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More Africans turn to solar lamps

By Metro Reporter and Xihnua
More Africans are buying and using solar lamps indicating the growing need for clean lighting solutions at a time when governments are struggling to increase electricity connections especially into the rural areas.

The solar lamps are most popular in low income households that are often not connected to the grid electricity because they cannot afford connection fees or are too far from the grind, according to a new report received by Xinhua on Wednesday from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), entitled; Key Trends and Developments in the Africa Off-Grid Lighting Market Report.
"Consumers not connected to electricity grids, relying on kerosene, candles or battery-powered torches are sending a clear message of their desire for affordable, quality lighting products," said Itotia Njagi, IFC's Lighting Africa Program Manager.
The report which is jointly published with the World Bank will be officially released in January but its sneak-preview is offered in the current market update of Lighting Africa, a project that works to upscale development and adoption of quality cleaner lighting solutions in Africa.
"Sales of quality assured solar lamps designed for low income households and micro-businesses in Sub Sahara Africa have been doubling year after year between 2009 and 2012, providing about four million people with clean, brighter light," notes the report.
The report found that the market share of quality assured, solar lamps increased nine fold in the three years between 2009 and 2012.
"This dramatic uptake of modern quality lanterns proves that portable lamps are a viable pre-electrification strategy for governments to provide rural communities with clean energy while working on expanding national electricity grids," said the World Bank's Lighting Africa Program Manager Daniel Murphy.
The rise in the use of solar lamps is also attributed to affordable prices because of the competition brought about by increasing number of manufacturers. Quality of the solar lamps has also improved, according to lighting Africa.
The report however notes that despite this impressive growth, modern solar lighting in Africa is currently only being used by 2- 3 percent of the potential 600 million consumers without electricity, indicating that there is still huge unserved market for solar lamps in Africa.
The number of manufacturers and distributors supplying and selling lanterns that meet quality standards in Africa has also increased from five in 2007 to more than 20 in 2012. Distribution of solar lanterns has also spread into more than 20 countries up from only three countries in the same period.
The study also found that manufacturers are now more responsive to environmental considerations in product design and are also more inclined to add user friendly features that meet customer needs, such as mobile phone charging ports.
The Word Bank estimates that 70 percent of African population does not have access to electricity.
This is because of major underinvestment that have been made in the energy sector although there situation has changed as more African countries are now developing electricity generation while Ethiopia is investing in new hydro dams and a wind power farm.
Lighting Africa said in its latest market update that to sustain the current growth of the usage of solar lamps, it will develop working capital and trade finance facilities across the supply chain and deepen its focus on building consumer trust in modern, quality assured lighting products through consumer education.
"The World Bank will accelerate its work with client countries to build Lighting Africa activities into energy access programs that it finances, helping spur consumer demand and supply chains to the base of the pyramid," noted the market update.

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