Thanks to ongoing innovation in the off-grid sector, a host of productive use appliances that are powered by solar energy (productive use leveraging solar energy, or ‘PULSE’) are being developed, which can provide livelihoods and income-enhancing opportunities for households across the agricultural, industrial, commercial, and public sectors.
PULSE has immense potential in the agricultural sector. The use of machinery in farming can increase efficiency five-fold or more. The UNEP estimates that every 10% increase in farm yield has led to a 7% decrease in poverty in Africa. PULSE appliances can also help to cushion against shocks resulting from climate change and market-price fluctuations.
Affordability has been a critical bottleneck – and driver for innovation – in the off-grid sector since its advent. The rural population tends to be among the poorest. In the absence of financing, this means that even the up-front cost of a solar lantern remains unaffordable to many, to say nothing of something as transformative – and relatively expensive – as a solar water pump.
Enabling access to finance and increasing affordability will be key in ensuring PULSE appliances reach those that need them most. Since kicking of its first pilot project in Kenya in 2009, creating avenues to finance has been a key pillar of our work in building sustainable markets for off-grid solar lighting and energy products. Since then, various financing schemes have been developed to enable access to an ever-wider array of products, including those driven by distributors, such as pay-as-you-go (PAYG) financing for solar home systems (SHS).
Today, nearly 59 million people around the world meet their basic electricity needs through quality-verified off-grid solar sources. Without dedicated market building efforts, it is extremely unlikely so many would have gained access, given financial realities.
The future of PULSE
These market-building efforts can now also benefit PULSE appliances, as they are well positioned to build on the existing distribution and financing channels in the off-grid sector. Many off-grid farmers are already using SHS for their household energy needs, so they understand and trust the benefits this technology brings, while manufacturers can tap into existing distribution streams. Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) models are already being adapted and piloted for the more expensive PULSE appliances, while asset leasing, guarantor loan structures and specialist agricultural credit facilities are starting to expand access to financing for PULSE, even as on-going R&D efforts are seeking to bring costs down.
Nonetheless, in order to maximize the impact of PULSE, and help governments achieve ambitious agricultural transformation initiatives and enhance the livelihood and food security of millions, a concerted effort will be needed to bring together the off-grid energy and agricultural sector, as recommended in the report.
Off-grid energy access efforts have long endeavoured to continually expand distribution until the people living at the last inch of the last mile are reached. Continually evolving technologies, resulting in products like PULSE, ensure that when that last mile is reached, lives can truly be transformed.