Village Tech Solutions

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Overview

Delivering Affordable Renewable Powered Transportation and Lighting Solutions to Rural Nepal

 

Overview

Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA, USA
Established: 1996
Impact Areas: Nepal
Type: Nonprofit
Energy Sectors:
Business Model Types:
Staff Size: VTS: 2, all volunteer, some temporary volunteers, 7 member board, VillageSolutions Nepal: 4
Annual Budget: VTS: None, run on a project basis, VillageSolutions Nepal: US$18,000
Major Funders: World Bank Development Marketplace, Individual Donors
Awards: 2003: Tech Museum of Innovation Award
2006: World Bank Development Marketplace winner
2008: World Bank Lighting Africa finalist
2005-7: Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program
Boston Museum of Science, Engineering is Elementary

 

ABOUT

Village Tech Solutions provides subsidized research and development on products which fill the needs of underserved populations. Their products thus far have been a human-powered river-bridge, a solar home system, and an upcoming electric arsenic remover for water.

 

Energy Products/Services

Target Market

  • Human Powered Bridge:
    • Nepalis needing living near rivers and in flooded areas
  • Solar Home System
    • Households or NGOs needing off-grid electricity

 

Village Tech Solutions

Revenue Streams

  • VTS: Grants, Donations
  • VillageSolutions Pvt. Ltd: Sale of WireBridges, Sale of solar home systems

Value Proposition

  • VTS is the American non-profit offshoot of Ecosystems Pvt. Ltd, a firm started in Nepal to find energy and transport solutions for rural Nepal.
  • VTS’ approach is to find a problem, use their engineering skills to develop a solution, and hand it over to Nepalis (Ecosystems has evolved into Nepalese company VillageSolutions Pvt. Ltd.), to make and distribute the solution profitably.
  • Ecosystems and VillageSolutions have built 38 “WireBridges” across rivers and chasms in the Himalayas, giving over 3.5 million passengers better, safer access to medical care, schools and trade.
  • VillageSolutions also sells 3 and 10 watt solar home systems to off-grid Nepalis and NGOs.

Problem Addressed

  • Human Powered WireBridge:
    • Nearly 12 million people make their homes in the rugged terrain of the Himalayan foothills where snow-fed rivers and streams are familiar obstacles to basic services, such as schools, markets, and medical posts.
    • The water’s unpredictable rise and fall during the three to four month monsoon season, makes crossings through the river extremely dangerous.
    • Suspended walking bridges are expensive and time consuming to build.
    • Bridges constructed of a pulley and makeshift seat are dangerous and inefficient.
  • Solar Home System
    • Almost none of Nepal is served by grid power, and the grid is dying because climate change is affecting river runoff and therefore the capacity of the country’s hydro power plants.
  • General Focus
    • A combination of poor IP protection and donor market distortion have reduced incentives for innovation in products serving Nepal’s poor.

Village Tech Solutions

Impact to Date

  • Developed WireBridge, solar home system, and currently developing water arsenic purifier
  • Built 34 WireBridges, which have carried an estimated 3.5 million people
  • Launched successful Nepali for-profit successor VillageSolutions Pvt. Ltd.

Milestones

  • 1996: Ecosystems Pvt. Ltd. founded to find energy and transport solutions for rural Nepal
  • 1998: First WireBridges built
  • 2005: Ecosystems headquarters shifted to US
  • 2008: Village Tech Solutions (VTS) becomes global umbrella organization for Ecosystems Nepal
  • 2006: Ecosystems Pvt. Ltd. wins World Bank Development Marketplace Grant
  • 2009: VillageSolutions Pvt. Ltd. launched as independent Nepali company

Growth Plan

  • Currently developing low-cost electric arsenic-removing water purifier
  • Expanding sale of solar home systems and WireBridges to new countries and licensing the WireBike to Thomas Cableway so that it will be supplied to banana producers worldwide.
  • VillageSolutions Pvt. Ltd is expanding sales of solar home systems in Nepal.

How They Deliver

Product Sourcing

  • VTS develops its own products, and sees its primary value-add as bringing engineering and development expertise to addressing developing-world problems such as flooded rivers to cross and lack of electricity.
  • Products are manufactured in Nepal, which is challenging due to the lack of reliable electricity.
  • VTS’ solar home system was originally developed as a pedal powered generator, but they found that people didn’t want to use it because there was a social block against pedaling, so they shifted to solar.

Distribution

  • VTS’ products are sold in Nepal by its partner organization, the Nepali for-profit VillageSolutions Pvt. Ltd
  • Bridges are primarily sold to target communities
  • Solar home systems are also sold mainly to NGOs serving schools and other public buildings.

Operating Environment

  • VTS feels that donors and policies have had a strongly adverse effect on the indigenous development of market-based solutions to poverty problems in Nepal.
    • On the one hand, a lack of intellectual property protection reduces the profit motive for local entrepreneurs to innovate products.
    • On the other hand, there is so much donor money available that sellers of socially beneficial products do not need to keep product costs affordable to unsubsidized beneficiaries.
    • The availability of donor funds also reduces customers’ willingness to buy products such as solar lights because they believe they might someday be given them for free.
  • Nepal also suffers from a lack of trust that makes many businesses difficult to start.
    • Sellers are afraid to invest in a business (such as a lamp charging station) because they worry customers might be given power in some other way.
    • Customers are afraid to invest in a light that someone else would recharge because they are afraid the recharger might go out of business.
  • VTS evolved into focusing on rural transport and lighting after being stymied trying to work in higher-profile sectors because they refused to pay bribes.

Revenue & Affordability

  • VTS’ WireBridges are generally public goods not affordable to the people they serve.
  • They are funded by NGOs and donors such as the German Embassy.
  • VTS charges the actual cost of its WireBridges ($16-25,000), but faces competition from other providers who build more expensive bridges at heavily subsidized rates, distorting the market.
  • VTS’ solar home systems are potentially affordable to end-users ($65 for 3W system, $125 for 10W system), but VillageSolutions primarily sells to NGOs because they buy in larger quantities.  These NGOs then subsidize customer purchases.
  • VTS is trying to link subsidies on solar lights to positive behaviors such as attending family planning clinics, so that customers are covering more of the product costs by generating value in other ways.

Financing

  • VTS is completely grant and donation financed and keeps its costs low by operating primarily on volunteer labor.  This allowed it to get its first pedal generator designed and running for $10,000.
  • VTS estimates that this might have cost a for-profit design firm $500,000

VILLAGESOLUTIONS 10W SUN LIGHT 6LMC SHS

Description:

VillageSolutions sells Sun Light solar home systems with either 3W or 10W solar panels and varying numbers of appliances, including lights and mobile phone chargers.  The 10W LMC, which includes 6 lights, each with 4 high power LEDs inside, and a phone charger; it also comes with an aluminum stand, 35 meter wires to connect the lamps and individual switches for each, and a power box.

How It’s Used:

The Sun Light is used for nighttime lighting of homes and businesses.

Product Type:

Solar Home System

Technical Data

Lumens/Watt:  40
Average Lamp Power and type:  10W Panel, 4 high power LED in each lamp
Battery Capacity and type:  1800mAh SLA
Hours Runtime/Charge:  4
Charging Hours from Flat:  N/A
Lumens:  400
Lumen-hours/year@4hr/day:  584,000
Service Delivered (lm.hr/$):  11,943
Kerosene Service Delivered (lm.hr/$):  872

 

Cost Data

Number of Households Served  1
Upfront Cost
Estimated Retail Price:  $162
Recurring Costs
 Replaceable Products Life(years) Replacement Costs
Battery  2  $33
5-year Replacement Costs $82.50
5-year Ownership Cost $244.50

 

 

 

Other Products

  • 3W SHS systems
  • Human-Powered bridges (VillageSolutions’ founding organization, VillageTech Solutions)

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

Village Tech Solutions
999 Olive Street
Menlo Park, CA 94025
United States

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