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Solar Lights: Good for the Environment and the Wallet

One Acre Fund is a social enterprise that serves 200,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa. Solar lights are among their most popular products. Since 2011, they've distributed over 140,000 solar lights to clients in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania (full disclosure: I am an employee at One Acre Fund). These products are not just good for the environment; as the post below describes in more detail, switching from fossil fuel lamps to solar lights saves clients money, eliminates the harmful health effects of burning fuel indoors, provides longer lasting and higher quality lighting for children to study at night, and actually provides an additional income source.

Photo of Chris Pozzi
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This was originally published as a post on One Acre Fund's blog and is available here

Grace Onyango remembers the first time she saw a solar light when she was a girl. At that time, only the wealthiest people in the community could afford solar lights, which cost 10,000 to 15,000 KSH ($114 to $162 USD) each. “The only person I knew with a solar light was our neighbor, who was a teacher,” she recalls.

Grace didn’t think she would ever have the resources to have a solar light of her own. But in 2011, a year after joining One Acre Fund, she had the opportunity to purchase a solar lamp on credit. At that time the solar lamp package cost 1,700 KSH ($20 USD), which farmers could repay over a period of six months along with their normal loan repayment for One Acre Fund’s agriculture package. Grace received a lamp called the Firefly, an easy-to-use, cheap alternative to the solar lamps Grace saw growing up.

The impact on Grace’s family was immediate. She used to pay more than 100 KSH ($1.10 USD) a week on paraffin fuel for her old lamp, and would need to pay additional money for a neighbor to charge her mobile phone. Now, she saves about 80 KSH ($0.92 USD) a week, and she has completely repaid her loan.

Although Grace was quickly convinced of the solar lamp’s economic benefits, she realized that it had other important impacts on her family. Grace has three studious children who need to do their homework every evening. John, 12, Mary, 10, and Sebastian, 8, used to study by paraffin lamp. Although Grace wanted her children to study hard, she worried about their safety: “The lamp was unsafe because it was not producing clean light, so it hurt my children’s eyes to read. It also used to produce a lot of soot which was not healthy, and it could easy catch fire.”  Her solar lamp provides hours of safe, clean light for children to study.

One Acre Fund farmers in Kenya have expressed great interest in solar lights. Following the success of the initial 2011 solar light loan product, One Acre Fund introduced a new, slightly more expensive Tough Stuff solar light. The lamp, which cost KSH 2,100 ($25 USD), was of higher quality and addressed farmer feedback regarding the Firefly. Despite the higher price, farmers continued to sign up for solar loans. For the 2013 season, One Acre Fund introduced an even more efficient, powerful, and economical solar light called the SunKing Pro. The SunKing Pro has a two-day battery life, and is more durable than even the Tough Stuff lamp.

This year, Grace signed up for another solar light, which she plans to use it to start changing her neighbor’s mobile phones for a small fee. She expects to charge 20 KSH ($0.23 USD) per phone, and hopes to earn 100 KSH ($1.10 USD) a day through her mobile charging business. Although she never believed she would be able to afford a solar lamp, with hard work and some help from One Acre Fund, Grace is now enjoying two!

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Photo of Alper Yaglioglu

Awesome share, Chris! I have done a research on everyday products using solar power after reading your contribution and these are what I found so far:

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/research/gosun-stove

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/research/solar-power-simplified-folding-usb-solar-cell

I think the success of solar lights and these products have something in common: They are affordable and the impact is immediate. I am looking for more examples of everyday products using solar power. There are great possibilities indeed!

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Alper great connect - I was just going to highlight your folding solar cell post for Chris. Exciting things going on here!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Chris Pozzi

Thank you! I hope the community can learn from this example.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great to have you back on another challenge, Chris – and with another fab social innovation from One Acre Fund. We love that you've highlighted the customer perceived value in a human centred way. Also that buying lamps is packaged together with agricultural loans. Even in the developed world, innovation is required on how to package funding options to gain greater community uptake of renewable energy. We're excited about the possibilities!