Solar Lights: An Economic and Environmental Solution

By Sue Adkins, International Director, Business in the Community

Solar Lights: An Economic and Environmental Solution

The largest distributor of solar lights in Africa is working to cultivate a sustainable market so that other players will enter the game, with the long-term aim of eradicating the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020.

Social impacts

  • £190 million was saved by the world’s poorest families.
  • Customers gained a total of 1.8 billion extra study hours.
  • By replacing kerosene lamps with solar lamps, 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions were averted.

Business impacts

  • The initiative was cost-effective, with investment at just 65p per person impacted.
  • New markets were created and proved to be sustainable, encouraging other businesses to enter the market.
  • The business model has increased its capacity to scale up and to work through partners.

SunnyMoney is the biggest solar light distributor in Africa, yet is working to create an environment for others to enter the market profitably. This will support its long-term aim of eradicating the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020.

Solar lights provide economic and environmental solution

600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living without electricity. 290 million of these people rely on expensive and toxic kerosene lamps to light their family homes.

To date, SunnyMoney has sold 1.5 million solar light sales, giving nine million people access to clean affordable energy.

Each solar light vastly improves a family’s life economically and educationally, as well as improving their health and the environment. One solar light sale displaces 0.9 kerosene lamps, provides six people with access to clean energy, saves £130 for a family, provides 1,245 extra hours of study time for children, averts half a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions and improves a family’s health.

Largest distributor of solar lights in Africa

SunnyMoney creates markets from scratch, reaching “bottom of the pyramid” customers in rural areas where there is little or no knowledge of solar power.

They created a distribution model that addressed three barriers: availability – there are limited sellers and distribution channels, affordability – lights are excellent value but still a huge upfront cost for a family living below the poverty line, and awareness – families need confidence in solar technology.

SunnyMoney begin by using head teachers to promote and distribute study lights. These trusted members of the community are motivated by a desire to invest in education.

Once the Schools Campaign has built awareness, a network of local entrepreneurs and businesses are brought in. This agent network has greatly improved relationship with supply chain partners because agents can sell lights all year round and not just in term tine. This has the added benefit of providing employment opportunities for local people.

SunnyMoney has become the largest distributor of solar lights in Africa, but the long term aim is for other businesses to step in. Because it is wholly owned by an NGO (SolarAid), all earned income is reinvested back into the business, allowing for greater growth with less investment. This means that SunnyMoney can afford to take the initial risk, creating a sustainable market where other businesses can operate profitably in the future.

What SunnyMoney’s CEO said:

“Providing clean and affordable energy has a transformational impact and certainly will transform the face of Africa. SunnyMoney’s business model is unique in creating new markets for solar lights in areas where no-one else will reach, proving they are sustainable and then getting other players to join the markets and working through partners to achieve our social goal. The kerosene lamp will certainly be eradicated from Africa by 2020 with our global movement.” – John Keane, Acting CEO, SunnyMoney

Editor’s Note: This blog was previously published on Business in The Community and is reproduced with permission.

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