Off-grid solar is a ‘Power Tool for Change’, here’s how to make it mainstream

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Image: M-Kopa

Next week, global leaders will meet in New York to review progress made and agree on how to accelerate climate action and meet the world’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. As a sector, we know that off-grid solar is making a lasting economic, social and environmental impact in the communities we are serving today. The sector has currently generated around 370,000 FTE jobs across East, West & Central Africa and South Asia. To date, we have helped avoid 58.4 million metric tonnes of CO2e – the equivalent of taking 15 coal-fired power plants offline for a year.

With the lives and livelihoods of 250 million now powered with off-grid solar products and services, demand for off-grid solar has never been higher. Our latest round of 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. With reported economic and social benefits panning across an increase in economic activity, income and improved quality of life, off-grid solar is directly and positively impacting at least 10 SDGs. It is truly proving to be the ‘power tool for change’.

East Africa was one of the early beneficiaries in unlocking the economic opportunities powered by off-grid solar, with at least 30.3 million people now living with access to clean and affordable energy. However, with more than 572 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa and 138 million people in rural East Africa still living without electricity, many are missing out on the potential big benefits to their quality of life, wellbeing, health, education, and income.

As political leaders look to accelerate the meeting of SDGs by 2030, the evidence is now here that off-grid solar is a very powerful tool for change. Off-grid solar is unlocking opportunity and mobility for millions, but we’re seeing four times as many people living without; which ultimately is keeping them locked into poverty and putting pressure on Government. We urge Governments to see the long term social, economic and environmental benefits of mainstreaming access to this phenomenally powerful technology.

Five things that need to change to make off-grid solar mainstream

The countries in the East African region have generally been supportive of the off-grid solar sector. Countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya formally adopted off-grid solar systems within their electrification strategies with set targets for the same – a significant endorsement for the contribution the sector is making in the region and the EAC as an economic bloc have had in place various duty and tax exemptions to stimulate the sector for over 10 years.

However, to reach the universal energy access targets as defined by various states and the broader SDG 2030 target, governments need to recognize that a significant gap continues to remain. There is a need to comprehensively address all the structural, economic, environmental and physical barriers that continue to constrain the off-grid solar sector from reaching its full scale. It is in this regard that we urge governments to include the following:

  1. Off-grid solar is a proven solution to universal energy access. In addition to including off-grid solar in electrification plans, governments should also facilitate broader policies that will help support the sector within each country and across the region.
  2. Off-grid households globally are typically low income, rural populations in hard to reach locations. Many of these customers cannot yet be viably served by the off-grid solar industry. We call on governments to work with off-grid solar companies to collaborate on mechanism to enable services to reach remote rural communities.
  3. Import duties and other taxes increase product prices for customers, making it harder for people in rural communities to afford quality products. Tax and duty exemptions for off-grid solar products ultimately lower prices for customers and make them affordable to some of the world’s poorest.
  4. Many countries are faced with an influx of poor-quality products that do not deliver as marketed, undermining consumer confidence in off-grid solar products and in the sector and are ultimately unfair to the consumer. Governments need to (i) put in place measures to remove substandard products from the market and (ii) invest in consumer education to increase awareness and promote the uptake of high-quality products.
  5. Broader efforts by national governments to enhance the ease of doing business in their respective countries should be celebrated and supported. This will help increase investment into local companies and participation by international firms, increasing competition within the sector in the region which increases the products in the market and enhances competitive pricing for consumers.

Clean, affordable electricity access is one of the most important issues of our time and the off-grid solar industry is poised to make a significant contribution in this regard. Globally, more than 250 million people have benefitted from off-grid solar, but just under 850 million remain locked in poverty and without access to modern energy services which can be a key contributor to changing their lives. Political leaders have committed to ensure no one is living without access to electricity by 2030, a core Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

The time is now for governments to partner with our industry sector towards ensuring every community has the opportunity to realize the social and economic benefits that can be realized through access to modern affordable energy services.


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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