Solar Entrepreneur's Handbook
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Since the 1970's small business owners have been operating Solar Energy Businesses in so called Western countries like The USA, Australia, Europe and Canada. Many of these businesses started by supplying stand alone power systems to houses which were not connected to the local electricity grid. Some of these were holiday houses but many were houses where people lived permanently and the grid was many miles away. Prior to the 1970's these houses obtained their electrical energy from fuel driven generators typically using diesel or gasoline (petrol).
In Australia, USA, Canada, Europe and other similar countries there are now many profitable businesses that are designing, selling, installing and maintaining systems for remote houses. In many cases these businesses have grown to supplying professional systems like telecommunication sites, cathodic protection systems and also grid-connected systems.
To survive, these small businesses require knowledge in the technical aspects of renewable energy and the skills in operating a successful business.
During this same period a number of commercial solar businesses have operated in so called developing countries. These businesses identified the need to provide power to the remote communities within their respective countries. The difference between the "western businesses" and "developing country" businesses were the size of the systems supplied. In general the largest market in the developing countries was one or two module "Solar Home Systems". Though only small systems the potential demand for these products in some countries is hundreds of thousands.
The World Bank estimates that there are 2 billion people in 400 million houses, which do not have access to grid electricity. During the last 25 years there have been many government or donor funded "demonstration" systems installed to show how solar power can meet the needs of the people in rural areas who are not connected to the grid. Unfortunately in many cases these projects are not working today due to the lack of suitable maintenance or the inability to have equipment repaired or replaced when it has failed.
However, few of the more successful private-sector driven programs have had no choice but to establish best practices in marketing, selling, designing, installing, training end-users and providing after sales service, in order to grow the business. They have also learned many lessons from past "demonstration" project experiences.
Yet, these experiences are isolated and not common knowledge. It is more because of the challenges and barriers to doing business in rural areas of developing countries. The businesses have to be operated in a decentralised manner, just like the technology. The resulting transaction costs are high in the short term, but in the long term, a huge market exists for businesses entering the market.
These problems and barriers have been recognised and many rural electrification programs (using PV) are now incorporating suitable training for the installation, maintenance and soft skills for selling and nurturing customers.
Though this is an improvement it does not go far enough.
It has been identified that to be effective, a rural electrification program should facilitate the people using the energy to contribute towards income generation activities.
Examples of income generation include:
In addition to the new PV solar systems providing the end-user the opportunity to generate income the technicians who are trained to install the system and maintain the system should turn these skill into a business. They therefore generate an income by supplying the service of installation and maintenance. This has to be complemented with marketing and selling skills. This business at the end of the day is about people and relationships. The technical skills have to be complemented by the soft skills to ensure long-term success.
These people need similar skills to the solar business operator in countries like the USA, Australia and Europe.
This book brings together all the skills required to run a successful solar business in either a rural area or in a city. It is aimed at the person who wants to start a new renewable energy business in a developing country. It provides all the basic information required to get started. It also provides information on how to grow your business and to develop your technical skills and business skills further.