Seeing the Light: Solar PV in East Africa
By Ann Heidenreich, NGONET, Kenya.
Contrary to what many people think, solar PV is not too expensive
for ordinary folk.
Hundreds of thousands of rural households in East Africa now pay
$5 to $10/month or more for kerosene for lighting and drycell
batteries for radios, and small businesses are paying
significantly more. These are potential customers for solar PV
systems. Small solar systems pay for themselves over a period of
one to three years, and after that, savings are significant. In
addition, the quality of lighting is far better and the house is
free of unhealthy kerosene fumes.
I visited a small business (SuperLife Bar) in Komolo on the
Maasai Steppe in Tanzania in early April that had been using 20
litres of kerosene/week at TSh 400/litre (US$16/week; $64/month;
$832/year). Late last year, the owner, Mr. Lengai, bought a
solar PV system for about $1,000. In just over a year from the
time of purchase, he will have recovered the cost of his system
and after that, costs for lighting and music in his establishment
will be drastically reduced.
With the recent dramatic rise in production and drop in costs,
solar PV is already on the market and powering lights and radios
in tens of thousands of rural homes in East Africa. There are
small entrepreneurs selling PV systems in many villages, and
local manufacturers producing system components.
Solar PV has become a new fashion in donor, government and NGO
circles. There is a danger that the influx of donor funds will
undermine local entrepreneurs who are already in the business.
New projects must build on work that has already been done.
Mass dissemination of any technology is best done through the
market. Donor interventions in the field of solar PV should be
aimed at building an infrastructure for market dissemination of
solar PV. Support is appropriate for training, demonstration,
credit, design, policy formulation and networking.
KARADEA Solar Training Facility, Tanzania, has regular courses
supported by EAA (see issue no.11). The next course is 8-28 July
The 4 As for customer satisfaction:
Most people won't buy what they have never seen. Donor funds
could be channelled into small, well-maintained demonstration
systems in public buildings such as schools, hospitals, libraries
and offices. These should be decided upon by local groups,
purchased locally, installed and maintained by local technicians.
Local businesses should be on hand in rural villages to design,
deliver, install and maintain PV systems and to instruct
customers in operation and maintenance.<%-2> <%-3>Donor funds are
needed to establish and operate solar training centres, provide
scholarships for trainees, and support credit schemes to start-up
small businesses, with the aim of having an electrical shop in
Although some people have sufficient cash to buy solar PV systems
up front, many people do not. Reduction of import duties,
downsizing (not downgrading) of systems to match rural financing
schemes are needed to enable many more people to buy solar PV.
While systems should be affordable, they should not be given away
free or at subsidized rates that undercut local companies.
Most solar equipment on the market today is not designed for the
rural African market. Development banks should give credit to
companies for market surveys and redesign of equipment.
In Kenya, various ways to finance solar PV are being tried,
supported by the World Bank (ESMAP/GEF/IFC) and/or the Ashden
Trust, and implemented by Kenya Rural Enterprise Programme and
Energy Alternatives Africa (EAA). Some examples:
- "Solar Energy for Rural Kenyan Businesses" provides loans to
qualifying businesses and community groups together with required
training and support to establish small, solar-based businesses.
- "Testing of Financing Mechanisms for Solar Equipment in Rural
Villages" will be a 3.5-year project.
- Several projects are underway to field test solar lighting and
radio systems, particularly solar lanterns. A number of small
local companies sell the lanterns at subsidized rates and gather
information on customer response. Many of the lanterns being sold
are designed for the US camper market, not for everyday use in
rural African homes. These surveys will provide valuable feed-
back to manufacturers on how to design for the African market,
where potential sales are in the millions of units.
- A workshop entitled "Building Renewable Energy Infrastructure
in Africa" was held for Development Officers from 18 districts
in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, 1-3 April 1996 in Arusha,
Tanzania. The report of the workshop includes a list of 70 solar
PV businesses in East Africa. Copies are available from EAA.
More info: Ann Heidenreich, NGONET, PO Box 76406, Nairobi, Kenya.
Ph/fax: +254-2-729447; email: email@example.com; or
Mark Hankins, EAA, PO Box 76406, Nairobi, Kenya. Ph/fax:
The article is compiled from an article in EcoNews Africa (18
April 1996) by Ann Heidenreich, and a paper by Ann Heidenreich
and Mark Hankins presented at the World Bank Donor's Roundtable
on Energy and Development, April 1996 in Washington DC.