Reliability and quality is more cost-effective than fragile, low-cost solar lamps

High expenditures to kerosene for lighting and expensive one time phone charging, makes solar lamps an ideal solution for off-grid communities to get access to free, sustainable and clean energy. The market of high quality off-grid solar devices (OGS) is challenged by fragile, low-cost products, according to the Reaching Scale in Access to Energy report from Hystra in 2017 (p. 6). Low quality is, however, trumped by reliable, high-quality products and smart models of purchase.

By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen

High quality equals higher reliability

Lets take a small trip to rural Kenya. Away from flickering city lights, neon signs and buzzing intersections. Here, in the off-grid community with no access to electricity, light is often lit up through low quality, status quo, lighting sources such as kerosene lanterns, battery torches and candles.

The cost of kerosene varies greatly depending on where and how it is sold, but in average the off-grid Kenyan household pay 20 times more for lighting with kerosene compared to on-grid consumers, according to Lighting Global Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018 (p. 38). Calculated in price per kWh, off-grid and unreliable-grid households pay astonishing 1.000 times more per kWh compared to on-grid consumers.

On average households in Kenya spent 10 per cent of the total annual income on lighting without a solar lamp. Having a solar light, spending on light drops to only 1 per cent, according to Lighting Global Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018 (p. 169). If the off-grid household in Kenya replaced their kerosene lantern with the BRIGHT SunBell solar lamp, the estimated annual savings on energy related spending would be USD 102, according to Gogla Impact Metrics for BRIGHT.

Number of mobile phone users expected to pass 5 billion by 2019

Living off-grid does not mean being cut off modern technology. On the contrary, an estimated 90 per cent of the population (corresponding to 41 million mobile subscriptions) in Kenya have a mobile phone, according to the quarterly sector statistics report by the Communications Authority of Kenya (p. 2) at the end of 2017. Globally, the number of mobile phone users is expected to pass five billion by 2019, according to The Statistical Portal. Without access to electricity and capability to charge phone at home, people are forced to travel long distances to reach the charging point and pay a high fee for charging and transportation, which can amount t USD 25 per month in some cases. according to Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018 (p. 38).

Altogether the Kenyan off-grid-household spends up to USD 241 annually on kerosene and other unclean energy sources for light and phone charging, according to Lighting Global (p. 38). Globally this amounts to USD 27 billion on lighting and mobile phone charging, according to Gogla Sales and Impact Report H1 2017 (p. 2).

Considering how the off-grid consumers typically live with a daily income of less than USD 2 per day being at the base-of-the-pyramid, (BoP) paradoxically they pay the highest price for lighting and charging.

Low-cost vs. quality-verified solar lamps

Having access to light and charging has become an important necessity for all people around the world. Over 130 million off grid solar devices (OGS) have been sold to date since 2010, according to Lighting Global estimates from 2018 (p. XIV). Hystra, the global consulting firm, expresses in the report Reaching Scale in Access to Energy from 2018 how cheap and low-quality products represent a growing segment of the OGS market (p. 32).

”Quality-verified* lantern players suffer from competition of low-quality cheap copycats and struggle to reassure customer on the quality of their products.”


* Quality-verified lanterns are products that have met quality standards in terms of durability, advertising of performance, and warranty, set by the Quality Assurance Program by Lighting Global

The influx of solar products made of poor materials, failing after a short period of time, affects customer’s general trust and willingness to invest in solar energy products. Part of the solution, Hystra argues, is to ensure service, reinforce customer care and establish opportunities of financial assistance.

Alexandre Coster, director of the digital finance group specializing in financial inclusion, Baobab+, offer different financial plans for purchase of high-quality solar products in developing nations. Since 2015 the BRIGHT products have been available through Microcred’s banking network and Baobab+ stores in Senegal, Mali, Madagascar and Ivory Coast. Alexandre Coster describes how there is a difference between on- and off-grid consumers of solar energy products. 

“People in urban areas are more likely to pay less and change products often, because they are not completely depended since they mostly are connected to the grid. But people living in off-grid rural areas are more dependent on solar products, and it is difficult just to get a new one if the one you have break down. Off-grid and BoP consumers clearly understand that it makes a lot of sense to pay more, if they get something of better quality that will work for many years.”

Alexandre Coster, Director Baobab+

Easier access to solar power through mobile payment

With smart models of payment as Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG), the off-grid households are able to buy a BRIGHT solar lamp through BaoBab+ for a small down payment, hereafter paying it off in regular installments. Are payments not made, the product is automatically turned off until the economic settlements are done. When the SunBell is paid in full, the solar lamp will provide clean and free energy for five to seven years, making this much more cost-effective than cheap alternative with short life span.

Solar power provide households previously reliant on expensive and toxic kerosene with free, clean access to light and charging. High-quality OGS can be purchased through PAYGO making them economically advantageous as the durability and performance outperform low-cost alternatives. The products at BRIGHT are designed with high standards of quality and aesthetics making them a success and affordable for both the rural off-grid household in Kenya and the Norwegian skier in far away cabins.