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’ve often used the analogy of mobile phones when thinking about the pico-solar sector. We haven’t seen millions of phones being donated across Africa to increase access. If we had, what would that have done to the entrepreneurs across Africa who have made a living out of selling and serving phones? It would surely have put many out of business – which would mean they are not there to serve the end users in the long term. The same applies to pico-solar products: Donating large volumes of product into the market could really harm a market which is beginning to thrive and build sustainable channels which serve the needs of the people of Kenya.
I am sure SkyPower must be aware of this risk. 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.