MIT News –
Just 30 seconds into their walk to the town center of Kitale, in Kenya, where they would later conduct a focus group about locally available solar energy options, Elise Harrington and her research partner came across a vendor selling a counterfeit solar lantern. Because they had been studying these very products, they knew immediately it was a fake. But the seller assured them it was authentic and came with a warranty.
They bought the lantern and presented it, along with a genuine version, to the members of focus groups. Few of them were able to tell the difference. It was an “eye-opening” discovery says Harrington, a doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning who has been studying the ways that people in Kenya and India learn about solar products and make decisions about buying and maintaining them.
While consumers in developed countries generally assume that a product such as a solar panel will come with a reliable warranty — and wouldn’t purchase the product if it didn’t — Harrington has learned through her fieldwork that this type of information isn’t necessarily communicated to consumers in the countries she’s studied. So far, her research indicates that people’s social relationships, for example with friends, family members, or trusted shop owners, play a critical role in the adoption of solar products, but that gaps remain in household knowledge when it comes to the more complex ideas of standards and after-sales services.