2.5 million people with better light another 597.5 million to go

Close to 600 million people in Africa lack access to the electricity grid. © Jamie Seno/Lighting Africa/2010.
Close to 600 million people in Africa lack access to the electricity grid. © Jamie Seno/Lighting Africa/2010.

2.5 million people in Africa now have access to better lighting thanks to the efforts of the Lighting Africa and its partners, with over 500,000 quality off-grid lighting lamps sold on the continent. These clean energy products displace kerosene and other inefficient, polluting and hazardous fuels in rural communities that are not connected to the grid.

Lighting Africa’s approach is to accelerate the development of off-grid lighting markets by demonstrating the viability of the market to companies and investors. The program also supports the scale up and replication of successful businesses by providing targeted business development services and facilitating access to finance while educating consumers and creating awareness for modern off-grid lighting products.

With 25 lamps so far having passed Lighting Africa quality tests and with manufacturers of these products having extended their distribution networks in 14 African countries, the market in steadily taking shape.  Sales of solar lanterns have really picked up over the past two years, with a 113% growth in the last six months alone. Improved availability of quality products, matured business models, and a consumer education campaign through which Lighting Africa supports consumers to learn about the opportunities of modern lighting, has contributed to the growth.

But the program is looking at the challenges ahead:  2.5 million people with better lighting was the programs initial goal for 2012. Whereas this target has been attained, it represents a mere 0.4% penetration of the un-electrified population in Africa.  A great deal more is needed to improve the way low income households and SMEs in Africa access and use energy.

The programs main challenge is mobilizing financing across the entire supply chain  manufacturers, importers and retailers to scale up their operations.  Financial institutions perceive the new renewable energy market as high risk for investment. Lighting Africa is working with financial institutions to mobilize trade finance. Moreover, progress has varied considerably across countries with Kenya in the lead and slower growth in Ghana. In the coming months, the program will focus on accelerating access to finance and on setting up regional platforms to support even more companies.

Lighting Africa is part of IFCs initiative to improve energy access for base of the pyramid consumers. In addition to other efforts to increase grid-penetration in Africa, earlier this week, IFC launched the Clean Cooking Initiative, which works to create markets for affordable LPG in urban and peri-urban centres in Kenya.  Together, these two programs are tackling the main sources of in-door pollution kerosene for cooking and lighting and are aiming to  displace kerosene as the main household fuel in Kenya.

Box: Lighting Africa – results