Get yourself to Dubai next week for the 4th International Off-Grid Lighting Conference and Exhibition! The place to be for the off-grid solar industry.
So it says something about me when I can honestly say I had no idea who Raghav, Abhishek Bachlan and Nelly were until I googled them….But, when I did, wow… Fantastic to see such big artists highlighting the fact that 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity. Raghav and his crew visited our team in Tanzania and brought lights out to a rural school. Life without electricity in Tanzania looks like this – a video I took a few years ago in the village where I used to live (a lovely song in Swahili by the way).
Do join me and a panel of experts for The Guardian‘s Live Q&A session on ‘How can we reach 100% renewables,’ today between 1-3pm (UK time). Based in Kenya, I’ll be looking at this from the perspective of Off Grid Africa, where there are over 600 million people living without access to electricity. Click here for more info.
At SunnyMoney, SolarAid‘s social enterprise, we are working hard to catalyse solar markets which serve households without access to reliable electricity. SunnyMoney works in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda and is approaching 2 million solar light sales across rural East Africa.
To join and follow the discussion on Twitter use the hashtag #globaldevlive
Other panelist include:
Riccardo Amoroso, Head of innovation and sustainability, Enel Green Power, Rome, Italy.
Andrew Sudmant, research fellow, University of Leeds, London, UK,@andrewsudmant
Great to see President Obama taking the time to look at some of the pioneering solar solutions which have been developed to serve markets in Africa during his visit to Kenya. If you’ve not seen it already, you can click the photo below to see him taking a look at a new low cost solar light, which has been designed to retail at about 5 US dollars – helping make solar more affordable and also a pay as you go home system which enables people to buy it in daily installments of around 40 US cents over a 12 month period.
The small light, the A1, being launched by dlight, just like their S2 light, of which SunnyMoney has sold around 1.5 million units in rural areas, is designed to light for 4 to 5 hours each night – but it actually lights up all night, with the light gradually dimming over time. Anyone who has spent a night in a rural, off grid, house in Africa (of which there are over 100 million) will know how useful small lights like this are. I won’t list all the uses light brings…but I will give a small example… Think about times when you wake up in the middle of the night and need to go the bathroom or go to soothe a small baby. Now think about doing that with a blindfold on – that’s hard, right? Well, when the moon is not out, in the absence of any street lights, the darkness in rural Africa is startling and it really can be a bit like wearing a blindfold. Without a small solar light, you either make do in the darkness, or fiddle around trying to find a match.
The second solar system Obama looks at is from Mkopa. This is a two light solar system which comes with a torch and a radio. There are quite a few pay as you go systems entering the market which really do help people overcome the finance barrier. What I do like about these systems is that they encourage companies to offer high levels of customer service as…the the companies need to make sure the end users have a positive experience and continue to both use and pay for the product.
I’ll write another blog soon about some of the key challenges facing the ‘picosolar sector’ in Africa – not least the emergence of sub-standard products which are entering the market at a low cost…but risk giving solar a bad name. For now though – thank you President Obama for ‘shedding some light’ (pun intended) on our growing sector!
If you’ve not seen it yet, check out my new book, ‘Pico-solar Electric Systems: The Earthscan Expert Guide to the Technology and Emerging market‘ and get 20% off with this discount code: DC361 (Just click on the photo)
The book is designed to provide useful information to a wide range of readers, such as:
Industry professionals (Lot’s of insights and case studies for you)
Students studying last mile distribution, emerging markets and product design
Development workers who want to learn more about energy poverty and solar energy as a solution
Anyone who is interested in learning more about how pico-solar systems are paving the way for a greener planet.
You can read more about the book on Amazon here.
This is too exciting not to post. (Fast forward to the 50th Minute of the video!)
Hillary Clinton issues a call to action at the Clinton Global Initiative on ‘The challenge of Energy Poverty.’ She explains that lack of access to electricity has ‘Profound consequences on Health, Education and Economic Development.’
‘With over 1.3 billion people without access to electricity, this is an urgent global need … a priority area, ripe for innovation and activism.’
I love the language she uses: ‘Dream Big. Innovate. Change lives for the better.’
‘It’s time to take our efforts to the next level and think through how we can make dramatic progress on energy access and energy poverty.’
I, personally, couldn’t agree more.
1. Kerosene lamps trap families in poverty.
2. Kerosene lamps prevent children from learning.
3. Kerosene lamps fill homes with toxic fumes that cause respiratory disease.
4. Kerosene is low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change.
5. Because we can, now.
Read the whole article from SolarAid’s CEO, Andrew Webb, in the Huffington Post HERE
In March this year SolarAid celebrated one million solar lights in Africa and whilst there is still much to do, I used this milestone to take a moment to look back and reflect. 13 years ago I was living in rural Tanzania. Uhomini village was my first experience of Africa and I lived next door to a family of six, who lived in a very basic, two roomed house which was always full of children. One of those children was a small boy called Festo, who came to visit me every day for months on end – you can see him pictured with his cousin opposite.
It was in Festo’s home that I became all too familiar with the kerosene lamp, the dangers of burning these lights in small houses with children around and the poor quality of lighting they provided. Not to mention the distance villagers had to travel each time they needed to buy another litre – for it wasn’t sold in the village itself.
When I left Uhomini, Festo was a small boy of 4. As I walked away from the village it struck me that while the rest of the world was changing quickly, the kerosene lamp in his house would remain. When I returned to visit his family a few years later, it was just as I had suspected. Festo was growing up and now at school, but the kerosene lamp was still burning. I asked myself, would this be any different if I came back in another few years? What about in ten, or fifty years?
It was the answer to that question that spurred the beginnings of SolarAid, and it was an answer that I couldn’t accept. With the belief that no one should have to risk their life or drain their income to light their home at night we got to work. This belief has driven us to where we are and it is still what motivates me today. Our social enterprise SunnyMoney is building a sustainable solution to eradicating the kerosene lamp, by making solar lights available and affordable in rural communities across Africa.
It took over six years to sell our first million solar lights, but we intend to achieve the next million in just 12 months. It’s important to me that we do not let these numbers lose their meaning and I can’t help but think back and wonder: what is lighting Festo’s home today? I haven’t visited Uhomini since 2009 so I don’t know the answer, but I know there’s still work to be done, with over 110 million households living without electricity across Africa. That translates to alot of children just like Festo.
If we want to achieve our goal we need to grow, and fast. So my job over the coming years is to take our work into new countries, and next on the list is Uganda. Known as the Pearl of Africa, it is a beautiful country with plenty of sunshine ready to be harnessed into clean energy. Currently, only 4% of the rural population have access to electricity, with many families spending up to 25% of their income just to light their home.
Breaking this cycle of poverty is a huge challenge but our solar customers save $70 a year on average. Our research shows that they mostly invest this in better food, costs of education and improving their livelihoods. So it is easy to see how one little light could have a phenomenal impact on the lives of families in rural Uganda.
As I look back on my time in the village of Uhomini and wonder what Festo uses to light his homework at night, I am also looking ahead to a time when no family in Africa has to depend on kerosene. It is, afterall, the 21st century.
You can find out more about our work at www.solar-aid.org
I’m thrilled to announce the release of my book:
(Please share and retweet!)
Pico-solar electric systems are a category of small solar systems, revolutionising off-grid communities in developing countries and increasingly common in urban centres as a means to charge low power appliances from mobile phones and lighting to digital bus stops.
The book covers a wide range of subjects and will be of particular interest to Social Entrepreneurs; NGOs and development workers; Business, social science and technical students; Manufacturers; and anyone interested in how pico-solar can quickly and effectively reduce reliance on fossil fuels and tackle poverty at the same time.
Below is a quick snap shot of some of the topics includes in the book:
- A comprehensive overview of this cutting-edge technology and an in-depth analysis of the growing market and the increasing array of devices which can be powered by pico-solar (it’s not just LED lights and mobile phones!)
- An overview of the rapidly evolving technology and the increasing array of small electronic devices which can be powered by pico-solar systems
- Guidance on how to care for, maintain and repair systems as well as what to look for when choosing which system is right for you
- The socio-economic and environmental benefits of pico-solar systems – such as how electric light can improve education and health and safety conditions as well as contribute to local and national economies.
- Selling pico-solar at the base of the pyramid (BoP): With a focus on the challenges facing the sector and insights into how companies are finding solutions so that they can effectively reach and serve customers living without electricity access at the BoP.
- Case studies of enterprising and pioneering organisations across the world – including Greenlight Planet and Orb in India and Fosera and SolarAid’s SunnyMoney in Africa
- Future trends in this fast moving and rapidly growing sector
Special thanks to
- Kat Harrison who wrote a chapter on the social impact of pico-solar systems (Check out her great blog Sunrise Kat
- Solar expert and pioneer Mark Hankins for permitting reuse of materials from his book Stand Alone Solar Electric Systems
- Series Editor Frank Jackson
- Many more (who I thank in the book itself!)
As we celebrate achieving 1 million solar light sales across Africa, now feels like a good time think a little about how this incredible milestone has been achieved.
In truth, there is no single reason. Instead, there are many ingredients. If forced to summarise in a few bullet points (that’s what blogs are for – right?), I’d say the ingredients are:
- Unbelievable supporters who always believed in us
- Unwavering commitment and self-belief of our teams (Thanks guys)
- Appetite to try, fail and learn
- Not being afraid to disregard the ideas that don’t quite work
- When something starts to work, adopt it, adapt it, evolve it, replicate it and focus
- Ever improving value of the solar lights we sell
- A bit of luck (but ya make your own luck…right!?)
I have learned an incredible amount on this journey, from the very first light we made…which you can see here (yes we have it on video!) to the celebration of reaching a million, which you can see here.
We’ve had plenty of challenges over the years and I (and everyone at SolarAid and its social enterprise SunnyMoney) will continue to learn, as the journey towards eradicating the kerosene light from Africa continues. But so long as we stick to the bullet points above, I know that it won’t be too long before we’re celebrating our next million.
Thanks to everyone for believing – it’s a dream come true.
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
I read with interest about SkyPower’s plans to donate 2 million pico-solar systems to Kenyans. I will be fascinated to hear how this will be administered and consider the actual details of what is planned. There are a lot of people worried about this. Here’s why:
Donating large volumes of product into a growing market could really harm a market which is trying to serve people.
It’s clear that companies, entrepreneurs, social enterprises and many more across the sector are worried. Have a read of Dan Tomlinson‘s well written piece here which lists the concerns, as well as SolarAid’s initial take here.
I am sure SkyPower must be aware of these risks. So I’d like to hear what their response is to a concerned sector. As Dan Tomlinson says ‘Many beyond-the-grid companies and organizations might like to partner with SkyPower to support their objectives for energy access.’
For me that’s the key. Working and engaging with the sector on this is surely the sensible next move on this issue. We all want to increase energy access. None of us want people living in off grid areas to continue living without access to electricity and paying more for power than people connected to the grid. Some Pay As You Go Systems do a good job of overcoming the financial barriers to energy access. Carefully managed subsidy programmes and cuts in VAT for solar solutions can also increase access.
I’d like to believe we have common goals. Let’s work together on the solutions.
The UK government has just committed to DOUBLING all donations you make to SolarAid between now and 5th February!
So if you want to help us bring a wholly unacceptable situation to an end… the days where hundreds of millions of people living across Africa are forced to burn candles and kerosene for some basic evening light (think about how dangerous that is and the probability of fire causing burns and fatalities every night across the continent) ..now’s a great time to help us do it!