Award: Winner of the 2013 Ashden International Gold Award.

Where: SolarAid is a London-based international charity that provides access to solar lights. It currently works in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.

Aim: SolarAid’s ambitious aim is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020. It has distributed over 550,000 solar lights so far.

Background: 598 million Africans have no access to electricity and many rely on toxic kerosene for lighting. These lamps emit noxious black smoke and consume up to 20% of the household income. By contrast, solar lights cost as little as $10, pay for themselves after three to six months and last for two to five years.

Activities: SolarAid sells its solar lights through its social enterprise SunnyMoney. A charity selling lights may seem odd, but SolarAid believe this is both essential for the creation of a sustainable market for solar lights and the only way to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa. All income generated by the sale of lights is invested back into the work.

Selling solar lights in remote communities where there is little trust or knowledge of solar, poor infrastructure and only basic retail networks is an expensive and difficult challenge. Businesses are naturally unwilling to gamble on such an unknown product. SunnyMoney is taking the risk and creating the momentum within the market so that local entrepreneurs can make a successful business out of selling solar lights.

As people begin to trust the technology, more solar lamps are bought, costs fall and a thriving industry begins to take shape, attracting other organisations. The plan is that as each region reaches a solar ‘tipping point’, local entrepreneurs take over and a permanent market is established. Jobs are created, solar lights become commonplace and more and more people are able to buy their way out of fuel poverty.

To give people access to solar lamps and inspire trust in the technology, SunnyMoney engages local communities through the schools’ network. By working with respected head teachers, local teams are able to spread the message that solar lights are affordable, free up money spent on kerosene, and have health and educational benefits. Head teachers are keen to help SunnyMoney because they see the impact the lights have on the lives of their students and their families.

Results: SolarAid has sold over 550,000 solar lights. The cumulative number of lights they have sold has been doubling approximately every six months; a rate of increase in sales of over 300% per annum.

Solar lights have a number of benefits:

  • Children can do better at school because they can study after dark. This means more opportunities as they grow up.
  • By using a solar light, teachers in rural areas can prepare lesson plans and mark homework.
  • The extra ‘light time’ means adults can be more productive, for example running a small enterprise in the evening.
  • Money previously spent on kerosene and candles can be invested elsewhere.
  • People become healthier as fewer households are polluted by the smoke from kerosene lanterns and there is also a reduced risk of burns.
  • A single kerosene lamp emits one tonne of carbon dioxide over five years. SolarAid estimates every three solar lamps means at least one less kerosene lamp in use.



Ashden Awards