New data shows encouraging trends – and dividends – from off-grid solar

By Peyton Fleming, Lead Writer Sustainable Energy for All

Nov 06, 2017: The Global Off-Grid Lighting Association’s (GOGLA) latest market report shows lots of shine on the off-grid solar front, albeit with a few hiccups.

Worldwide sales of off-grid solar products hit 3.52 million units in the first six months of 2017, half of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and a third of them in South Asia, says the co-authored report by GOGLA and Lighting Global. (The report is based on data from 65 GOGLA Member and IFC Associate companies.) The numbers are off slightly from second-half ’16, but a key reason for this is India’s demonetization push last November, which crimped cash purchases in this largely cash-based country. The East Africa drought also hurt sales in many rural areas.

Among the encouraging trends is that Sub-Saharan Africa sales activity is now reaching well beyond Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries. Burkina Faso, Senegal, Rwanda and Nigeria all posted robust growth.

Perhaps the biggest positive is growing support that the off-grid sector is seeing from development finance institutions, such as the World Bank’s rrecent approval of a $150 million off-grid solar project for Kenya. Another example is the $80 million of commercial debt funding announced last month forM-KOPA Solar backed by CDC, FMO and Norfund.

And let’s not forget the wide-ranging dividends that these solar products are bringing to under-served populations around the world. Two GOGLA statistics grabbed my attention: More than 120 million people have benefitted from improved energy access due to off-grid solar products since 2010, with millions reaching Tier 1 energy access, where they receive lighting and phone charging services, or Tier 2 access, where the solar systems have the capacity to power energy efficient appliances such as televisions and radio.

These same users have saved more than $5 billion on their energy bills by switching from expensive energy sources such as kerosene to solar. “These numbers are estimates and we think they’re conservative,” said Susie Wheeldon, who leads GOGLA’s impact research, speaking on a webinar last week.

Sustainable Energy for All will be delving more deeply into the energy access dividend issue with a new report Why Wait? Seizing The Energy Access Dividend it is releasing later this month at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. The report, in partnership with Power for All and the Overseas Development Institute, will make a powerful case for accelerating access to decentralized solar energy in developing countries. Look for our formal report launch Nov. 16 at COP23. (Here are more details on our plans at COP23).

Photo credit: Power Africa