Let’s Connect: Fostering a new generation of off-grid solar technology

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Image: PEG Africa

Mrs. Chilanga was very pleased with her solar home system – the lights were bright, and she loved to watch TV with her family. She paid diligently and after two years had finished the payment plan. She decided it was time to get a bigger TV, just like her neighbours. She called her agent to ask what TVs they had, but he had moved away. She then called the company call centre and was told she would have to travel to the district trading centre to buy it, which would cost her time and money. She decided to speak to a different agent who had recently sold the TV to her neighbour. He had bigger TVs available, and they were even cheaper than what her company offered. However, they realised that the TV plug was different from the socket in her solar home system, and neither were sure if it would work. Feeling frustrated, Mrs. Chilanga decided not to risk the large expense and stuck with her old TV hoping that a solution would appear in the future.

The Connect initiative aims to bring more flexibility and choice for customers like the hypothetical Mrs. Chilanga. This has the potential to fundamentally change how customers think about off-grid solar products; they are buying into an ecosystem of technologies and brands. This brings their experience and perceptions of off-grid solar closer to that of the much-desired grid.

The initiative can also bring benefits to manufacturers and distributors. Greater standardization and enhanced interoperability of SHS kits and appliances can help to reduce product costs and lead times and create new opportunities for partnerships and specialisation. It also aims to increase the quality and reliability as components from different brands are designed to work together.

The Connect Technical Guidelines pertain to 12V SHS Kits and household appliances up to 100W (download here). There are no mandatory requirements, though we will be considering whether some guidelines should become mandatory as part of a subsequent standards document, against which a product may be tested, and with which it would be possible to claim compliance (perhaps two years from now). The Guidelines are complementary to the VeraSol certification and associated IEC standards 62257-9-5 and 62257-9-8, and the quality standards for solar appliances. It is designed for use alongside the Connect firmware standards, the OpenPAYGo Link by Solaris, and Nexus Channel by Angaza.

The Technical Guidelines have been defined in close cooperation with GOGLA members, including Azuri, BBOXX, Fosera, Global Ice Tec, SolarWorx, and Sun King (formerly Greenlight Planet). It has taken some two years to define the guidelines, which pertain to the connectors and electrical parameters of SHS Kits and Appliances. We believe that following the guidelines will both enhance interoperability and make products more robust and reliable for users. New products that align with the guidelines will be available on the market in the near future.

Adoption of the Technical Guidelines is entirely voluntary for manufacturers that see strategic value in enhanced interoperability. The opportunities and risks are presented in the Connect White Paper. We envisage a market in which both interoperable and proprietary ecosystems can co-exist and compete as part of the commercial landscape. Moreover, we believe that both vertically-integrated and supply chain specialist models can benefit from a more interoperable market without radical changes to their business models.

Widespread adoption of the guidelines will represent a new generation of off-grid solar technology. Mrs. Chilanga will have more flexibility and choice and will enjoy watching her favourite shows even more on the bigger screen. Whilst there are risks to manage, this new technology has the potential to create value for customers and companies, and boost brands and market growth.

GOGLA will convene an industry roundtable at the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum & Expo in Rwanda in October. We are inviting active and interested manufacturers to share their strategy and plans for alignment with the Connect initiative and to chart the course for the next phase of the program. If you are interested to adopt the Technical Guidelines or wish to participate in the industry roundtable at the Global Forum, please contact Drew Corbyn (d.corbyn@gogla.org).


The Efficiency for Access Coalition and GOGLA have provided financial support for the development of the Connect Technical Guidelines. 

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