Some great pictures which our SunnyMoney team in Tanzania sent through recently. They show how challenging it is to reach certain rural populations with solar lights. Our teams across Kenya, Malawi and Zambia will also recognise this sort of terrain!
A couple of weeks ago, SunnyMoney, SolarAid’s social enterprise, sold its 700,000th solar light in rural Africa. Incredibly, over 75% of these (532,368 to be exact) have been sold in the last 12 months. We’ve done some sums, and that equates to a solar light reaching a new customer every minute. Quite extraordinary really.
All credit to our teams in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi who have been busy doing all the hard work.
From where I am sitting, it is clear that the future of solar lighting in Africa is (pardon the pun), bright. More and more quality solar lights and chargers are reaching consumers across the continent every minute of every day. Each light has a positive impact and means people no longer have to wait years for an electricity grid which may never come, just to light up their home.
But don’t take my word it. SolarAid has just published a report which looks at the the impact owning a solar light has on an average family in Africa. You can download the Impact Report here and find our more at www.solar-aid.org/impact/
Here are a few highlights from the report which explain what owning a solar light can do:
Saves people money: Saving the average family $70 a year in reduced kerosene use; savings are commonly spent on food, school costs and farming inputs,
Improves health conditions: Seven in ten solar light users notice better health of their family members.
Improves education: Enabling and motivating children to study for an extra hour an evening; teachers notice improved attendance, concentration and performance,
Reduces CO₂ emissions: By up to 300kg a year per household thanks to reduced kerosene use.
So yes, it’s true, little solar lights do a great job of having a big and positive impact on the people they reach. What this space for more updates on our progress.
We’re thrilled to say that BBC Radio 4 are covering the work of SunnyMoney in their upcoming ‘Costing the Earth’ radio programme ‘Electrifying Africa: Beyond the Grid,’ which will be broadcast on Tues 5 March at 15.30 GMT and again on Wed 6 March at 21:00 GMT.
Click on the photo of our very own Solar Roller below for more information!
Following on from the Myth of Electrification post….
As with many of Tanzania’s main roads, the road between Mwanza and Shinyanga is, for the most part, lined with electricity pylons. But if you take a closer look, the number of households connected to electricity is minimal. It is far more common to see electricity lines passing over houses, rather than connecting to houses…and that’s houses on the main road. Why? Because it costs alot to connect, once connected there are expensive bills to pay and…power cuts are frequent. Not surprising then that some of the houses in these picture have opted for solar.
As for houses not on the main road in rural areas…well, it’s not rocket science. The likelihood of being connected to the electricity grid is close to zero. Actually, it’s less 2%.
I won’t win any awards for these pictures (lots more on Flickr), but hopefully they serve a purpose to further highlight what a problem this is. You can bet your life that all the homes shown use candles and kerosene on a regular basis. Not surprising then that our teams are seeing such a demand for solar lights. It is, after all, the 21st century. We shouldn’t be forced to use kerosene or candles for some evening light.
Great article from Evan Mills - The Myth of Electrification – LuminaNET.
This is so true. It is all too common for households across Africa to be located right next to power lines, but have no access to electricity. It’s often too expensive for households to pay the connection fee – let alone the monthly power bills.
Combine this with the fact that power supplies are unreliable and you start to see how big a problem much of the world is facing and why people are forced to rely on flame based lighting solutions…AKA Candles and Kerosene.
In 2008, Nick Sireau (former director of SolarAid) and I got in touch with a design company in London called Therefore as, at the time, SolarAid was thinking about manufacturing a low cost solar light for the rural African market. Why is there such a need for light in rural Africa? This short video, which shows what life is like in rural Tanzania after dark, should tell you all you need to know:
Not long after getting in touch with Therefore, the team of designers called us in for a meeting, told us they had given the problem some thought and then showed us a presentation in which they took us through the key components for a solar light… identifying the batteries and the solar panel as the two most expensive parts…
So they decided to take batteries and solar panels out of the equation to reduce the cost….then scratch their heads about what they could use to generate and store energy instead…..
And they came up with….Gravity. Pure genius!
Fast forward to today and… Click on the photo and take a look:
Good luck guys. The more quality lighting and energy solutions which can be developed for sale in the growing off grid energy market the better.
I’ve just come back from two weeks of paternity leave to the news that our SunnyMoney teams have just surpassed 200,000 sales of solar lights across Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. Well done guys – that’s a great achievement in 2.5 years.
What’s incredible about this however, as you can see from the chart below, is that two thirds of these sales, some 135,000 lights, have been sold in the last 7 months.
Still a long way to go, but with continued hard work, our annual target of over 300,000 lights is in sight. Maybe I should go away on another two weeks of paternity leave to make sure we get there!
I’ve just seen this great photo taken by Steve Woodward from our SunnyMoney team in Zambia.
There are 58 solar lights on the back of this headteacher’s motorbike which he’s delivering to his local community. That’s alot of solar lights and alot people who are now using solar lighting as a result of this one, simple, bike ride.
Amazing when you think about it!
Motorbikes are becoming an increasingly common form of transport across much of rural Africa with more affordable bikes coming into the market from China. Perfect for transporting picosolar lights.
You can see more of Steve’s photos and updates from Zambia here!
Yesterday I joined the SunnyMoney Kenya team in Bomet District to see how they were getting on with their Student Lights Campaign, which is hoping to sell 1500 lights this week. It was great to see such enthusiasm for solar lights, with people stopping each other in the streets to show off and chat about their new products. I definitely had a moment yesterday when I saw that – it looked like a dream starting to come true.
This visit coincided with me discovering a cartoon app on my new phone… So here are some snaps from the green hills of Longisa in Bomet, about 14 Kms and three river crossings off the main road, where we saw the team in action with the ever present Solar Roller (It still makes me smile that we made the Solar Roller a reality!)
And a shout out to the team in Tanzania (which has just recorded its highest number of sales in a month) and our teams in Zambia and Malawi, which have just launched their own student lights campaigns with ambitious targets (Beware my next visit with the cartoon app!)
I’m sat on a plane right now typing this enroute to see the SunnyMoney teams in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. Plane rides tend to give me time to reflect a little and I just feel the need to put this out there…
In 2006 SolarAid was born out of enthusiastic, like minded, volunteers in the UK and we installed our first solar system on a community centre in Malawi in 2007. You can imagine the momentum, the feel good factor, which circled around this installation! An idea was becoming a reality. It was simply – great.
Between 2007 and 2011, we then went on to grow from a team of two staff to having a team of around 50 people, running programmes across 5 countries and setting up SunnyMoney as SolarAid’s social enterprise to implement this work. (Alot of work, but a great deal of fun too!)
Here’s a couple of the reflections…the pause on this plane ride….
By April 2012, we’d:
- Completed our 415th solar installation (which today light up rural schools, clinics and community centres across Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia). That’s tens of thousands of people now benefiting from access to electricity, improved education and health facilities…a better life. We were so excited by just one installation … so I think you get the picture of how proud everyone who has made this possible over the years should feel. (You know who you are!)
- Sold over 51,000 picosolar lights, which are now lighting up rural homes, each and every night making life better for hundreds of thousands of people who no longer have to buy kerosene for light. And here’s the thing … In March 2012, in one month, we sold over 12,000 solar lights … more than we sold in the whole of 2010/11.
So yes….we’re scaling up. I am pausing again here. One light was exciting. 51,000 is…. Wow – it’s been quite a journey!
We’ve just put together plans to sell over 300,000 solar lights this year. It will be truly amazing if we achieve this. In fact, it’s my job, as the Managing Director of SunnyMoney, to make sure we do…so we’d better! If we do achieve that, the sky really is the limit.
I hope whoever reads this is as excited as I am by all of this. This is not the usual hype you might get from any old company – I don’t think hype is actually my forte.
This is passion – because what we do really makes a difference and the more people who join this small, but growing sector, the better!
More posts from Malawi and Zambia soon…
Yes, I’ve discovered video editing software!
So here’s the first solar video I have uploaded onto youtube, which I hope you’ll like. It’s shot in rural Tanzania, at my old neighbour’s house. Dancing in the dark
2012 here we come!
If it gets to 500 views by the end of Jan 2012, I’ll grow a mustache and post it on this blog