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Solar lights v solar home systems

A recent debate has been rumbling over the benefits of solar lamps versus solar home systems for off-grid communities. Many studies outline the importance of solar lighting to rural households, with World Bank surveys showing many Africans consider better lighting as the most important household improvement.

But some practitioners suggest that small-scale, portable solar solutions can deter off-grid communities from pursuing alternatives such as solar home systems. There seems to be a belief in some quarters that this is an ‘either or’ situation.

Well that’s not what we think. We would love to see the purchase of small hand-held solar lights leading to the adoption of larger home installations.

We created our social enterprise, SunnyMoney, to build markets for small solar lights across Africa, yet it does more than this. It builds trust in solar technology, allows families to save money and paves the way for a new era of renewable energy. An era which firmly includes solar home systems.

As noted by Erica Mackey, COO of Off-Grid Electric, Tanzania’s leading off-grid energy provider:

“SolarAid’s SunnyMoney non-profit business model acts as a market primer for companies like ours. We have found it much easier to penetrate markets where customers have already had a positive experience with solar products. We spend much less time educating customers about the benefits of solar in areas where they have worked, as they have already built trust in solar technology and there are much higher levels of demand. SunnyMoney makes it easier for us to extend our operations into rural areas where they have a presence”.

Indeed there is a clear synergy in the minds of our SunnyMoney customers. When we asked them how we could improve, they overwhelmingly responded by saying they wanted more, and bigger, solar lights. We have good reason to believe that entry-level lighting creates trust and demand for a whole suite of energy products and services. Paving the way for all renewable technology more broadly may, in time, prove to be entry-level lighting’s greatest social impact.

The ‘Case of the Solar Lantern’ webinar recently brought together a wealth of off-grid technology experts to discuss the impact of solar lights. Click the following link to hear their fascinating insights into poverty alleviation and the ‘energy ladder’: