We know that there is a looming power crisis.
We know that there is an environmental crisis.
We know that there is a world of remarkable new innovations and technologies that can solve both.
And yet, we know the uptake of these are not as remarkable as the universe of new energy solution providers would have us believe.
What are the reasons for this and what can we do to change this? This was the topic of meditation of the Post-Grid Power challenge track at the Design Public conclave in Mumbai.
The group comprised of an entrepreneur, three scientists (one from a university, one with a government think tank and one with a multinational corporation), a social VC manager and a marketing manager of a bright rising star start-up whose challenge we were using to focus on a problem.
The lack of uptake can be blamed on:
. the lack of know-how (a lot of people are simply not aware of the alternative solutions)
. a lack of trust (they haven’t seen them work and don’t know from first or second hand experience that it does)
. a lack of access (even if i know, i don’t know where to buy the solution from)
. a problem of distribution (where do we get spares and service) while using the solution
(The absent demand thereof results in distributors and retailers not wanting to stock it. A chicken and egg problem here.)
The solutions discussed to this range from celebrity endorsements of solar-power to policy changes at the government level. But the outlook is optimistic given the sheer number of new businesses in the new energy space that are creating a new eco-system. This also stems from an understanding of the future of power from traditional sources (the prospects of these running out or turnig too expensive) at the strategic level in large corporations and governments and a consequent planning for a future where the largest share of power would come from (presently alternative) sources like solar, wind, bio-gas, etc.
The marketing problem aside, the design challenge of the post-grid products is a far more interesting one. Products that are being designed today are usually products that have traditionally been used off the grid, but owing to the absence of the grid or due to the appeal of reduced costs, are being re-designed to work off other sources like Solar, Wind, Bio-gas, etc. These products suffer from an inherent lack of imagination: or more precisely, they share the imagination of the grid-user’s ambitions, only the source being different.
Products for the post-grid market need to be dreamt-up afresh. Not by making energy-efficient, stripped-down versions of the grid solutions, but imagined without the reigns of earlier constraints of grid-power like solar powered fans in umbrellas made by high-school girls in Yemen. Solutions have to come from the ground. And businesses with their ear closest to the ground are the ones most likely to make the most radical breakthroughs.