Off-Grid Energy: Current Projects

In order to have a lasting impact by delivering life-improving technologies, we look to catalyze market based solutions for delivering energy products and services in a scalable and sustainable process.

Approaches for achieving this goal include convening stakeholders (private sector, governments, and civil society organizations), and conducting pilot programs to determine the most effective distribution strategies and business models for bringing modern energy services to market. 


(l-r) Abdoul Keïta (translator), Sory Mariko (Mercy Corps), and Eric Verploegen (D-Lab) in Mali.

Mercy Corps in Mali:

Project description: In November of 2015 Mercy Corp's team in Mali and D-Lab's Off-Grid Energy Group conducted and energy needs and market opportunity assessment. Based on the results of this assessment, we are developing programs to increase access energy products such as efficient cookstoves, solar lanterns, solar powered water pumps, cooling and refrigerator systems, sewing machines, and agricultural processing equipment.

In January of 2016, Mercy Corps purchased 100 efficient cookstoves from Projects Solidaires Mali and sold them through a network of entrepreneurs in northern Mali. All of the cookstove stoves were sold within 2 weeks, and all of the customers repaid the cost of the stove over a period of four months. Currently, Mercy Corps is working with Projects Solidaires Mali to increase the scale of this program, and with Total Mali to sell solar lighting products through the same network of entrepreneurs in northern Mali.

Mercy Corps and D-Lab are also developing programs to provide community organizations (e.g. savings and credit groups, farming cooperatives, and women’s groups) access to products such as solar powered water pumps, refrigerators, sewing machines, grain grinders, and micro-grids.

Read more about the Off-Grid Energy Group's work with Mercy Corps in Mali


D-Lab staff and students with community partners in El Salvador.

ASAPROSAR in El Salvador:

Project description: 

This project began during the Spring 2015 D-Lab: Energy class with the goal of improving local health and increasing energy independence in El Sauce, El Salvador. Working with ASAPROSAR the team was able to assess the community's electricity and lighting needs and assess their potential for adopting new technology. Through this assessment, we found that high quality solar lanterns with mobile phone charging capability fit the needs and budget of individual households. For local churches, we identified solar power and lighting systems that will be able to provide four bright lights for the church, charging up to 10 mobile phones at a time, with 12 volt outputs that can power a radio, TV, or amplifier.   

Based on D-Lab's recommendations, ASAPROSAR conducted user testing by giving households a solar lantern to test for two weeks (two lanterns were rotated throughout the community for 3 months). After receiving positive feedback and reported williningess to purchase the lanterns from the residents of El Sauce, ASAPROSAR began planning a microfinancing and distribution plan through connections to a local women's group. Students D-Lab classes will check in on the progress and impact of the products on the community during their regular trips to El Salvador. 

Read more about the Off-Grid Energy Group's work with ASAPROSAR in El Salvador


Examining a Sun King Pro2 in rural Morocco.

Microfinance Institutions in Morocco:

Project description: D-Lab began working in Morocco by conducting a general needs assessment with clients from two microfinance institutions (MFIs) and interviews with key officials at four MFIs in order to understand their strategic plans and evaluate their interest in facilitating access to technology products. This study identified two key areas of need for rural population in Morocco. The first need was in the area of agriculture for technologies to reduce post-harvest loss. The second need identified was for improved lighting. 

D-Lab's Off-Grid Energy Group conducted field evaluations that indicate a market for solar lighting products among off-grid rural households in Morocco. This study showed that the solar lanterns are a suitable replacement for the lighting needs of off-grid households in rural Morocco.  The study concluded that a majority of study participants prefer the light from the solar lanterns to that of their current lighting sources (gas lamps, candles and battery-powered flashlights). 

For the current phase of this project D-Lab is partnering with TOTAL Maroc, al Amana Microfinaince, and several local retail shops to sell 400 solar lanterns over a period of six months in three communities in rural Morocco. D-Lab is monitoring this pilot phase in order to evaluate if there is a viable market to sustainably sell solar lanterns on a larger scale. 

Read more about the Off-Grid Energy Group's work with Microfinance Institutions in Morocco


Examples of solor lighting products evaluated by D-Lab.

Solar Lighting Product Comparison:

Project description: The Solar Lighting Product Comparison aggregates information about solar lighting products in easy-to-read comparative charts, allowing consumers to compare the features of various products and make more informed purchasing decisions. This resource includes a database that allows for comprehensive technical specification comparison of 55 solar lantern and solar home lighting systems that have passed Lighting Global's Quality Assurance testing. Additionally, the website contains a series of country specific information sheets charting key technical specifications of products that available in a given country, as well as the contact information for local distributors of the products. In December 2015 the Solar Lighting Product Comparison website was launched, and the Off-Grid Energy team continues to keep the database current through regular updates.

Read the MIT News article about D-Lab's Solar Lighting Product Comparison

People: Scale-Ups staff member Eric Verploegen, student intern Chitti Desai (Wellesley '17), Anish Paul Antony, and Eric Ferraiuolo