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Low cost energy-efficient products for the bottom of the pyramid

Funding Body - EPSRC

In recent years, we have seen an increase in activity to provide energy to low-income households and communities in developing countries, through micro-grids and other methods of distributed energy resources. While studies have shown some improvement in people’s lives as a result of the incremental increase in access to lighting, there have been few studies evidencing broader improvement due to energy access.  However, access to energy itself cannot change people’s lives; rather, it is what people use the energy for that does change lives: appliance loads such as household devices, workplace machines, clinical/medical devices, etc.  These appliances can enhance quality of life, generate incomes and provide huge health benefits. Currently, the limited understanding and attention provided to the many market segments represented by the global poor, and of what types of powered appliances and products might change the quality of their lives (and, ideally, their economic condition) is extremely scarce. 

Our research will use energy as the central theme to increase global understanding of the demand from various BoP segments with respect to low-cost energy-efficient technologies, and how such products can be sustainably developed and deployed in developing countries to have large-scale impact.  Specifically, we will ask the following research questions:

  • What are the top- priority low-energy devices that have the potential to improve lives at the BoP?  What are context and culture-specific design and operational parameters that will govern levels of low-energy consumption? What are acceptable price points and how will the devices be constructed and commercialized at those levels?
  • How can an effective innovation system be created to develop a continuous pipeline of pro-poor energy-related technologies?
  • What types of new partnerships and business models will lead to the uptake of innovative low-carbon clean energy and energy-efficient technologies at required speed and scale?

Focusing on Kenya, this project working with key private and public sector partners will:

  • Conduct a series of in-depth market research on the energy-efficient products and their characteristics that are required by the healthcare sector and in homes across Kenya.  This will also identify barriers and opportunities to access to such products.
  • Conduct techno- economic analysis of the identified products as well as review the various business models used to deploy them. This will help to identify the limits of how affordable these energy sources can become (and along what timeline).
  • Prioritize the top-three in-demand products/systems (for used in households, workplaces, or medical facilities) and work with innovation hubs to develop and test prototypes of improved products meeting the demanded characteristcs and/or support the development of sustainable business plans for existing products meeting the criteria.. 
  • Work closely with relevant private sector actors to develop innovative financing models understand consumer behavior, and encourage adoption.
  • Study the medium-term social impact of these products, as well as barriers to adoption.

The OU’s partners in the EPSRC project are:


Dr Terry Cook
Department of Engineering and Innovation
The Open University
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