Conclusions from our GravityLight pilot in Kenya

The final instalment of our blog series on our activities, research and learnings piloting GravityLight in Kenya. Here we share the conclusions for the future of The GravityLight Foundation.

Our previous 2 blogs reflect on our journey assembling and testing our innovative new product, GravityLight, in Kenya – with the aim of tackling energy poverty. Through our pilot we have reached over 30,000 people in Kenya, with 3,000 families now owning a GravityLight.

As well as learning about the financial savings and health benefits, we also heard the about the significant brightness and duration increases needed to keep up with the rapidly advancing solar industry. And with mobile phones being used by 90% of the population, being able to charge a mobile was an essential addition.

Over the past few months we have been reviewing our research on the technological advances required and have come to the conclusion that a significant product and market re-think would be needed to realise the impact we set out to achieve in the way we wanted to achieve it.

Considering the organisations and innovations in the market, and after extensive discussion, we do not think that The GravityLight Foundation is able to tackle the challenge of energy poverty in the most scalable and sustainable way. We want to use this final blog to share with you that, we have taken the extremely hard decision, to close The GravityLight Foundation.

Whilst The GravityLight Foundation is closing, the inventors behind GravityLight and team at Deciwatt continue to design renewable energy products. Deciwatt's next generation solution, nowlight, is a radically different design which makes the most of advances in solar technology and seeks to meet the additional needs of those without access to reliable power, worldwide.

+ Click here for quick recap of our activities and research in Kenya

During our 12 month pilot in Kenya we assembled over 3000 GravityLights in Kenya, established a lean team to test different sales and marketing approaches across the country and worked with independent researchers to gather in depth feedback from GravityLight users and potential customers.

As a product, GravityLight is an innovative solution that pushes boundaries and asks challenging questions:

  • How can we offer instant power to people without access to electricity?
  • How can we generate light, without reliance on the sun?
  • How can we do that, at a very low cost, without compromising performance or reliability?
  • How can we benefit as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, within a financially sustainable model?

As a team, we are committed to the highest standards of measurement, evaluation and learning to ensure we are tackling those questions in the most effective way. Our blog on ‘lessons learned’ summarises the key insights along this journey and from multiple research methods:

  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • User observations
  • In home trials with GravityLight and alternative solar solutions

Through this research we were able to get beyond the initial awe at the concept of generating light from a bag of rocks, and go deeper into what was driving the statistics.

+ Click here for a recap of what we learned

Users valued GravityLight’s ability to generate clean, safe light on demand, with 96% reporting savings as they switched from kerosene lamps. However, all users wanted a brighter light for longer. This was put into perspective in our comparative study with 44 households across 3 months: crucially, uptake of GravityLights at the end of the testing period by users, was less than for the solar products.

With the rapid pace of growth of the solar market over the past 5 years, there are now a wide range of solar products that have benefit from significant cost reductions and improved performance. Many also offer mobile charging, which was top of the list of additional features requested by GravityLight users.

Kenya is a world leader in mobile money – enabling people to bank, borrow, lend and pay for items through SMS messages. Combined with a system of community savings groups, mobile money has transformed the lives and livelihoods of low income households, enabling many to pay for products in instalments via mobile money. Offering as ‘pay to own’ program of small payments is key for solutions over $10. Through our instalment payment trials, it was clear that the most scalable and sustainable way to manage these are through a technical solution – ‘activating the product through mobile money payments, and being able to ‘lock’ the product’s functionality to minimise the risk of default.

Enabled by your support

We have had the privilege to meet and work with incredible people around the world to help us tackle these questions. Thank you for being one of them.

This journey has not been without it’s challenges, lessons and ‘pivots’. As our Technical Director, Jim Reeves put it in The Guardian video 'The weight of light':

"We’ve been through a number of iterations….if you’re going to do anything that’s vaguely innovative, then you’re going to go through loops of real frustration and crushing disappointment.“

Support from people like you, combined with the off-grid families we’ve met throughout Kenya have motivated us to complete GravityLight’s development, set up assembly in Kenya and run a nationwide pilot testing our commercial strategy and the longer term impact and sustainability of GravityLight.

On this journey we have distributed over 3000 GravityLights to off-grid households and have helped to raise awareness globally of the nature and scale of the challenge of energy poverty and need for clean safe alternatives to kerosene lamps.

Here are just some of the videos and coverage that have helped to spread the word…

The need for significant R&D to meet user needs

However, what has become increasingly clear through our research, was the significant further product development needed:

  • More power: increased brightness & duration
  • Mobile charging
  • And ideally, a technical ‘Pay-as you-go’ solution

Ultimately GravityLight’s power is determined by:

  • Height of installation (ie. of ceiling)
  • Weight of the bag (and strength of ceiling/ hanging point)
  • Speed of descent / duration of light

To be able to realise desired brightness and duration targets and provide mobile charging, a complete product re-think and significant R&D are required.

This could take a number of years and many more iterations Dyson, for example, made 5,127 prototypes before reaching the first model of his first bag-free cyclone vacuum cleaner. The first patents for solar cells and storage were filed in the 1890s; only now are solar solutions starting to be commercially and technically viable.


Our Difficult Decision

We are a team of people with huge ambitions, high expectations and even higher standards of what good looks like. After careful consideration and long discussions among our team and trustees, we have concluded that The GravityLight Foundation is not able to undertake this next stage of product development.

We have therefore taken the very difficult decision to wind down The GravityLight Foundation.

We are extremely proud of the impact we have had over recent years and hope that the research and insights we have shared with you will be used by many in the months and years to come.  We also want to assure you that this decision has not come lightly and we have taken time to take care of and transition our people whilst dispersing our assets carefully to trusted charity partners working with similar objectives.

Thank you again for being part of this journey – we are extremely grateful to have shared it with you, to celebrate successes together and learn from challenges. This has not been an easy decision to make but, looking back over the past 3.5 years, we are happy to have played a role in building global awareness of the challenge of kerosene lamps and to deepen understanding of opportunities and challenges in tackling energy poverty.


Although The GravityLight Foundation is closing, if you have any questions about GravityLight, Deciwatt will be able to answer those questions.

 

Thank you again for all your support and understanding.