Rural Solar Lessons from Nicaragua

In many parts of the world, solar is the technology of choice to electrify rural village and lessons learnt from interactions with rural off-grid solar customers can often be applied elsewhere. At a recently concluded workshop in Ocotal, Nicaragua, three important consumer expectations were identified, which ring equally true for the rural off-grid solar market in India.

Small-scale solar home lighting and charging systems enjoy growing demand. They seem to have cultivated an aspirational value in themselves. Also, most consumers are well aware of their benefits of improved indoor health conditions and the ability to power auxiliary devices (mobile phones, radios etc.).

However, some challenges remain. These include:

A) Financial constraints: Many rural consumers are simply unable to afford to pay for solar lamps.

B) Limited options: There are still not many different products in the off-grid (small scale) solar segment. Typically, product are restricted to solar lights (lamps, lanterns etc.), solar chargers and solar cookers.

C) Reliability issues: Many customers have had bad experiences with certain brands of solar products. This has dented their confidence in the reliability of the entire industry.

Solar Lessons: What Consumers Want

1) Expanded range and functionality: Consumers in rural Nicaragua wanted products that went beyond their basic needs of indoor lighting and charging devices. They expressed interest in higher end products such as televisions and DVD players run on solar power.

2) Quality products: More than anyone else, rural consumers want to buy quality products. They simply cannot afford to waste money on flimsy, unreliable items.

3) Live demonstrations: Sales teams in Nicaragua, who were designated with credit and sales targets, echoed the fact that live demonstrations – where the potential customer could touch and feel a product – made it much easier for them to sell items.

We at INDIA GOES SOLAR believe that the same learnings are relevant for India. The Indian small-scale rural solar segment is full of opportunity. The key to success is to thoroughly understand and meet customer expectations. This may require focused surveys and training modules for sales staff and partners.

For more information on the workshop and its findings, click here.

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Aniruddha Bhattacharjee
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee
Aniruddha has been a renewable energy researcher and report writer for over 3 years. He has also been a content developer for multiple websites, including portals on travel and tourism, restaurants and personal finance. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's in endangered species conservation. Apart from renewable energy, Aniruddha is a keen motor sports and aviation enthusiast, and a beginner in photography.
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