Quality Matters

In 2017 and as part of ongoing efforts to bolster the off-grid solar market, Lighting Global Quality Assurance tested a group of top-selling non-quality verified solar products in five domestic markets across Africa and South Asia. All 17 evaluated products—purchased from retail stores in Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Tanzania—failed to meet the Lighting Global Quality Standards for pico-PV products, supporting a long-held assumption that many products for sale in countries with significant populations of people living in off-grid areas are poor quality

Until now, limited recent, quantitative data existed on the performance and quality of these non-quality-verified products which are increasingly flooding off-grid solar markets. To fill this knowledge gap, Lighting Global Quality Assurance purchased these products from retail stores in the five countries and then conducted testing of the purchased products at laboratories in the Lighting Global network. No tested products met the Lighting Global Quality Standards. These results illustrate how non-quality-verified products are indeed subpar in important ways.

For some of the products tested, however, only small changes to design or packaging would create compliance with the standards. Moreover, all products tested met the physical ingress protection requirement associated with the quality standards, and a majority met three other requirements:

  • 100% of the products met physical ingress protection requirements
  • 79% of the products met requirements for physical durability
  • 69% of the products met LED lumen maintenance requirements
  • 58% of the products met battery durability requirements

A top-selling product in the Tanzanian market met all the requirements for physical durability, safety, battery durability, and charge control. To meet the Lighting Global Quality Standards, this product would only need to provide a suitable warranty and modify consumer-facing information about PV module power and run time.

Unfortunately, all tested products had limited and often inaccurate consumer-facing information. In addition, nearly all the tested products had some combination of technical issues that would lead to relatively short lifetimes and could contribute to consumer dissatisfaction. The most common deficiencies include the following:

  • None of the portable products met the standard for water ingress protection.
  • Only 37% of the products had proper battery protection against deep discharge and overcharging.
  • Of the seven products that included AC-DC chargers, none of them carried approval from a recognized consumer electronics safety certification organization.
  • Only 12% of the products included a consumer-facing warranty.
  • Of the products that advertised battery capacity or full-battery run time, less than half did so accurately.

The failure of all tested products in this study underscores the importance of adopting and enforcing pico-PV standards at the national level, coupled with market development strategies aimed at increasing the uptake of high-quality products.

“Quality testing and standards provide the backbone for a healthy off-grid solar market and successful market development partner programs,” said IFC Lighting Global Lead Arthur Itotia Njagi. “Moving forward, the entire ecosystem of industry stakeholders, policymakers, donors, and consumers must work together to increase the prevalence of quality verified products in the global market.”

Results also suggest the need for additional research to more fully understand the quality of “cheap” pico-solar products and to gain insights about consumer experiences with both sub-standard and high-quality products.

Meanwhile, purchasers should continue to identify products that meet the Lighting Global Quality Standards when sourcing pico-solar products. There is substantial risk that non-quality-verified products may not perform as advertised, potentially disappointing consumers and undermining the off-grid solar market.

Read the full report.