Village Infrastructure Angels
Written by: Lindsay Koser
Imagine being able to wash your clothes in a solar washing machine with a multifunctional drying system. Imagine cooking all your meals with a solar-electric cooking system, or getting your ice from a solar-efficient ice box. Imagine knowing the food on your table comes from a local farm that’s utilizing solar-powered mills.
Thanks to Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA), one of our 2021 Keeling Curve Prize Laureates, these innovations exist and have improved the livelihood of thousands of people in developing countries. In fact, VIA brought the world’s largest solar milling project to the market and was the very first organization to create a fully automatic solar washing machine.
Village Infrastructure Angels is a UK-based organization that invests in poverty-alleviating infrastructure for rural villages in developing countries.
The history of Village Infrastructure Angels
Village Infrastructure Angels is a UK-based organization that invests in poverty-alleviating infrastructure for rural villages in developing countries. Stewart Craine, Founder and CEO, recognized a need for quicker, more cost-efficient, and more eco-friendly electricity during his time volunteering in Nepal, where he helped construct mini grids for villages, helping 300-400 households get access to electricity for the very first time.
“It was a long and slow and tedious process,” says Craine. “I felt that it would be great to find a way to speed up the access to electricity and decrease the costs as much as possible.”
After gaining commercial project development experience and undertaking a range of energy consulting jobs, he co-founded Barefoot Power as a commercial for-profit social enterprise to bring solar-powered white LED lighting systems to villages. Barefoot Power won many awards and reached its goal of providing one million people with basic access to energy. Building on his passion for energy innovation, he founded Village Infrastructure Angels in 2012.
Village Infrastructure Angels isn’t focused on small solar-powered appliances like fans and TVs, but instead on high-power activities like cooking, washing machines, and agro-processing mills. Their innovations have helped people in Vanuatu, Indonesia, Honduras, and Papua New Guinea generate more income and improve their quality of life. But that’s not all. “We’ve also brought innovative software to help design rural electrification systems for any country in the world on a massive scale. We’ve done modeling for over 100 million buildings in more than 50 countries for various clients,” says Craine.
The importance of clean energy development for climate change
Replacing CO2-emitting kerosene lamps with solar LED lighting was a great start, but it’s far from the end game. Electricity is so much more than lighting. Craine believes that making solar energy more affordable and accessible in low-income countries is a clean and cost-efficient pathway to reducing global CO2 emissions. “It’s a real win-win that both the environment and the world’s poor can benefit from. Just by using a solar LED lantern, you are leapfrogging over decades of technology like the normal electricity grid and incandescent lighting.”
But for organizations like Village Infrastructure Angels that solely focus on getting renewable energy to poor countries, their biggest challenge has always been and continues to be investor reluctance and finding investors who want to bring new technologies to market. “It’s a lot easier to dump another $50M into a mature company that’s large and profitable, and a lot riskier to invest in new early-stage technologies like a solar washing machine,” says Craine.
Village Infrastructure Angels first heard about the Keeling Curve Prize back in 2020. As an entrepreneur, Craine is always on the lookout for any source of funds or promotion to help grow the company. “We are really world leaders in this work and wanted to find a way to highlight it,” says Craine. Not only was winning the Keeling Curve Prize a huge boost of confidence for the team, but it was especially important to VIA that they were recognized for their micro infrastructure innovations by a team of like-minded climate experts. “It's great to have that recognition there and a place to show investors look, here's a group of independent people who've assessed some of our work against the rest of the planet and found it to be really top-class. So that's always of permanent value.”
The impact of the Keeling Curve Prize
"Not only was winning the Keeling Curve Prize a huge boost of confidence for the team, but it was especially important to VIA that they were recognized for their micro infrastructure innovations by a team of like-minded climate experts.”