Off-grid solar has been established as a key component of integrated energy planning in many low-income countries, enabling a clean and just energy transition that is inclusive to all.
Stand-alone solutions and pay-as-you-go systems bring opportunity to rural populations at the bottom of the pyramid. Entire households benefit from access to transformative energy, and women frequently carry the heavier load of household work, child-rearing, cooking and farming.
Image: Lighting Global, Bright
Energy access catalyses opportunities for women
Additional hours of light are life-changing for millions of households, like 57-year old Amelia Auma’s, who uses her Bboxx solar home system to light her house and help her school-going children study. Thanks to the extra hours of lighting, she has increased the sales and revenue of her catering business: “As a businesswoman, I need a full-time light assurance… my customers need to feel comfortable and see what they eat.”
Image: Habiba Ali
As Habiba Ali, the Managing Director and CEO of Nigerian Sosai Renewable Energies Company, says: “Energy can solve a lot of problems. Thanks to a refrigerator, a woman that has nothing can own a business, make a living, earn money and provide an education for her kids.” This is the case for Grace Anzanzi Mwembe, who has been able to afford to set up a fish-selling business through SureChill‘s Cooling as a Service.
A single portable solar lamp can enable children to do their homework and study. They, especially girls, can also feel safer on their way to and from school like Busara, a student from Tanzania who has a Little Sun lamp: “I have to walk long distances on foot to get to school and it’s always in the dark. My solar light brings me peace of mind, to me and to my little brother, too.”
Image: Little Sun, Denyse K. Uwera
In rural communities, where the main source of income is farming, solar-powered systems like SunCulture’s affordable smart solar-powered water pumps are life-changing. Josephine Waweru is a 52-year old farmer in Kirinyaga county, Kenya: “I used to hire petrol pumps to pump water from the river. Now I can pump from my own borehole and things are easier, I am saving time and it’s improved my coffee very well. I think it’s the best thing that’s happened since I started farming.”
Technologies like Agsol’s productive use solar agro-processing mills mechanise tasks that women frequently spend many hours doing in traditional contexts and save them money in the process. They are an innovative solution adapted to small-scale and day-to-day needs prevalent in low-income economies: “When it comes to milling the most important staple foods, current diesel or even electric milling technologies are totally at odds with this economy. Our mill is small, powerful, clean, and incredibly easy to use. The processing itself is a bit slower than bigger mills but because it’s so efficient, an owner makes double the profit per volume milled.”
Equipping small rural clinics with solar home systems like SolarWorks! is doing in Mozambique and Malawi enables 24/7 healthcare. As one of the midwives at Salone Health Clinic explains: “The first birth in that facility after electrification was 100% successful and I worked without holding a torch in my mouth while helping mothers. It was possible to stitch the parturient during the postpartum period. Before that, during most night deliveries it wasn’t possible to do decent stitching, forcing the mothers to wait until the next day with hemorrhages.”
How can the off-grid solar sector maximize gender equity and its impact?
Women greatly benefit from off-grid solar products and they are essential to achieve universal energy access goals, so GOGLA and the World Bank Group (with support from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program -ESMAP) published last year a survey looking at Gender Equity in the Off-Grid Solar Energy Sector.
Female leadership is fundamental and on the rise, although it’s still under 40% and fundraising barriers persist, as Marianne Walpert, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Simusolar, told us: “Women founders are not getting the same access to finance as men. I would ask investors to look at their portfolio and answer the question: how many women-led companies are they funding?.“
Image: Marianne Walpert
Companies with a higher proportion of women in senior positions are more likely to have a higher number of women employees overall. Sharon Yeti, Co-Founder and CEO of Powerlive Zimbabwe, ties women’s strong presence in their workforce (89% of their solar agents) with positive business results.
Image: Powerlive Zimbabwe
Doseke Akporiaye, Managing Director for Oolu Nigeria says “Building trust for us is key. Oolu takes the products to their doorstep and covers installation, after-sale service and repairs. We also hire workers (many unskilled and trained by our teams) from within the communities where we go, and women constitute some of our best salespeople.”
At Solar Sister, Katherine Lucey, their Founder and CEO, states the importance of their women-centered network of clean energy entrepreneurs: “Women are the managers of household energy. That is why the network of women entrepreneurs is so effective in reaching the last mile customer. Because women entrepreneurs really ‘see’ the customer, they can speak to her and understand her needs. This woman-to-woman connection builds the bridge of trust that allows women to take the risk of trying new technology. Women talk to women, they see the benefits the products bring to their families, they see the entrepreneurs making a living and they get inspired.“
Image: Solar Sister
There are still gaps in understanding female consumer behaviour and standardized metrics to track their outcomes, but the importance of addressing female customers’ needs goes beyond a gender justice perspective, as Rekik Bekele, CEO and Founder of Green Scene Energy PLC, explained: “Women’s repayment rate is better and they benefit the most from the product because they spend more time in the house. Women also observe more directly how their children benefit from solar power.”
Image: Green Scene Energy PLC
We have inspiring examples of good work in the sector and look forward to continuing our work with Partners and Members to unlock greater impacts for women both in, and via, the off-grid solar industry. We also invite everyone to join our Power 1 Billion Lives Energy Compact to support the sector and, together, achieve universal energy access by 2030.