There is nothing quite like seeing an off-grid customer interact with a off-grid lighting product for the first time. The inquisitive testing of the buttons, the turning and inspection, the tracing of the solar panel – all leading to light in the eyes as the practicality of it all clicks. “My day no longer ends with darkness!” is how one customer put it to me; the empowerment was tangible. These moments are without question the most rewarding moments of my work, and I know many in the association who share my sentiments.
Off-grid solar products are truly revolutionary to consumers in many parts of the world, and it doesn’t take long to realize it. Soon after seeing the products, the questions come:
How many hours of light does it offer?
And I can charge all of my devices?
What is the lifetime I can expect?
And the question one can guarantee – How much does it cost?
Consumers are choosing products from the GOGLA membership every day for their energy needs – to the tune of tens of millions of products according to a recent industry report. While the achievements of this market so far should absolutely be celebrated, the reality is that there is still so much work to do in removing barriers that put our products beyond the reach of millions. Some markets with robust enabling environments have exploded in growth, demonstrating the potential of distributed lighting solutions to meet the needs of customers. Unfortunately, not all markets are structured to enable market development; frequently, significant barriers to growth remain. These barriers are, tragically, often reflected in artificially inflated prices for the end user, meaning days for many in these markets do still end with darkness.
Addressing these barriers requires a coordinated effort on the part of governments, financiers and the private sector all across the world. Those of us working in the space understand just how empowering – or disempowering – policies can be in getting energy to those off the grid: try telling a rural farmer that the money he has saved is no longer enough because his country’s tariff policy changed.
Barriers to energy access have significant impact on all in our space, which is why I have committed to investing time in the GOGLA Policy Working group. There is work to do, but the task can be done with proper coordination.
Our working group exists to unite the voice of the industry in representing the global membership and to actively work in partnering with others to develop enabling environments for off-grid lighting to thrive.
Uniting the voice of the industry
The market is growing rapidly, but our young industry is still focused on helping our organizations grow. We rarely have the capacity to spend time influencing substantive policy change in our core markets or have the discussions needed to create more enabling environments as individual companies. However, united as an industry, our collective voice can influence positive change where barriers currently exist.
Policy-makers and off-grid energy companies can make natural partners in advancing market developing and providing quality energy to 1.2 billion that are off the grid. But, in order to be effective partners, these entities need to communicate well with each other. Our working group provides one place for these discussions to take place, and we actively work to include policy makers and donors in these discussions within our working group. There are also various GOGLA events and roundtables all throughout the world each year where industry players and policy-makers spend time in in-depth dialogue on issues pertinent to both groups, such as the upcoming GOGLA member conference, 24-27 of May in Nairobi. The effort spent in building these partnerships is crucial to getting market development right.
The truth is that while our companies have worked incredibly hard to make transformative products, policy-makers hold many of the keys to unlocking the days that extend beyond darkness.
We have been encouraged to see new policies advancing markets and growing donor support to remove these barriers in recent months, but the work isn’t finished. We will continue to develop these partnerships, united as an industry, so that the crucial work of building enabling environments can continue.