Lighting Africa: Catalyzing markets for modern off-grid lighting

20 July 2011
ITC News


 Lighting Africa, a joint International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank programme, is mobilizing the private sector to build sustainable markets that provide safe, affordable and modern off-grid lighting to Africa’s un-electrified communities. The programme aims to increase energy access for and provide better lighting to 2.5 million people by 2012 and 250 million by 2030.  

Proper lighting is a basic need, the absence of which hinders social and economic development. Yet nearly 600 million people in Africa – about 70% of the population – lack electricity and rely on expensive, inefficient and polluting lighting sources such as candles or kerosene. Unless current trends are reversed, about 700 million Africans will be living without electricity by 2030.

Lighting Africa relies on the premise that Africa is an emerging market for clean, modern off-grid lighting products that can displace kerosene use and improve the quality of life of millions on the continent. The programme works as a catalyst to make quality off-grid lighting products accessible to energy-poor households in several regions of the continent.

Africans spend an estimated US$ 10.5 billion on kerosene for lighting annually. This represents a vast, largely untapped opportunity for the off-grid lighting sector. Recent technological advances promise clean, durable, and high-quality solutions for people who are not yet connected to the grid. Today, solar and other lighting products offer better illumination, longer battery life, and features such as cell phone chargers. The price of these products has also fallen sharply in the past five years, making them increasingly affordable to low-income households.

However, this emerging market for off-grid products is hard to penetrate. Manufacturers struggle to find business partners, and financial institutions not familiar with the industry are unable to exploit the market’s growth potential. In addition, end users have not yet embraced the new technologies, and low-quality products undermine consumer confidence.

Lighting Africa works as a neutral broker of industry interests and supports the growth of innovative companies along the supply chain. Working with manufacturers and distributors, Lighting Africa reduces the risks for new entrants by providing them with market intelligence and linking them to business partners. It also runs a quality assurance programme to establish quality standards and mitigate market spoilage.

Lighting Africa also runs education campaigns that help consumers make informed purchasing decisions, by showcasing the eight products that have so far passed Lighting Africa quality tests. For financial institutions, Lighting Africa offers market insights to help them better assess markets and capitalize on opportunities. In partnership with local banks, the programme also provides trade finance facilities for distributors and retailers.

The programme also works with governments in sub-Saharan Africa to create a favourable policy and regulatory environment and integrate low-cost, off-grid solutions into their rural and informal settlement electrification plans. The programme has already been piloted in Kenya and Ghana with the following results to date:

•  Eight products have so far passed Lighting Africa quality tests and are available in the African market, retailing between US$ 22 and US$ 97.

•  In 2010, over 134,000 portable solar lamps that had passed Lighting Africa quality tests were sold in Africa, providing more than 672,000 people with cleaner, safer and better lighting and improved energy access.

•  Since February 2011, the first testing lab in East Africa is offering assessments of off-grid lighting products as a commercial service to manufacturers and distributors. The lab, at the University of Nairobi, uses Lighting Africa’s low-cost initial screening method.   

The programme is expanding to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Mali, with the potential to grow further still.

Lighting Africa Associates: Off-grid solar powered lamp products that have passed Lighting Africa quality tests  

  • Firefly 12 Mobile – Barefoot Power
  • PowaPack5 – Barefoot Power
  • NovaS200 – d.light
  • Sun King – Greenlight Planet
  • Uday mini – Philips
  • LED-50 – Solux e.V
  • ST1 – SunTransfer
  • ST2 SunTransfer