As many as half a million Mexican homes have no electricity due to their location in remote, rural and difficult-to-access areas.
For light, they burn candles or oil, which can create health problems.
In those same communities where electrical infrastructure is non-existent, the schools, too, go without. A census of school facilities found 18,000 did not have electricity.
But wherever you go, there’s always sunlight.
On that premise, Manuel Wiechers, an engineering student at the UNAM (National Autonomous University), and seven other electrical engineering classmates decided in 2009 they could transform the lifestyles of marginalized communities with renewable energy.
They developed a prototype of a mini-solar power plant and began knocking on doors. But it wasn’t until they won a 600,000-peso (US $39,000) prize in a sustainability competition sponsored by Banco Santander that they were ready to get serious about their product.
That money, along with funding from the business accelerator Ashoka and the organization Pase Usted de Innovación, helped launch Iluméxico and its product Prometeo.
It’s a simple device: a small panel of photovoltaic cells, a battery and a couple of LED lights that will burn all night on a full charge. It has since been installed in 3,500 homes in 254 communities, delivering light to 18,000 people.
Iluméxico sells its product for 3,000 pesos but a key to its sales success in rural areas has been the offer of credit for one year to families with limited resources.
It’s not only homes that are benefiting from Prometeo, but schools as well.
Company sales manager Ana María Martínez says that with support and donations from other businesses and organizations, Iluméxico has installed its system in 28 schools in rural communities since 2010, and has plans to take it to another 100 over the next four years.
Manuel Wiechers, now 27 and operations manager, describes Iluméxico as a social enterprise that sees providing the basic service offered by Prometeo as an important opportunity to improve the quality of life in rural areas.
“Not having access to energy limits opportunities to generate income and receive a quality education.”
He and his associates have also built a solid business in the process. Iluméxico employs 30 people and recorded sales of nearly 7 million pesos last year.
It expects to install its product in more than 50,000 homes in the next five years and expand into other Latin American countries and the Caribbean.
All they need is a few rays of sunshine.
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