Solar Photovoltaics

A compelling asset class for the off-grid market

Although there is no single ‘magic bullet’ solution to the problem of energy access, and investment in a wide range of clean energy solutions will be needed, solar PV is a particularly attractive technology for off-grid markets for a number of reasons:

Easy maintenance - a solar panel has no moving parts, and so is easy to maintain. Once installed it can last for over 20 years, generating daily enough energy to light a home, charge a mobile phone, power a radio or small fan, or work an appliance such as a sewing machine for several hours. 

Minimal operating costs - the lack of a physical feedstock eliminates logistical issues around fuel management – there is no fuel requiring transportation/storage, and no further operating costs once the upfront costs of installation have been met.

Modularity - Solar PV units are modular and can be easily built up from 2.5W to 200W+ panels as household income increases. Market penetration can therefore begin with the simplest appliances – small solar lanterns and their chargers – and then be built over time as customer acceptance and income increase. Modularity can also support growth of solar systems large enough to power economic activities to revitalize the village economy.

Strong and growing demand - Solar PV technology dovetails perfectly with two other technological revolutions that are taking place in developing countries, namely ultra-efficient LEDs for lighting that are far superior to all alternatives and require minimal power, and mobile telephony which is becoming prevalent even in remote rural areas. The combination of these two transformational technologies for the poor means that there are compelling reasons for even the lowest income households to demand and be willing to pay for small 2W solar chargers. Solar PV is the ideal technology for charging mobile phones in remote rural areas with no grid access. No other energy technology, whether renewable or otherwise, offers this convenience at this scale.

Cost - solar PV technology has been experiencing a dramatic decline in price over the last few years due to rapid breakthroughs in technology and introduction of disruptive new technologies such as solar thin-film. Although the trend is not always uniform, overall module prices have declined from over $8 per peak watt at the beginning of this century to about $0.60 per watt today.