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Has SolarAid Brought Solar To More Africans Than Any Other Organization or Company?

SolarAid customers

SolarAid is a British charity that, like many others, brings solar-powered lights to developing countries. However, it goes further than most. It brings its solar lamps to widely dispersed rural regions.

It doesn’t produce the products it delivers, which may seem like a downside at first, but that actually allows SolarAid to take advantage of the best products on the market. 

Focusing on last-mile distribution via its social enterprise SunnyMoney, there may not be an organization that has brought solar to more people in Africa than SolarAid. Lighting Africa (a joint IFC and World Bank program) found that 25% of the solar lights purchased in Africa between August 2012 and January 2013 were sold by SunnyMoney. It passed the 1 million sales marker in March 2014, with sales in Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia. It was the first organization or company to sell 1 million solar lights in Africa. It has now sold about 1.2 million solar-powered lights that are used by about 7 million people.

While its success is impressive, its goals are even more so. It wants to have all kerosene lamps replaced with solar-powered lights by 2020. It aims to contribute 20% of the lights needed for that, which is estimated to be 50 million in total.

SolarAid’s distribution network is used by the likes of d.light, a 2013 Zayed Future Energy Prize winner, Greenlight Planet, and others.

In 2015, SolarAid plans to enter the Uganda, Senegal, and Rwanda markets.

“The major innovation of SolarAid lies in its marketing strategy. A major obstacle to spreading the use of solar lamps in Africa is the lack of retail channels in remote regions. Instead of using its own sales people to bring lamps to widely dispersed households, SolarAid has trained locally respected headteachers and assigned them sample solar lamps for local demonstrations. After the headteachers have collected stable orders from parents, SolarAid then sets up a more permanent distribution network.”

SolarAid also offers pay-as-you-go study lights and has started light libraries where even the poorest students can borrow lights if they can’t afford them. That’s truly heart-warming work.

SolarAid has received funding from a wide range of sources, such as: the UK Department for International Development (DfID), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Solarcentury, and Google. However, by 2017, it intends to be self-sustainable.

SolarAid was founded by Jeremy Leggett. Leggett also founded the very successful UK solar company Solarcentury.

Originally published on Sustainnovate.