sustainable energy

The demand for energy in South Africa is on an upward trend and is expected to rise massively by 2025. Of all the sustainable and renewable energy sources in South Africa, solar energy holds the most amount of potential. Design Thinking, a problem-solving approach that is human-centric and aims to provide innovative solutions is now being used by not only private companies, but also national governments. South Africa has also made use of the Design Thinking approach to help improve the lives of its people. Through the course of this blog, let us understand how Design Thinking can be applied to sustainable development and energy efficiency in South Africa with the help of an example. 

Read more: What Everybody Ought to Know About Design Thinking

How to apply Design Thinking to Sustainable Energy

The UN has declared the years 2014-2024 as the “Decade of Sustainable Energy For All”. Mobisol has combined technology, and sustainability to create a business model that revolutionised the sub-Saharan energy sector. This three-person startup has now grown to be a leading company with close to three hundred and fifty employees across three countries. The Design Thinking architect at Mobisol, Klara Lindner, introduced the design thinking process right from the foundational levels of the business. Let us look at the various steps involved in applying design thinking to sustainable energy in South Africa and how Mobisol ensured that they followed these steps to achieve success.  

Field Research

Since the production costs of solar panels have started dropping, adapting a mobile solar panel in Sub-saharan Africa was a potential prospect. The founders of the company flew to Tanzania to understand their troubles and figure out their needs. Through this research, they were able to understand the need for electricity and how the mobile solar panels would be helpful in this present situation. Design Thinking works on the foundation of empathy. Understanding your customers’ needs before you create your business solutions will ensure business success. 

Identifying Constraints and Design Principles

After using design principles for their field research, the next step was to develop their product. They noted down their observations, insights and studied which design thinking principles would help them flourish. After engaging with the customers, Mobisol was able to understand that they need to build a sustainable energy system that is large enough to power televisions and radios. They also figured out the financing of the product and looked for the best options to provide their customers with. Today, they are offering a rental plan as well. 

Discovering Critical Details of the Business Model 

Design Thinking is based on principles such as empathy, ideating, prototype, testing. It is important to ideate and discovers the various critical details of the business model. If you wish to apply design thinking to sustainable energy in South Africa, it is important to understand the customer’s needs and to create a long-lasting creative idea that is tailored to their needs and has been tested out. A few of the business challenges that Mobisol looked to solve are as follows.

Business Challenge 1: How can we create a self-sustaining, reliable infrastructure?
Business Challenge 2: How can we rethink the distribution model?

New Business Opportunities

Understanding your customers’ needs and empathising with them will help you realise what the market needs. Once you have identified these challenges, it is time to come up with creative and innovative solutions and look for business opportunities that will help you provide the best to your customers. Following an empathy-driven approach towards solving business challenges through experimentation and innovation will help you look at things in a more solution-oriented way rather than that of problem identification. Business Opportunities are endless. The solution lies in identifying these needs and acting on them. Mobisol was able to tap into the market of sustainable energy in sub-Saharan Africa and was able to apply design thinking principles to help in their success. 

Read More: The role of Design Thinking in transforming Airbnb into a soaring success

This brings us to the end of the blog on how to apply design thinking to sustainable energy in South Africa. If you found this blog interesting, you can enrol for the Stanford Design Thinking program, offered by Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Education and delivered in collaboration with Great Learning. Do leave your comments below if you have any further questions or queries. 

Read More: Top 10 Reasons to join the Stanford Executive Education Design Thinking Program



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