Repairing Solar Lights

SolarAid has long recognised the importance of ensuring off-grid solar products can be repaired, reused and recycled. This maximises product lifespans and customer value, while also minimising the growing electronic waste problem.

Why Repair

Since 2010, an estimated 150 million solar products have been distributed throughout Africa, revolutionising electricity access for millions of off-grid and rural households. However, it is estimated that nearly 75% of these products have stopped working adding to the ever growing problem of electronic waste.

While recycling initiatives play an important role in reducing e-waste, in rural areas the infrastructure to recycle doesn’t always exist. Repair offers an alternative that extends the life of solar lights, increases customer value for money and allows for the development of a local repair and reuse economy. Alongside rural communities, solar entrepreneurs and repair technicians, we identified the barriers which limit the repair of solar light systems for people living in rural, off-grid areas to create a sustainable and scalable programme.

How does it work – creating a circular economy

SolarAid extends the life of small solar lights through better maintenance and local, decentralised repair. We  train and equip repair technicians with the tools they need, and conduct community repair days where customers bring their non-working lights for diagnosis and repair.

To help increase access to technical knowledge, as well as develop best practice guidance, we have also developed an open source repair App. This tool is designed to help technicians across the continent to troubleshoot and repair leading solar products on the market.

"Climate change is no longer a concept, it’s now here and we are living with it. Thus, the work we are doing, however small it may seem, is helping combat the improper disposal of e-waste into the environment but at the same time creating livelihood opportunities to the technicians involved."
Fred Mwale, E-Waste Programme Manager, Zambia

The Impact

During the first phase of this project, local technicians successfully repaired over 90% of the solar lights and systems diagnosed – including finding a way to repair a product that had been designed to ensure it cannot be opened, which had made it unrepairable in the traditional sense.

Through working with local communities and supporting local capacity training, the impacts of this programme are far reaching. It not only reduces electronic waste, lengthens product life and extends access to solar lights, it creates job opportunities, keeps money in the local economy, and builds stronger, more financially resilient communities.

Following the success of this pilot, SolarAid is working with partners to deliver its next phase to equip distributors & repair technicians with guidance, tools and business models for replication,  national industry associations with practical guidance for achieving an effective enabling environment for repair and  the off-grid energy sector with a new standard for measuring the reparability of products and to fill the data gaps we have to address repair’s role in universal energy access.

To learn more, read our white paper, “Off-grid solar repair in Africa: from burden to opportunity” or watch our webinar.

Taking a stand to reduce Solar E-Waste

Fred Mwale, SolarAid Zambia’s E-waste Programme Manager has been leading the “Solar Saver: Second-generation lights project” which is being rolled out by setting up repair shops and training technicians in rural areas.

75% of solar lights sold have stopped working.

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