Dressmaking by the light of a Sun King Pro lamp, Chakhmakha village, India

Globally, 1.3 billion people lack electricity, mainly in rural areas. Individual solar systems can be the cheapest and most effective way to offer electricity to many.

Greenlight Planet’s durable, affordable and desirable solar PV products provide clean light to off-grid customers. Selling by village-level agents, micro-finance institutions, commercial organisations and not-for-profits, their variation of prices of products and their system of how they are paid for has allowed them to provide clean light and energy to over 20 million people.

Greenlight Planet is playing a key role in increasing energy access globally, and for a growing range of customers. It is really democratising solar electricity.

Ashden judging panel

Context

By developing and manufacturing reliable solar products Greenlight Planet is on a mission to deliver light that everyone can afford. With sales to date of over five million solar products across 40 countries, the organisation is well on its way. Greenlight Planet carefully selects partners who can distribute to the most remote regions. Their nine Sun King products range from the smallest US$8 lamp up to the US$125 solar home system (three lights and two charging sockets). Pay-as-you-go is available for lamps as well as the more expensive systems bringing solar within reach of many more low-income families.

Globally around 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity. Most live in rural areas without grid supply, others are near the grid but cannot afford to connect.

Individual solar systems can be the cheapest and quickest way to offer basic electricity services to many. However, such systems need to suit a wide range of budgets and aspirations, if they are to have a significant impact.

Sun King demonstration.

Impact

By April 2016, Greenlight Planet had sold over five million solar products, totalling nearly 10 MWp of PV. Around 20 million people are benefitting from clean light in their homes, as well as avoiding the cost and health risks of kerosene lighting. Many can also charge mobile devices.

Greenlight sales have increased each year, reaching 1.5 million products in 2015-16. Most sales to date have been mid-range lamps, with the Pro-2 model that includes two USB-chargers currently the most popular. However customers are showing great enthusiasm for the recently-launched products, with over 100,000 solar home systems (introduced mid-2014) and 200,000 Pico lamps (introduced late 2015) already sold.

Users find cooking, studying, working and other household activities easier with clean, bright light: even the smallest Sun King lamp is brighter than a kerosene wick lamp. Eliminating kerosene lighting reduces the risks of house fires and health damage from indoor pollution. Charging phones at home enables people to keep in touch with the wider world. A household saves typically US$75 per year on the cost of kerosene and phone charging.

Reducing the use of kerosene cuts greenhouse gas emissions. With nearly five million products in use, savings are estimated at about 450,000 tonnes/year of CO2.

Manusam, SBA, with villagers at his stand, Chakhmakha village.

Detail

The company initially focused on solar lamps with USB chargers which are targeted at the middle-income section of the off-grid market.

‘Direct to village’ sales networks were developed, with village-level agents responsible for the final marketing and cash sales to end-users. Through these networks Greenlight Planet also gains valuable feedback on end-user needs and preferences. A broader customer base is reached through sales partnerships with microfinance institutions, commercial organisations and not-for-profits.

Building on its technical and sales experience, Greenlight Planet recently expanded its product and payment options to supply a wider range of electricity access needs. Multi-light solar home systems have been introduced to meet the requirements of higher income households, along with a smaller, cheaper solar lamp for low income customers.

Having a light at home makes me feel safe and secure. I’m happy because with light we can eat together, and the children now want to read at night.

Everlyne Musee, Namanga area, Bugoma, Kenya

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) technology has been launched with some products, to allow payment through instalments over 10 to 26 weeks. This has been successfully piloted within the agent networks and is now being rolled out more widely through both agents and sales partners. The technology will be available in both lamps and solar home systems, bringing the benefits of instalment payments to a wide range of customers.

Greenlight’s three corporate offices in Nairobi, Mumbai and Shenzhen direct technology, sales and service operations across 40 global markets. Around 45% of sales are in East and Southern Africa and 40% in South Asia, with growing activity in West Africa and elsewhere.

Direct-to-village sales networks in India, Kenya and Uganda account for about 20% of current sales. Key to their success are more than 1,000 well-trained village-level agents. Greenlight Planet is professionalising the agent role, with agents increasingly working full time. Some now handle PAYG sales and through these expand their customer base. Agents are paid commission on each sale and have incentive bonuses: an active agent in Kenya can earn more than a teacher.

Around 80% of sales are through more than 120 partners in 40 countries. Partners include microfinance institutions (like Fullerton and SKS in India, and FINCA in Uganda), not for profits (like the One Acre Fund in Kenya), mobile network providers and retail distributers (like Total).

Partners sell Greenlight products through their established customer networks and sales approaches. For example, the One Acre Fund gives farmers the opportunity to include a Sun King lamp in a package of farm requirements like fertiliser and seed. The package is provided on credit and paid off in instalments over nine months.