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Tanzania and the price of success

The off-grid energy market certainly looks a lot different today than it did just a few short years ago. When SunnyMoney first started selling lights in early 2009 there were around 40,000 on the market. The last Lighting Global figures taken from Dec 2014 suggest that figure stood at around 7.2 million, and that’s not including sales in the last 9 months or non-approved Lighting Global lights.

Nowhere else on the continent is this remarkable growth more evident than in Tanzania – the country where SunnyMoney first started selling lights through schools back in late 2010. By the end of 2011 SunnyMoney Schools Campaigns had become the blueprint for building demand in rural areas and the backbone of our distribution network right across East Africa.

Maybe it’s no surprise then that four years later Tanzania is the the most thriving solar market in Africa, representing 12% of Lighting Global sales across the entire continent. SunnyMoney has sold over 900,000 lights on its own, reaching around 15% of the country’s off-grid population. We calculate for every light we sell another four have been sold by other organisations. This is amazing news for those living beyond the grid who now have access to a vast array of affordable lights, from a variety of different manufacturers and suppliers.

Increased competition in frontier markets brings with it many benefits for the consumer; it keeps prices low; ensures a variety of choice; increases availability and builds awareness. But this sudden growth also led to some additional challenges that our SunnyMoney teams had to face head-on to ensure the market’s long term viability.

Counterfeit lights and poor imitation products began to appear in market stalls and shops, both of which have the potential to harm consumer confidence and damage trust in solar products. SunnyMoney have had to act swiftly, working with the industry to advocate stronger standards and enforcement procedures to restrict the number of poor quality alternatives. They began promoting the benefits of the after sales care you receive when you purchase through their agents, and increasing awareness of the false economy of investing in poor quality alternatives.

    Impact Report 2015: Solar lights and the SDGs

It is not just external threats to the market that have had SunnyMoney quickly assessing its options. This huge surge in competition has meant SunnyMoney themselves are under threat and have needed to quickly reassess its role in this hugely vibrant market. This sudden drop in revenue could seriously harm the prospects of the Malawi, Zambia, Uganda and Kenyan markets as well, the latter of which is getting close to seeing the same surge in demand as Tanzania.

For the time being we’ve scaled back our operations and reduced SunnyMoney’s sales capacity while we assess how we can best help this market, and those right across East Africa, continue to flourish. We will of course be looking at all our options and researching what is best for the market as a whole, stand by for more news when we have it.

Witnessing the hugely exciting events unfold in Tanzania was what encouraged us to revisit our overarching continent-wide strategy, which we touched upon in yesterday’s blog. It is clear the next time we successfully catalyse a market we will need to ensure we are in a better position to adapt quickly to the changing demands. Which is why we’re refocusing our priorities and concentrating more on our on-the-ground programme work.

We’ll keep you up-to-date as events unfold in Tanzania, but for now, let’s celebrate this amazing achievement. It is after all thanks to you that millions of Tanzanians can take ownership of their own energy supply, and start building a better tomorrow.