Solar for Africa Blog
The electric light bulb was invented in the 19th century, yet here we are in the 21st with over 600 million people in Africa forced to light their homes with dangerous, outdated, technologies such as candles and kerosene lamps. This is unacceptable for so many reasons. This site is all how the pico-solar revolution is changing the situation.

Jul
18

The Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress (CAP)  have just launched the world premiere of their video series, “Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Lights on in India.”

With 400 million people lacking access to electricity in India, off grid solar is presented as a key solution. Just as mobile phones have leapfrogged the need to extend landline phone networks across India, solar is set to leapfrog grid electricity to meet some of the immediate energy needs of this vast off grid population.

Sierra Sun Video

This video is part of a series which documents the health, economic, and environmental benefits to local communities living in Uttar Pradesh, India, a rural, low-income, off-the-electric-grid region that is rapidly becoming a hotbed of solar activity.

 

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Jun
12

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.

Uhomini village in 2001

Festo (left) wearing my hiking boots in Uhomini village, rural Tanzania  in 2001

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.

 

Revisiting Festo and Uhomini village in 2009

Revisiting Festo and Uhomini village in 2009

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

Apr
24

Hot off the press!

SunnyMoney is creating a new position ‘Expansion Coordinator’ to help us expand into new countries across Africa. This is a great position and an important one which will help us on our way to achieving our Big Hairy Audacious Goal – to eradicate the kerosene light from Africa by the end of this decade.

You can download the Job Description HERE and also via the SolarAid website.

Deadline is 16th May 2014.

 

Apr
11

I’m thrilled to announce the release of my book:

PICO-SOLAR ELECTRIC SYSTEMS: THE EARTHSCAN EXPERT GUIDE TO THE TECHNOLOGY AND EMERGING MARKET30 Book cover

  You can order it HERE

 (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!)

Thanks

John

 

Apr
04

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.

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar
21

SunnyMoney is expanding into new countries! Next stops: Senegal and Uganda.

We’re looking for two people who can do the outstanding jobs for us which our mission to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of this decade demands.

You can find the Job Descriptions for both positions at the links below.  The deadline for applications is 14th April.

Uganda Operations Director Opportunity

Senegal Operations Director Opportunity

Thanks John

Mar
05

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!

SunnyMoney Tanzania in Action

SunnyMoney Tanzania 2

SunnyMoney Tanzania 1

SunnyMoney Tz Mud

Oct
14

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/

Impact Report Cover

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.

Jun
21

We’ve been lucky enough to win two prestigious awards in the past few weeks:

  1. Google’s Global Impact Challenge 
  2. International Gold at the Ashden awards

At the same time, our teams have continued the great momentum we have with solar light sales in Africa. We’ve now topped half a million sales and, incredibly, over 20% of these have been in the past two months….and the truth is, we would have sold even more in May, but we ran out of stock!

Just want to say, ‘Huge thanks and very proud of all our staff.’

Watch a great video about our work here!

SunnyMoney Video

 

 

Apr
26

This blog is about how setting up SunnyMoney in 2011 as a social enterprise (owned by the charity SolarAid) has enabled us to have more social impact in the last 6 months than we had in the previous 6 years. Interested? Read on:-

In 2006 SolarAid was established with the vision ‘to create a world where everyone has access to clean, renewable energy.’ Anyone who knew us at this time, knew that we were a small, motivated bunch of people who were ready to put in whatever hours it took to kickstart a range of projects all aimed at  providing as many people as possible with access to electricity.

We worked hard. We believed in our mission, we believed that we could make a real difference and we convinced others to join our cause. Within about 18 months, we had secured funding which enabled us to set up operations in five countries – Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya. We also set up a pilot project in northern Argentina. Our goal was to bring solar lights to rural schools, clinics, community centres and the everyday man on the street.

Between 2006 and 2011, SolarAid brought solar light to 415 rural schools, clinics and community centres reaching tens of thousands of people. That was a lot of work… the teams that we built know how much work. During this time, we also tried many, many, different strategies all aimed at bringing thousands of small solar lights (pico-solar lights) to rural populations. Our goal was to keep trying new strategies and adapting our models so that we could find the most effective way to reach as many people as possible.

Reaching people – that’s what donors were paying us to do and –driven by our social mission and our desire to make a difference we managed to sell 60,000 pico-solar lights between mid 2006 and early 2012.

Did I say this was all a huge amount of work and that I was proud of what we were doing? I loved my job as Head of Programmes at SolarAid and we were bringing solar power to the people. What more could you want? Well…proud though we were, we also knew that we were not even scratching the surface with 1.6 billion people living without access to electricity.

So…ever the optimists… we set ourselves a mission to ‘Eradicate the kerosene light from Africa by the end of this decade.’

Take it from me – this meant one thing: We had to do more of what was starting to work well for us and less of what was not. This meant setting SunnyMoney up as social enterprise – albeit still owned and funded by SolarAid. My job title changed too… to Managing Director of SunnyMoney.

This year, SunnyMoney exceeded its target to sell 312,000 lights, selling over 338,000. Most of these were sold in the last 6 months. That’s a big scale up…

I’ve started to tell people ‘Hey….do you know what? We’ve probably reached more people and had more of a social impact in the last 6 months than we had in the previous 6 years…and we worked really, really, hard in those first 6 years.’

So why am I writing this blog?   Well…

Partly  just to reflect – ‘Wow. What a journey so far.’

Partly to say ‘Thank you to everyone who has supported us and worked so hard for us over the years. You know who you are!’

Partly to let you know that ‘We plan to sell over 650,000 lights this year…now that we’ve found the right model to reach people, we’re not stopping now!’

And partly to say….‘Our teams actually told us that they are capable of selling over 1 million solar lights this year’….But we had to turn around and say….’Sorry. No can do. It’s simply beyond our budget right now.’  That kills me. A million solar lights in Africa in just one year…think of the impact that would have…. A million houses all lit up. Children studying. Parents reading, chatting, seeing…not breathing in kerosene fumes. A million households being able to save more money.

This is not an appeal. It’s a statement.  But if anyone does say to me…’I want to give money to a cause that will have a quick, direct and positive impact on peoples’ lives…’ or ‘I don’t want to give to a large organisation where it won’t be clear to me if my money will have a direct impact…I want it to be well spent,’

I’d say…. ‘You’re talking to the right people at the right time. We can help.  We’ve found a way to have 6 years worth of impact on peoples’ lives in 6 months 🙂