Solar Home Systems are one type of solar power product that can bring electric power to African’s who are currently unable to connect to the electricity grid. They have outputs of up to 250W and involve a rooftop solar panel along with several different parts. Solar Home Systems generally have a direct current (DC) power and may be used to power multiple lights, mobile phone chargers, radios, small TVs and fans. They can be bought upfront or by smaller regular payments.
USING SOLAR HOME SYSTEMS
To produce electricity using solar power requires more than just a solar panel. Solar home systems will often include a controller to regulate the flow of electricity, batteries to store the electricity (which can be used at night) and an inverter needed to run electrical equipment. All the parts of the system are needed and must be working correctly in order to produce electricity. The technology required for solar power may sometimes be installed by the customer or may need to be installed by someone trained. The customer must be taught how to use the equipment to power their devices.
Solar panels often don’t require much maintenance as they do not use any moving parts. Most solar panels last for 25 years which means they do not have to be replaced very regularly. In some areas solar panels may not need to be cleaned but in dry areas dust can build up which must be cleaned. Solar panels do not work if the sunlight is blocked by dust or shade. While solar panels may not need much maintenance other parts of the system may need more maintenance. There may be issues with theft of the power or parts from solar systems.
THE COSTS OF A HOME SOLAR SYSTEM
Solar home systems start at a cost of $150. Buying the whole system upfront ensures a continued supply of power as once installed it is ‘free’ to produce electricity. It is ‘free’ to produce this power because sunlight acts as the fuel for solar power systems. Solar panels usually require little maintenance so upkeep costs should remain low.
Buying the system upfront is too expensive for many low-income households. If households use a large portion of their income in order to purchase the system it may put them at risk if they run into any problems after the purchase, for example an unexpected illness. Continuing the use of more dangerous fuels such kerosene may be more appealing as the purchase of kerosene is more flexible. You can buy kerosene a little bit at a time rather than paying a large upfront cost.
REGULAR PAYMENTS FOR HOME SOLAR SYSTEMS
Many solar power companies in Africa are now offering a package where they provide the money for the initial cost of the system and customers can pay this off in instalments. These small loans for systems are a type of ‘microfinance’ or ‘micro-lending’. Installments can range from daily to monthly payments. Eventually the customer can gain ownership of the system. The cost of the system may be paid off in 1-5 years depending on the size of the system and the size of the repayments.
Another installment option is the ‘lease-to-own’ system; this can involve ownership being transferred to the customer. In this option the leasing company is the owner of the system and is responsible for its maintenance during the lease period. If the solar home system is stolen the leasing company may be able to remotely stop the system from operating. If there is no possibility for ownership to be gained by the customer then this is called a ‘fee-for-service’ model. In this model the system remains in the ownership of the leasing company permanently.
Instalment or fee-for-service payments for solar home systems are usually carried out using mobile money where customers exchange cash with an agent in exchange for e-money. They use this e-money to pay bills via texting. Mobile money can be useful to pay a range of different bills, which is one advantage of being able to charge mobile phones through solar power. Countries such as Kenya that have seen high uptakes of small scale solar technologies are often the countries that have also seen high uptake of microfinance and mobile money.
Usually instalments for solar home systems will be a similar price to what customers already pay per month for kerosene for their lamps or disposable batteries. Yet solar home systems have more uses- such as charging mobile phones. Solar home systems can help households save money as they can cost less than kerosene and can help customers save on other costs that come from charging mobile phones and travelling to buy kerosene.