of about $100, which would add up over five years to $6,000.

“I would never pay $6,000 up front for a phone that gave me free calls for 5 years or 10 years or 20 years,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought I’d be better off.”

But that’s what solar companies essentially ask customers to do: pay up front for electricity years into the future. For very poor people with irregular incomes, that doesn’t make sense. Simpa Networks, the company that Needham heads, is working towards offering an alternative. Customers put down a deposit for the solar panels, then pay for incremental units of electricity, the same way they might put minutes on their phone.

Simpa Networks is starting by working with solar installers already peddling panels in India. Right now, those companies tend to work with banks to offer potential customers loans in order to finance the cost of owning the system. But Needham thinks that’s the wrong approach for customers who currently rely on energy sources like kerosene. For anyone on an irregular income, kerosene has one advantage: you pay as you go.

Needham argues that companies need to price solar power correctly, not merely offer the right financing plan for the solar system. “What people really want is the service. Let's price for the service,” he says. Simpa pegged its prices to the costs of kerosene: it costs the same amount to light one room with its solar system as it does to light it with a kerosene lamp, and Simpa’s light is brighter.

The company also offers the “nice twist” of putting customers' incremental payments toward ownership, pricing it so that customers can own the panels within 12 to 36 months, a much shorter payback period than solar owners in the United States face. In the end, it’ll cost Simpa’s customers 30 percent more to own the system than if they buy it outright. Simpa’s system, though, offers flexibility and no commitment—customers can return the panels at any time and have their deposit refunded.

That policy is intended in part to help “make good customers,” Needham says. He’s less worried about people switching back to kerosene or other sources of fuel than selling the panels for cash or breaking them down for parts if they hit a rough financial patch. The company is also looking to tap into the group dynamics that have ensured that microlending customers repay their loans. Simpa might offer group purchasing, for instance, or group rewards. If a group spends a certain amount each month, a portion of their payments could go towards a community institution, like a temple or a school.

Although there are a host of companies and nonprofits that are working on different ways to get solar power to people living without reliable access to electricity, Needham is betting he’s found the right solution. Strategies that focus on solar technology, he says, forgot the reality of the consumer, who cares mostly that they have light, not how they get it.

“If I’m a consumer, I don’t care about the technology,” he says. “I just want to pay for the service, as I use the service.”

Photo via (cc) Flickr user dps

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

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