Many small, rural villages and towns in developing countries are off grid, with limited or no access to reliable sources of electricity. Agro-processing is a productive end use of electricity for which a large renewables market gap currently exists due to dominant but sparse diesel mills. These small villages must rely on very slow manual processing by hand or travel long distances to use a diesel or grid-based mill, with travel costs adding 50-100% of the milling service.
VIA aims to help the poorest 1-2 billion people gain access to poverty-alleviating micro infrastructure solutions that help increase access to electricity, reduce manual labour (particularly for women), modernize agricultural technologies and improve water supplies.
VIA brings multiple hardware technologies to market, coupled with useful software and appropriate financial products to make them affordable. Together, these are called Micro Infrastructure solutions.
The hardware includes solar lighting systems, solar powered milling machines (rice hullers, rice polishers, cassava/coconut graters, maize shellers, flour grinders, meat mincers and more), solar washing machines, solar cookers, solar ice-making and refrigeration systems, water pumps and dryers, using ultra low 12-24V safe DC voltages. Internet of things sensors and software, as well as pay-as-you-go software, help to monitor technology performance and payments made by customers. The one to five years loans help the systems to be affordable. VIA hopes to expand to up to ten years loans in the future.
These systems particularly help women, who spend 20-40 hours per month processing crops by hand, fetch water and fuelwood, suffer burns and sometimes death from housefires caused by unsafe stoves and kerosene lamps, and wash clothes by hand. Microcredit to women is also a form of economic empowerment.
Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA) was incorporated in 2012 with the mission to make poverty-alleviating infrastructure affordable to everyone through long-term loans.
Use of solar mills will decrease the amount of manual processing required and may also reduce reliance on diesel-fueled mills. The time saved in manual labor can be redirected to other efforts that will increase income, particularly for women who are the primary source of labor for agro-processing. Cost savings will be realized in the reduced consumption of diesel fuel, and reduced time spent traveling to mills in remote villages.
VIA and its main partner, Project Support Services, have delivered over 650 solar mills to market to date, including 290 as cash sales and 240 on 3-5 year lease agreements, with additional units being ordered. From a target of $3 million of investment to be mobilized over the award period, VIA has secured over $2,900,000 and has more under negotiation. VIA has also deployed 6,500 pay-as-you-go lighting kits alongside the solar mills, the first and largest deployment of PAYG solar in the Pacific region. VIA provides seven kinds of solar mills, each suited to a specific task such as a rice huller, corn sheller, flour grinder, or coconut/cassava grater. All seven solar mills have been warmly received by communities, but the cassava grater most of all, as it not only reduced hours of manual processing for women, but apparently has improved the taste of the national dishes, laplap, tuluk and simboro. In FY18, VIA also began the research and development (R&D) for a solar PV rice cooker. VIA’s award was extended to June 2019.
2021 Finalists (Global Warming Mitigation Project)