by Andrew Tod
2019 was a record-breaking year for the off-grid sector according to the latest Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report. Companies participating in the data collection reported that they had sold over 8.5 million off-grid solar lighting products and 1.2 million off-grid solar appliances during the year. These figures do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which should be visible in future rounds of data collection.
People use off-grid appliances, such as TVs, fans, refrigerators and water pumps in off- and weak-grid areas, typically powered by solar panels or another energy source independent from the national grid. These appliances bring critical energy services to some of the world’s poorest people, often living in remote locations. TVs provide access to news and entertainment; water pumps provide clean water for washing and crop irrigation; and refrigerators are vital for keeping vaccines cool and reducing food waste.
Understanding the sales trends of off-grid appliances in different regions and countries, helps advance our understanding of the state of the market in each region. In turn, this understanding provides valuable indicators as to which regions or products require additional research or support to promote their uptake.
International partnership drives insight
Energy Saving Trust’s work on energy access, delivered through the Efficiency for Access Coalition, and Low Energy Inclusive Appliances (LEIA) programme, aims to advance the accessibility and affordability of off-grid appliances. Its geographic focus is on South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The collection of appliances sales data underpins the LEIA programme’s various workstreams and provides valuable insight into the development of the off-grid appliance market.
In 2018, Efficiency for Access partnered with GOGLA, the global association for the off-grid solar energy industry, to extend the collection of off-grid lighting product sales. This now includes four key off-grid appliances:
- solar water pumps
GOGLA collects sales data of appliances each half year from companies who are affiliates of GOGLA or the LEIA programme. So far, we have collected three rounds of data for off-grid appliances, with the most recent round (sales from July to December 2019) reported in May 2020.
This exercise produces the most comprehensive global data on sales of off-grid appliances available to date. It also provides regular insights into the progress of the sector for the companies, investors and other industry stakeholders.
Energy Saving Trust is involved throughout the process. We contribute to the development of the questionnaire, initial outreach to potential companies, data quality assurance, and report writing. Energy Saving Trust colleagues also present the findings through a webinar.
The numbers of sales within the report are broken down by specific appliance type, by region and by how they are sold – whether it be on a cash or pay as you go basis. Pay as you go allows customers to pay for the product in instalments or pay for use of the product as a service.
Off-grid appliance market understanding
Although in its early stages, with only three rounds of appliance sales data collected so far, the exercise has provided some valuable insights into the off-grid appliance market:
- TVs and fans are consistently the highest selling appliances, with sales in the hundreds of thousands for each round. This indicates that the market for these appliances is more mature than for refrigeration units and solar water pumps, sales of which are significantly lower. This insight has helped to provide guidance to our programme, indicating that we need more research to understand the barriers to uptake of refrigeration and solar water pumping. An example is the recently published Efficiency for Access report Use Cases and Cost Breakdown of Off-Grid Refrigeration Systems which examines the factors that affect the economic viability and affordability of off-grid refrigeration systems.
- Pay as you go sales have grown consistently each year, indicating that it provides a vital financing option for people to be able to afford appliances and increase their level of energy services. Pay as you go provides people with access to appliances that they would not normally be able to afford, including income-generating appliances, such as refrigerators that have allowed people to set-up or expand their businesses by selling chilled products.
- The sales of certain appliances are more prolific in some regions than others: TVs are far more popular in Sub-Saharan Africa that other regions, with 97% of TVs sold during July-December 2019 happening in that region. Sales of fans however are far higher in South Asia than any other region, with 76% of global sales during July-December 2019.
Access to energy services has particular relevance in a COVID-19 context, which forced many people to stay at home and seek information on the virus. According to an Efficiency for Access and 60 Decibels report on the Use and Impacts of Solar TVs, 90% of customers report using their solar powered TV specifically to watch local and national news broadcasts. This demonstrates how valuable TVs are as a communications device in remote areas.
As we look forward to a global recovery from COVID-19, we know that the GOGLA sales data collection will be a vital tool in understanding the pandemic’s impact on the sector. Looking beyond the impacts of COVID-19, we’re excited about further expanding the data collection in future rounds. We hope that more companies in different geographies will provide their sales data to enhance our analysis of the market and understanding of long-term trends.