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After-sale support key to boosting off-grid solar

After-sale support key to boosting off-grid solar

After-sale support key to boosting off-grid solar


Off-grid solar energy customers are currently facing several challenges, according to the Why Off Grid Energy Matters report released by US-based impact measurement company 60 Decibels.

The report analyzes issues such as product affordability, gender inequality, customer support, further investment in minigrids, and over-indebtedness, and proposes a series of recommendations to overcome them. The indebtedness recommendation, in particular, stems from reports from 5% of customers surveyed who said they find payments for their energy product or service to be a significant financial burden.

On customer support, Kat Harrison, director at 60 Decibels, told pv magazine there is room for improvement in the way some off-grid energy companies approach after-sale support. Issues ranging from technical faults, to a lack of customer education covering how to effectively use products, risk reputational damage for businesses and the off-grid technologies they sell.

“Some of these challenges prevent end users from unlocking the full benefits of energy access,” she stated. “So many of these markets rely on word of mouth. If your neighbor or friend is sharing their experience of their new solar product – and it doesn’t work or customer service is bad – then people won’t uptake these technologies.”

Despite these challenges, Harrison was positive about the role PV and other off-grid technologies can play in improving energy access globally. “Off-grid energy offers a real opportunity to get us closer to universal energy access, with benefits at a household level, and also a community and national level. We see real productivity, community, and economic impacts,” she added.

Solar lanterns

The report was compiled using survey data from more than 79,000 respondents in 31 countries. Field workers in each country contacted customers directly based on data supplied by 164 companies.

At a product level, the solar lantern offered the greatest return on investment in terms of quality of life improvement, according to the report. Of those surveyed, 64% of respondents with a solar lantern said it had “very much improved” their quality of life, while 62% of those with a residential PV installation said the same.

Around 88% of survey respondents live in Africa and East Africa was the largest region by number of customers surveyed, accounting for 68% of the total. A further 10% of respondents live in Asia and 1% were in Latin America.

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Economic impact

The economic impact of off-grid energy was investigated as part of the survey fieldwork. It revealed that although 26% of off-grid energy customers had increased spending on energy, this was often accompanied by a higher level of service, such as longer-lasting or more reliable electricity access. And while 82% used off-grid energy products at home, 11% said they used off-grid energy in their business or farm, with 7% using energy products in both locations.

Economic gains were reported by those who did use off-grid energy products for business, with 58% stating they had experienced an increase in income due to the energy access.

Financing plays a significant role in off-grid solar deployment, according to the report. Of those surveyed, 74% said they bought energy products using some form of payment plan or loan. That figure rises to 92% when those who installed a PV system at home are considered in isolation.

Economic inclusivity was also examined and minigrids were revealed as the off-grid energy solution with the highest proportion of customers living in poverty. While 41% of all survey respondents were living below global poverty thresholds, 51% of minigrid customers were living in poverty. The survey also found users living in poverty tended to report higher impacts from gaining access to off-grid energy across a range of outcomes.



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