SDG7: Solar Aid illuminates Africa with two million light sales

Madeleine Cuff
clock • 3 min read

EXCLUSIVE: Charity's social enterprise SunnyMoney has now sold two million solar lights across sub-Saharan Africa, bringing clean lighting to more than 10.5 million people

SolarAid has now sold more than two million of its solar lights to customers in sub-Saharan Africa, bringing zero-emissions lighting to more than 10.5 million people across six countries, BusinessGreen can reveal.

The charity confirmed its Africa-based social enterprise, SunnyMoney, passed the two million sales mark last month. 

SunnyMoney has been selling solar-powered lights in Africa since 2008, using a community distribution model to encourage local people to sell the lights in their rural communities.

Around 840 million people worldwide, including 600 million people across Africa alone, have no access to electricity, often relying on expensive, polluting kerosene and paraffin lamps after darkness falls.

Reaching the two million sales mark means SunnyMoney's solar lights have now averted an estimated 21 millions tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, and saved some of the world's poorest families more than £318m in fuel costs, SolarAid said.

"We are really proud to have hit this landmark of two million solar lights in Africa," SolarAid CEO John Keane told BusinessGreen. "Every single one of those solar lights has a positive impact and brings us another step closer to eradicating the kerosene lamp. We are also proud to have played a leading role over the past 13 years, kick-starting solar markets across the continent and encouraging other actors to enter the market."

But despite the efforts of governments, businesses, and charities such as SolarAid, the world is not currently on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which aims to ensure universal access to "affordable and clean" electricity by 2030. A major report warned last month that at the current rate of progress, there will still be around 650 million people worldwide living without electricity by 2030. Meanwhile, efforts to decarbonise global energy supplies remain well short of the emissions reduction trajectories required by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Map showing SunnyMoney light sales across Africa

SolarAid has sold the bulk of its lights in Tanzania where it has delivered around around 900,000 units. Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia are also significant markets for the organisation.

However, to expand clean energy access across the continent Keane warned governments will need to step in to accelerate the roll out of clean energy infrastructure.

"With climate change now truly upon us and the SDG clock ticking, now is not the time to say 'job done, the market will now do its job,'" Keane added. "The market will not reach everyone - and it will certainly not prioritise reaching the poorest people and communities. It's clear, therefore, that now is the time to go beyond the market and increase our focus on truly prioritising energy access for the poorest people and ensure that no one is left behind, in the dark."

Solar lights in action

Stanford Njuguna is 18 years old and lives in Kenya. In 2011, he and his family were evicted from their home because of ethnic clashes. The upheaval seriously threatened Stanford's chances of finishing primary education, in part because during this time his family frequently struggled to afford kerosene for lighting.

In 2012 Stanford received a solar light through SunnyMoney, allowing him to study into the evening. In high school, he became a SunnyMoney agent and started selling the lights, to pay for his own as well as his siblings' education. Stanford is now studying at university in Kenya.

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