A sustainable energy future for West Africa? We can make it a reality today

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Image: Greenlight Planet

As West African states are loudly proclaiming their political will for universal access to energy, we know a growing number of their citizens take matters into their own hands. Demand for off-grid solar products has never been higher across the region. In the first six months of 2019 alone, 360,000 solar lanterns, multi-light, and home systems were sold in West Africa, as well as 60,000 off-grid solar appliances. Unlocking Solar Capital in Dakar confirmed there’s increasing interest from investors to support the growth of the region’s market.

Our latest Powering Opportunity in West Africa report reveals why solar home systems are so popular. 97% of people report their quality of life has improved after using their solar home system for three months. An overwhelming majority of them feel safer and healthier while their children have more time to study. At the same time, 1 in 7 households is able to earn additional income as they can work longer hours or use the solar home system for their business.

We’ve never had more evidence that off-grid solar is changing people’s lives for the better.

However, across West Africa barriers to the adoption of off-grid solar remain, making it difficult for people to buy and use these life-changing products. Governments hold the key to unlock further growth of the off-grid solar market, so their citizens can more easily benefit from reliable and sustainable solar energy. Based on conversations with many stakeholders across the region, here are two ways governments can help make our industry’s products and services more affordable and accessible in West Africa.

1. Import duty and VAT exemptions to make products more affordable

Across the region, Customs authorities rely on subjective interpretation at the point of entry. The industry is advocating for import duty and VAT exemptions on all solar products. However, revenue authorities, particularly ministries of finance, are keen to avoid exemptions for end-use appliances that come as part of solar home systems. This makes these products more expensive for customers. That’s why we need better coordination at the regional level, particularly through ECREEE, to make sure all countries support enabling tax regimes for the industry.

2. IEC or Lighting Global quality standards 

In the region, IEC or Lighting Global quality standards have not been adopted or are non-mandatory.

Only if customers can access proven high-quality products can the industry grow sustainably. There’s progress, however: Lighting Global quality standards are in the process of being adopted by ECREEE. Once adopted, coordination through ECREEE will be important to achieve harmonization across the markets. Enforcement, both at the border and through general market surveillance, of quality standards is rarely discussed within markets but is key to building a market where people can choose from a range of affordable quality products.

Powering Opportunity has raised the prospect of a bright, equitable and sustainable energy future for all in West Africa and across the continent. It’s time for governments to work with the industry, donors, investors, and other partners to make this future a reality.

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