The use of small scale solar power or ‘micro’ solar power in Africa can bring off-grid electricity to many homes and small business. Off-grid electricity can be particularly useful in rural areas. Small scale solar power systems have limited capacity and may not be suitable to provide electricity to the continent as a whole. However, providing just small amounts of electricity to off-grid communities and low-income households can bring many benefits for health, education and poverty reduction.
OFF-GRID SOLAR PROVIDES OPPORTUNITIES
Providing anyone who is unable to connect to the electricity grid with even small amounts of electricity provides them with new opportunities. For example, being able to use safer ‘clean energy’ lights at night provides a number of benefits. They allow small businesses to stay open later, allowing them to increase profits. They provide a lighting source for children to study, benefitting their education. They also allow people to complete more household tasks in the evening- freeing up their time in the day to do other things. The solar company Azuri has reported that 86% of customers claimed that they have been able to work more since installing their home solar system.
Having electric power also means households can power devices that they may otherwise not have had access to. Powering radios or small TVs can provide households with access to the news, providing them with a source of information and entertainment. Being able to charge mobile phones enables households to have access to mobile money systems. Having electric power can also be very useful for businesses, allowing them to attract customers by powering devices such as TV’s, refrigerators and hair dryers. The use of solar systems in public services such as clinics and schools can also provide many benefits. They can provide lighting for classrooms and medical examinations and can power equipment such as refrigerators for vaccinations.
SMALL SCALE SOLAR POWER AND MONEY SAVINGS
The costs of different solar systems vary, you can find out more about these here. Using instalments to pay for solar home systems or regular payments for micro-grid power may often work out at a similar price as paying for kerosene for lamps. The difference is that electric power can be used for many different devices. Customers are then able to cut other costs and save money, for example by charging mobile phones at home. In payment models where the customer eventually gains ownership of a home solar system the customer will be able to stop making payments for energy altogether. After buying a solar product a household will typically save $192 on energy spending over the product’s lifetime.
Saving money by cutting costs allows people to spend their money on other things. For example, Teresa Mpetti a micro-grid customer living in Kenya was able to save money due to the lower cost of solar power than the energy she used before. Her solar powered lights also allowed her to make more profit from being able to keep her kiosk business open longer. She used the money she saved to get a loan for a refrigerator for her kiosk which has increased her drink sales fivefold.
The solar company Azuri has reported that its customers save 2.3 hours per week on travelling to buy kerosene or charge their mobile phones. Freeing up the time used to collect kerosene or charge mobile phones allows customers to use this time for other household tasks or to work for longer.
SMALL SCALE SOLAR POWER AND HEALTH
Many people without access to grid electricity currently use fuels that damage their health. Around 600 million people in Africa are not connected to any national grid and many rely on kerosene lanterns and open fires in their homes. Using these types of fuels indoors can cause problems such as asthma, cataracts, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and lung cancer. The World Health Organization estimates over 4 million people die from household air pollution each year. Solar power is a ‘clean energy’ so once installed it does not produce any waste or pollution. This means using solar power can help to reduce health problems caused by other fuels.
SMALL SCALE SOLAR POWER AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Using fuels such as kerosene also releases pollution, including black carbon which is a byproduct of poor combustion and adds to global warming. Black carbon is estimated to contribute the equivalent of 25-50% of carbon dioxide warming globally. Global warming or climate change is something that causes many problems across the whole of Africa. Using cleaner solar power can help to reduce these emissions, reducing their impact on climate change. The use of solar lighting to replace kerosene lighting has contributed to 28.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions being avoided so far.