Back to all news

Record UK solar energy generation lights up the African night


LONDON, 21 June: As solar panels break records for UK electricity generation in May and June, the company that has installed the biggest share of them, Solarcentury, has worked out how to use the panels to light up African homes, as well as British ones.

Solarcentury does this by donating 5% of its annual profits to a charity of its own design, SolarAid, which sells solar lights to Africans, not-for-profit, so they can resell them, for profit, thereby creating jobs and catalysing markets in solar lighting.

 Solarcentury has donated £696,000 to SolarAid since 2012 in profits derived from sunlight falling on the UK. With this money SolarAid has delivered 174,000 solar lights to Africa (of the 1.9 million they have sold in total). These 174,000 lights have delivered light at night for 757,000 people, saving them £25.2 million from kerosene they no longer need to buy, allowing children 175 million extra homework hours, saving 184,000 tonnes of CO2 and improving the health of 371,000 people. SolarAid bases such impact assessments on statistics from 30,000 field interviews. The charity’s award-winning impact research has been used as a basis for industry-standard calculations by the Global Off Grid Lighting Association.

 Solarcentury and SolarAid founder Jeremy Leggett, currently acting CEO of SolarAid, said:

“Anyone who has seen the joy on African faces when a solar light is turned on a dark home will understand the thrill this work brings to those of us involved in it. It is particularly motivating, as famine stalks the continent, to be able to provide a licence for the poorest of the poor to scoop dollar bills off the ground in handfuls every year simply by getting rid of one category of oil use – kerosene for lamps. A small but powerful solar light can retail for as little as £4. Once that is paid, the lighting is free for the 3-5 years the solar light lasts. Burning kerosene for light costs you around £50 per year in the areas we work in, so this is a some payback. It is a great way to help people help themselves.”

 Solarcentury CEO Frans van den Heuvel said:

“I know the team at Solarcentury is incredibly proud of the social good that comes from our donations of a tiny margin of profits to SolarAid. We hope to be donating much more in the future! I would urge other companies, solar or otherwise, to join us. Our experience is that the donation is actually an investment – in team culture – that has an intangible value in excess of the sums donated”.


 1. The scale of the problem Solarcentury and SolarAid seek to address. More than one billion people live without access to grid electricity, 640 million of them in Africa. Yet despite the hugely favourable economics of solar lights, fewer than 30 million quality-verified products have ever been sold, globally (nearly 2 million of them by SolarAid’s retail brand SunnyMoney). Jeremy Leggett views this as one of the biggest failures of global collective responsibility in the field of development.

2.  Solarcentury  offers an integrated end-to-end solar service: developing, structuring finance, building and operating solar projects at commercial and utility scales. The company works with partners to bring solar to their customers’ homes, and is committed to making solar more accessible and attractive, via its own BIPV (building integrated PV) products or investment into storage and diesel hybrid.  Solarcentury’s business is global and growing, with offices in the UK, the Netherlands, Kenya, South Africa, Chile, Panama and Mexico, and representation in Germany, France and Spain.  To date the company has deployed over 780 megawatts, built on more than 1,000 sites across the world. It has helped over 25,000 homeowners realise the benefits of going solar.

3. SolarAid has the mission of eradicating the kerosene lamp from Africa, and views the imperatives for and benefits of doing this as a microcosm for the wider replacement of fossil fuels by clean energy across society. The charity’s wholly-owned retail brand SunnyMoney catalysed the first two solar African solar lighting markets, selling over a million solar lights between 2013 and 2015 in Kenya and Tanzania. Currently it is trying to repeat this feat in Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. SolarAid has twice been shortlisted for the Zayed Prize, and SunnyMoney is currently shortlisted for the Business In The Community / Unilever Global Development Award.