Solar Power

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Angaza Design


Solar power is the conversion of solar radiation into heat or electric power for use as an energy source. Solar radiation is more intense closer to the equator, where many developing countries are located.

The two major forms of solar technologies are passive solar and active solar technologies. Passive solar uses materials that magnify solar heat, generally to dry food or heat water. Active solar produces electricity through photovoltaic panels.

While a few enterprises covered are working with passive solar (VANREPA / Green Power has done a number of projects with solar water purifiers and food dryers), most of the enterprises covered on the map using solar focus on active solar, selling and/or installing either fixed panels for attachment to buildings, or portable panels, lights, and other solar products.


Fixed Solar

This type of solar power consists of panels fixed to houses or businesses and used to power lights and appliances. They are often sold customized to user needs and income levels, with different numbers of panels for different amount of power. Similarly these systems are often associated with modular products (i.e. lamps, plugs, etc.) that customers can scale up if they want. Generally, their capacity is between 5-50W (can be much higher). This is enough to power lamps, mobile phones, radios and sometimes televisions or laptops. Depending on panel size and the number of lights or appliances, systems cost between $100-$2,500 (see Grameen Shakti‘s pricing list for an idea of range).

Use Cases

Act-If Electropower sells solar powered streetlights to city governments in Mexico which light up previously dark public areas, reducing crime and increasing commerce. They also sell solar-powered generators to tortilla makers who can thereby save on the costs of diesel fuel.

  • Avani sells solar panels and lighting systems to off-grid communities in rural Himalayan India. Panels are assembled by rural technicians trained by Avani.
  • Barefoot College trains uneducated women from India and around the world to install and maintain solar panels in their villages.
  • Border Green Energy Team (BGET rehabilitates government-installed home solar systems in rural Thailand. Then they offer maintenance services on a utility model.
  • BlueEnergy teaches local people in Eastern Nicaragua how to construct solar panel energy systems. This training provides knowledge for future maintenance as well as jobs for these underserved communities.
  • Grameen Shakti, the energy arm of the Grameen family of institutions in Bangladesh, currently sells over 21,000 solar home systems per month, and sales continue to grow by 50% per year.
  • IDEAAS/The Sun Shines rents solar panels to off-grid households in two states of Brazil.
  • Ilumexico Provides affordable solar energy solutions to impoverished rural areas
  • Kamworks creates innovative solar products for off-grid communities in Cambodia, which are assembled in country to help build local capacity for manufactucturing and maintenance.
  • Light Up The World designs and implements community-based installations of solar home systems with local partner NGOs who can maintain an on-the-ground presence.
  • SELCO provides quality customized solar home lighting systems to poor customers, partnering with banks to provide financing for increased affordability.
  • Shidhulai Affordable Technologies brings free educational resources and low-cost rechargeable lanterns to rural off-grid communities using solar powered boats.
  • Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a nonprofit organization, which partners with local communities worldwide to design, implement, and maintain solar systems that can improve a community’s health, education, agricultural output and economic well being.
  • Sunlabob rents out village-based solar stations, managed by local franchises, where villagers can charge community owned lanterns which can help reduce energy poverty in these areas.
  • Village Tech Solutions works through NGOs to provide solar home systems to communities in rural Nepal who suffer from a lack of energy due to the insufficient and further declining capacity of the nation’s hydropower plants.

Portable Power Products

The solar products consist of small, portable lamps, radios, and other appliances powered by a built-in or attached solar panel. They are a step up from kerosene lamps in that they are brighter, less expensive, safer and cleaner. They are designed to be inexpensive, durable, and low-maintenance, so they can be sold with little training or follow-up.These products are generally sold to those who can’t afford fixed home systems, and usually cost between US$20-50.


Use Cases

  • Angaza Design has developed a small-scale ceiling lamp that is intended to be brighter than other lamps, and is working on a pay-as-you-go system to reduce up-front customer costs.
  • ECCA introduced the Solar Tuki, the first inexpensive solar lantern available in Nepal, and played a large role in the overall introduction of solar lanterns in Nepal.
  • Kamworks has developed the portable “Moonlight” which attaches to a solar panel but can be removed and used elsewhere. Kamworks also provides business opportunities for entrepreneurs by training them and providing them with Moonlights to rent out lights to others in the community.
  • Lifeline Energy is a not-for-profit that develops solar and crank powered radios, lights, and MP3 players and distributes them worldwide through partner NGOs.
  • MicamaSoley is a for-profit energy enterprise in Haiti that sells solar lighting products and clean cookstoves from trusted manufacturers.
  • ONergy focuses on creating full service rural distribution infrastructure for solar technologies in India. ONergy sources its products from manufacturers such as SELCO and works with NGOs and micro entrepreneurs to distribute clean energy solutions through its Renewable Energy Centers.
  • Solar Sister sells solar products through female microentrepreneurs in Uganda.
  • THRIVE designs and builds low-cost LED-based lighting systems to replace kerosene lamps. Systems are primarily distributed through partner NGOs who implement a rent-to-own system designed by THRIVE
  • ToughStuff developed a modular set of products that address three main electricity needs of off-grid consumers – lighting, information, and connectivity – using a lightweight, robust, portable photo-voltaic solar system designed for personal use.
  • VANREPA / Green Power is the for profit arm of VANREPA that specialises in selling and distributing portable solar lights that are designed to work well Vanuatu and other Pacific island nations that experience extended cloud cover.
  • WE CARE Solar provides solar electric kits for medical lighting and communication that are reliable, robust, and low-cost, enabling timely and appropriate emergency care in maternal health facilities and settings without reliable electricity.