A project called Shared Solar has brought cheap electricity to about 20 isolated and poor villages in Uganda and Mali. Shared Solar uses solar panels hooked to micro electric grids of 20 families or fewer. The grids are managed by smart meters that users pay via their cellphones. Mechanical engineering professor Vijay Modi of Columbia University and The Earth Institute heads Shared Solar. He told EarthSky:
The core technology is really just smart metering. You can meter each consumer in real-time every hour. You allow for pre-payment. You can allow for time-of-day pricing. You can optimize the storage needed for demand and supply management. Ironically, everything we are doing in Shared Solar is what the developed world wants to do. It is a smart grid with real time measurement and control.
Modi said there were two keys to the success of Shared Solar. Pay-as-you-go amounts as little as 50 cents give poor people flexibility in purchases. And the metering technology has helped keep costs low. Modi said he’s developing Shared Solar systems for parts of Haiti and other countries. Modi said:
We hope that Shared Solar is one additional tool in the tool kit to bring electricity to the poor and to the 1.4 billion who do not currently have electricity.