Off-grid solar products have been revolutionizing the quality of life in Africa, especially in areas where energy access remains a challenge. According to the Social Impact Metrics from the Global Off-grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), over 76 million people worldwide have benefited from improved energy access from off-grid lighting products.
Consumers are saving over GBP 2.6 billion from savings on lighting and phone charging costs compared to traditional energy sources. The broader societal benefits from better education, health, employment opportunities and environment are multi-fold. Therefore, many African governments, international agencies and private companies see off-grid solar as an opportunity to not only provide quick and affordable energy access, but also to meet broader sustainable development goals.
The most promising off-grid lighting devices are Solar Portable Lights (SPL) and off-grid Solar Home Systems (SHS). They typically consist of one or more photovoltaic modules (PV), components to provide light or charge electric devices and battery storage. Depending on the component quality, these products are used for 3-5 years.
Current waste volumes from this sector are almost negligible, in proportion to the quantity and environmental impact of the total e-waste stream. This report’s estimate of the expected volumes of end-of-life off-grid solar products in the 14 Energy Africa countries includes three case studies in Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda. The estimates show that off-grid products represent less than 0.5% of the overall e-waste stream. In 2014, an estimated 2,500 t of off-grid solar products were put on the market, and only 800 t were expected in the waste stream, as compared to nearly 850,000 t of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) put on market, and 460,000 t of Waste EEE (WEEE).
The overall economic impact for off-grid solar products is expected to be in the range of GBP 7.8m to 9.4m in 2017, varying from approximately 0.1 to 2.5% of product price. This estimate considers expected volumes across Africa and the potential collection and recycling costs. Due to rapid sector growth, the estimated volumes are expected to pass 10,000t by 2020. Therefore, the report makes the case for developing the end-of-life (EOL) management of off-grid solar products without delay.
Approaching the inflexion point of rapid and widespread adoption, pro-actively developing EOL systems is key. Such systems should be efficient, effective, transparent and equitable. Based on the experiences in Africa and globally, the following is proposed:
- Establish targeted pilot-projects in collection and recycling of off-grid PV products, ideally with Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) suppliers which provide interesting opportunities for return logistics.
- Develop targeted industry position papers as input for more efficient national legislation, which is based on more solid facts and figures.
- Develop awareness raising campaigns specifically designed for sound EOL management for off-grid PV products.
Practical suggestions are also made to support the three core recommendations above:
- Enhance partnerships with related industries to achieve joint solutions,
- Develop practical toolkits for EOL management,
- Create national focal groups, and
- Develop options to overcome barriers in order to ship critical fractions to recyclers in other countries.
This report and compact has been written by Federico Magalini, Deepali Sinha-Khetriwal, David Rochat, Jaco Huismann, Seth Munyambu, Joseph Oliech, Innocent Chidi Nnorom and Olivier Mbera and produced by Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by HTSPE Limited and IMC Worldwide Limited.