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Karl-Heinz Laube / pixelio.de

Sustainable profit versus sustainable products: Planned obsolescence

The economic problem of the off-grid solar technology is the long-life cycle of its products. In eco-nomic terms, it is not desirable that the buyer of a solar panel will be able to use this at least 20 years. A LED lamp also works at least 10 years.

The solution for such dilemma is commonly called "planned obsolescence": we speak about "planned obsolescence" when weak spots are targeted incorporated in consumer goods in order to shorten the product operating life. Shortly after the end of the too-short warranty period, the product is defective and a repair "does not pay off". In the light-generating area, it already happened from 1924 to 1942: the Phoebus cartel. The objective of the cartel was to reduce the long life of light bulbs industry-wide so that higher sales figures could be achieved.

But such a cartel is not required at all in the off-grid area: it is much easier, by exploiting the stereotype of poor consumers. 

One very profitable solution for producers and distributers is to offer the cheapest possible products, preferably without repair possibility. That’s exactly what is happening currently in the race for the cheapest solar flashlight: people in off-grid regions buy a solar lamp for less than $ 10 and experience at first, that light must not smolder and can also shine brightly. They experience this at least for a few months, and then the performance of the LED will begin to decrease significantly. And a few months later, the battery has come to the end of its life. What to do? Battery replacement is not provided for such a cheap product. And in fact what for? Given the low price, the production company suggests anyway to throw the solar lamp away and buy a new one. It is also more profitable for the own business. And what image of solar energy was spread this way: it is cheap and if it stops working after a short time, just throw it away. Solar energy is a disposable product. The opposite of sustainability. But very profitable.