Four ways tackling climate change is already boosting prosperity: Lessons from off-grid solar

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Image: SolarWorks!

Climate Week NYC will take place this year from 23 – 29 September and will bring together businesses, governments, cities, civil society and campaigners from around the globe, to showcase climate action and agree how to accelerate action on the climate emergency. The same week will also see global leaders gather at the SDG Summit in New York on 24-25 September to agree how to accelerate climate actions and meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With climate action being the core topic during both these global meetings, it is very evident that the need to tackle climate change is now. Too often, addressing climate change is seen as an expensive and additional burden to societies. But tackling climate change is fundamentally the right thing economically, for all.

There are already proven solutions that both deliver economic benefits and fight climate change. We know, for example, that the clean technology products of our 150 members not only work but are game-changing – for the environment, for society, and for the economy. Off-grid solar is directly addressing ten SDGs, proving to be the power tool for change. With the lives and livelihoods of 250 million now powered with solar products and services, demand for off-grid solar has never been higher. It is providing savings, income, and jobs, fundamentally improving the quality of life of its customers. Our latest research ‘Powering Opportunity in East Africa: Proving Off-Grid Solar is a Power Tool for Change’ adds to the growing picture of how off-grid solar is fast helping the world progress on meeting SDGs.

Off-grid solar is tackling climate change, all whilst improving health, wealth, education and income opportunities. It is transformational in the fight against climate change, whilst creating prosperity.

Image: d.light

Tackling Climate Change: CO2 emission & black carbon reductions from off-grid solar

58 million metric tonnes of CO2e emissions have been avoided thanks to off-grid solar to date, from the technology of our members and affiliates, over the lifetime of their products. That’s the equivalent of taking 15 coal-fired power plants offline for a whole year; quite staggering given the modest size and cost of these products. This reduction happens the moment a household switches to solar from one of its predecessor products, the dirty kerosene lamp, which emits dangerous and toxic black carbon with high climate-warming potential.

An estimated 270,000 metric tonnes of black carbon is emitted from kerosene lamps worldwide each year, with a climate-warming equivalent close to 240 million metric tonnes of CO2. That roughly equates to 4.5 percent of the United States’ CO2 emissions and 12 percent of India’s. Eliminating these emissions would be equivalent to a five gigaton CO2 reduction over the next 20 years. Research shows that households that acquire off-grid solar products do this in the first place to obtain modern lighting, and then stop using kerosene. We are tackling climate change this way right now. However, we need to go further, faster.

What else are we seeing in the process? Four big things for prosperity.

1. More economic opportunities

Off-grid solar is creating opportunity across the globe, creating new jobs and growing income. Recent research in East Africa found that 34% of households report an increase in economic activity because of their solar home systems. 28% of households using solar home systems report an increase in income, on average $46 per month – equivalent to 14% of the national monthly income per household (based on gross national income). In more than one-third of households, customers use their systems for business or income generation; 81% see this resulting in increased revenues.

2. The boosting of small enterprise and education

Improved access to light and power unlocks previously unproductive hours. Data shows that solar home systems enable 21% of users to spend more time working and earning. In another 21% of households, customers reported using their solar home system to start a new enterprise, the most common being a phone charging business.

Beyond enterprise, the additional hours of light created by solar products lead to more time for children to study. 86% of households with children report that the younger generation now has more time to do their homework.

3. Resilience building

Solar home systems can act as a catalyst for more climate-resilient and sustainable economies, getting us ever closer to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, solar provides clean, vital energy to some of the world’s poorest communities; to the very communities who will be worst affected by climate change. This is already happening in many parts of the world, where solar is powering health-centers; pumping clean water; lighting schools; supporting agriculture and boosting local economies. Solar allows people the means of generating a sustainable, climate-resistant income; farmers can grow crops out of season or during droughts with solar irrigation. Quite literally, solar is powering opportunity.

4. Improved health and safety

Access to off-grid solar can bring significant improvements to health and safety. Kerosene lamps emit smoke that contains large amounts of health-damaging fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Typical PM2.5 levels in households using kerosene lamps have been found to be five times higher than the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization. Yet after replacing kerosene with solar lights, one study found that PM2.5 concentrations in rooms fell by as much as 80%, leading to a 70% reduction in the average exposure of school children. Unsurprisingly, 89% of households, report health improvements after buying a solar home system, many of which previously relied on kerosene

91% of households feel safer, too, after purchasing a product. For some customers, safer means a reduction in injuries from kerosene burns or falling, for others, it means warding off thieves, attackers or wild animals at night.

Solar absolutely can and does tackle climate change and boost prosperity simultaneously. We’ve gone beyond the point of solar power being a win-win situation; it’s a no brainer. The ‘win’ is instant too; from the moment a customer invests in solar, the impact is immediate. Better light, cleaner light, cheaper light. More light to do more. More light to earn more.

As a sector, we must take this technology as far as we can, as fast as we can. For the sake of the planet and for the 840 million people still living with little or no access to electricity, and who will be the hardest hit by the affects climate change.

So together, let’s make this transition happen now. It is our time.


For more information on off-grid solar as a power tool, read our latest report Powering Opportunity in East Africa: Proving Off-Grid Solar is a Power Tool for Change.

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