Powering Rural Africa with Household Solar Solutions
Electricity is the foundation for modern energy systems, increasingly powered by renewable sources. However, according to the Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2022: State of the Sector, there are still 733 million individuals worldwide who lack access to clean, reliable, and modern electricity – with affordability being a key barrier to closing this electricity access gap.
In the recent 2023 SDG7 progress report it is revealed that access to electricity continues to be a significant impediment to socioeconomic progress in Sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2021, over 80 percent of the global population lacking electricity resided in this region. Although there has been gradual improvement in the access rate over the past decade, the number of people without electricity has remained unchanged due to population growth. Consequently, 567 million individuals still lacked access to electricity in 2021, despite Africa boasting 60% of the world’s best solar resources.
Fortunately, household solar solutions have emerged as a promising solution to address this challenge and provide clean, affordable, and reliable electricity to African homes. Over the past few years, there has been remarkable growth in the adoption of household solar systems across Africa as they gain traction due to their affordability, ease of installation, and environmental benefits. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the SHS market in Africa has been expanding rapidly, between 2012 to 2019, the number of SHS deployed grew from around 0.5 million to over 5 million and the Lighting Global program, which promotes access to modern off-grid lighting and energy products, reported that by the end of 2020, over 180 million people had gained access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy through solar products, including SHS, in Africa (Lighting Global, 2021).
Declining costs of solar technologies, along with innovative business models such as Pay-as-you-go (PAYG), micro leasing for solar products and solar product distribution networks, have made solar energy increasingly accessible to previously underserved households. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), the costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules have dropped by around 80% between 2010 and 2020 (IRENA, 2021). Additionally, a study conducted by Lighting Global and Dalberg Advisors reported that the prices of solar lanterns in Africa reduced by approximately 80% between 2010 and 2019 (Lighting Global, 2020). This expansion is being driven by African solar companies and social enterprises (some of which are foreign-owned), deploying off-grid solar home systems, solar lanterns, and mini-grids to power homes and businesses. The implementation of household solar solutions in Africa has brought about transformative impacts. Families now have extended hours of lighting, can power appliances, charge mobile phones, access information and communication technologies as they enjoy safer environments. This has improved educational opportunities, allowing children to study after dark and access online educational resources and reduced criminality rates in communities. Moreover, solar energy is replacing hazardous and expensive lighting alternatives like kerosene lamps, reducing household health risks and expenses.
While progress has been made, the household solar sector in Africa still faces persistent challenges. One of the key hurdles is financing (which includes access to foreign exchange by importing and distribution companies) as well as limited access to suitable financial mechanisms, such as microloans or pay-as-you-go systems, which often hinders the affordability and scalability of solar solutions by households. Additionally, ensuring distribution and lalast-mileonnectivity, quality, and durability of solar products, along with providing after-sales support and maintenance services, is crucial for building consumer trust and ensuring long-term sustainability.
The policy and regulatory frameworks also play a critical role in shaping the household solar market in Africa. Governments need to create an enabling environment that supports sector growth by establishing favourable incentives, streamlining import processes, and setting quality standards for solar products. Strengthening partnerships among governments, private sector actors, and international development agencies is vital for unlocking the full potential of household solar in Africa.
Looking ahead, the future of household solar in Africa holds promise as the market is expected to expand rapidly as technological advancements continue to drive down costs and improve efficiency. In sub-Saharan African alone the market for Productive Use Leveraging Solar Energy (PULSE) the current “serviceable” market is USD 734 million and by just extending credit opportunities this market would soar to USD 11.3 billion. For solar water pumps in sub-Saharan Africa the estimate increased from USD 456 million today to USD 1.63 billion by 2030.
Furthermore, collaborations among stakeholders across the energy sector, including governments, investors (such as the Household Solar Funders Group), NGOs, and research institutions, foster knowledge sharing, promote innovation, and facilitate the development of scalable business models.
The state of household solar in Africa reflects a transformative journey towards providing clean and reliable energy access to millions of households. While challenges exist, the sector is witnessing remarkable growth, improving the lives of individuals, empowering communities, and contributing to sustainable development. By addressing financing barriers, strengthening policies, and fostering collaboration, Africa has the potential to become a global leader in household solar adoption, paving the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for its people.
 Lighting Global. (2020). The Market for Solar Portable Lighting in Sub-Saharan Africa: Results from the 2019 Quality Assurance Survey. Retrieved from https://www.lightingglobal.org/resource/the-market-for-solar-portable-lighting-in-sub-saharan-africa-results-from-the-2019-quality-assurance-survey/
 The Market Opportunity for Productive Use Leveraging Solar Energy (PULSE) in Sub-Saharan Africa (Lighting Global) – https://dev-lgla-merge.pantheonsite.io/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PULSE-Report.pdf