Off-grid solar sparks a lantern sales boom in Africa

Kenya was East Africa’s largest market for off-grid solar energy kits

In Summary

• A new report reaffirms the resilience of off-grid solar in providing clean electricity access in Africa

• Cash sales of lanterns are booming, signalling diversification beyond the PAYGo transaction model

A family uses solar lanterns
A family uses solar lanterns

A new report has highlighted the continued popularity of lanterns powered by off-grid solar alternatives as more people opt for cleaner lighting options in Africa.

The report is based on sales reported by 32 solar energy kit manufacturers and 34 appliance manufacturers in the second half of 2023.

Titled ‘Global Off-Grid Solar Market Data July-December 2023’, it is by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association — the global association for off-grid solar energy industry.

James Nzioka, a sustainable energy researcher at the University of Eldoret in Kenya, says the trend highlights the growing relevance of off-grid solar power in addressing last-mile electrification challenges on the continent.

“Millions across Africa still lack access to the grid,” Nzioka said in a phone interview.

“But with off-grid solar, even the most remote villages can light up their homes using energy alternatives that are clean, efficient and affordable.” 

A key insight from the report is the growing number of lantern sales across four regions of Africa — East, West, Central and Southern Africa — assessed in the report.

The authors of the report also point to a diversification from rent-to-own purchase (PAYGo) to cash sales. Nzioka attributes this shift to declining solar kit prices and a burgeoning middle class with disposable income.

In Kenya, for instance, a rise in lantern sales sold in cash led to a 22 per cent increment in cash sales for all kits and appliances in the country compared to those made in the first half of the year. Comparatively, there was a 5 per cent increase in sales made via the PAYGo option.

Nzioka, however, said the shift towards cash transactions doesn't undermine the viability of the PAYGo model.

“PAYGo is still very relevant on the continent and will continue to influence off-grid solar growth in the region,” he added.

In East Africa, where more than 2.5 million solar energy kits were sold between July and December 2023, lantern sales increased by 17 per cent compared to the first half.

Lanterns with low energy needs, ranging between 0-1.5 Wp (watt peak capacity), witnessed the highest growth rate in sales.

Kenya was East Africa’s largest market for off-grid solar energy kits, representing 74 per cent of the total sales made in the region.

A similar rising trend in the number of sales for low-energy lanterns was also recorded in West Africa, where sales for this category increased 18 per cent compared to the first half of 2023.

Just like in East Africa, sales made by cash steadily continued, with their increasing trend rising by 15 per cent for all solar energy kits. The PAYGo segment, on the other hand, decreased by 1 per cent.

Nigeria is the biggest off-grid solar energy kit market in West Africa, accounting for 82 per cent of all sales made in the region.

Two markets — Cameroon and the DRC — dominate the off-grid solar energy kit market in Central Africa.

In the southern African region, where confidentiality rules cloud country-by-country analysis, the report notes that kit sales rose by 62 per cent, most of which were made in cash.

“Cash sales, led by lanterns, increased by 78 per cent compared to the two previous half years," the report stated.

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