Low levels of access to clean and affordable electricity remain a major barrier to development across much of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). About 600m Africans do not have access to electricity. However, in recent years, increasing sales of stand-alone Solar Home Systems (SHS) have offered a solution to many households that might otherwise have waited many years, or decades, for access to the main electricity grid. According to data from GOGLA[1] (the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association), 3.83m stand-alone solar products were sold across SSA in 2016 (this figure includes basic solar lantern products).

While this is a positive development, some of the systems are sold to peri-urban households; the systems are also sold to households who (a) with connections to urban centres where sales agents are based, and (b) are able to afford the repayments to acquire a system. Electricity access remains low amongst the rural poor. In countries where population density is low (resulting in higher sales and servicing costs for SHS companies) and where there is an affordability gap for many households, increasing the adoption of off-grid solar solutions is particularly challenging. In Zambia, for example, sales of stand-alone solar products, according to the GOGLA data, were only 56,000 units in 2016.

A recent study by ICED analysed the affordability gap in the case of Zambia, and considered the range of possible solutions for catalysing the market. This note summarises some of the outputs from that work so that the learnings can be considered in other work to expand energy access, both in Zambia and elsewhere.

[1] Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report, H1 and H2, 2016: https://www.gogla.org/sites/default/files/recource_docs/global_off-grid_solar_market_report_jan-june_2016_public.pdf, https://www.gogla.org/sites/default/files/recource_docs/final_sales-and-impact-report_h22016_full_public.pdf