One million solar lamps now shining across Africa

Social enterprise SunnyMoney aims to eradicate kerosene lamps in favour of solar power by 2020

SolarAid lamps have provided 6 million people with clean, cheap light (Source: Twitter/@SolarAid)

SolarAid lamps have provided 6 million people with clean, cheap light (Source: Twitter/@SolarAid)

By Sophie Yeo

One million solar lights are now shining across Africa, thanks to a project by the UK-based SolarAid charity, which seeks to eradicate kerosene lamps from the continent by 2020.

SolarAid’s social enterprise project, SunnyMoney, means that six million people in Africa now have access to free renewable energy. The project sold their one millionth lamp last month, in what they say is a major milestone that lays the foundations for an emerging solar market.

The solar lamps are cleaner and cheaper than the kerosene alternative, which can cost families across Africa a quarter of their salary each month. Meanwhile, the World Bank estimates that inhaling fumes from kerosene lamps is the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day.

For many of the 110 million households in Africa that still have no access to electricity, there is no other option.

The charity has been working within the community to get the project off the ground, says SolarAid CEO Steve Andrews.

“In the last year, we have worked closely with teachers who act as solar advocates to raise awareness, instil trust and create channels for solar lights to be purchased in rural villages,” he said.

“Once people see a neighbour’s light shining bright, demand grows. We then engage local agents to stock and sell solar products.”

Feeling the benefits

The lights have so far saved families around US$ 235,000, SolarAid predicts, and has enabled children to study for an extra 3 million hours every night.

In Kenya, shopkeeper Sally Kayoni says that she now sells 200 solar lights each month, and has given up selling kerosene altogether. She said: “After I started selling these [solar lights]… there was no one asking for kerosene anymore.”

John Kuriuki, who owns a solar lamp, says that they have saved around US$ 180 every year. “My kids don’t cough now; they are safe and study well,” he says. “I use the savings on buying food and paying my kids school fees.”

The project has accelerating quickly since 2010, when SunnyMoney sold less than 1,000 lights per month. This year, it hit a monthly average of 50,000.

The programme currently operates in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. SolarAid hopes that each will eventually become financially self-sustaining, and expand into two new countries in the coming year, during which time they want to sell another million lights.

Andrews said: “SunnyMoney’s soaring sales is by no means a job done. But it sets us on our path to proving an alternative to the fossil fuel dependency that damages our planet whilst locking millions into a cycle of poverty.”

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