Successful pilot shows localised repair as viable solution to 91% of non-functioning solar lights across Zambia


SolarAid is a UK-based, pioneering international charity tackling poverty and climate change by providing access to clean, safe solar lights in underserved rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In the latest research emerging from their pioneering solar light repair pilot in Zambia, ”Solar Saver: second-generation lights”, findings are showing that not only tend 90% of customers not to throw out non-functioning solar products, storing them in the hope of being able to use them again in the future, 91% of products were also successfully repaired, illustrating the size of the potential repair market.

Since 2010, an estimated 150 million Solar Energy Kits have been distributed throughout Africa, revolutionising electricity access for millions of off-grid and rural households. However, it is estimated that nearly 75% (110 million) of these products have fallen into disrepair. These new findings points to the opportunity of reducing electronic waste in countries currently lacking access to effective recycling.

With recycling currently unable to play a major role in addressing these potential waste flows, due to high logistical costs and a lack of relevant infrastructure, ahead of International E-Waste day 14th October, SolarAid is now advocating for a more salient response to address the rise of non-functioning solar products across the continent by focusing on repair and extending the lifespan of solar products.

Together with the University of New South Wales they are publishing a white paper on the potential of repair in rural communities “Off Grid Solar Repair in Africa: From Burden to Opportunity?”, aiming to share knowledge and learnings to facilitate replication of their successful repair pilot across the continent. 

Fred Mwale, Project Manager on the programme in Zambia says“The results coming out of this pilot are showing clearly the opportunities that the circular economy could serve in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is an ineffective recycling system but a vibrant repair economy serving rural areas.”

In their pilot programme, SolarAid tested decentralised local repair models, which they discovered built trust in the rural communities and further benefited local business and speed of repair.

While aiming to keep testing and sharing learnings, hoping the model will be adopted and scaled by distributors, SolarAid are also recognising existing barriers to fully realise a vibrant repair economy for these products. 

Jamie McCloskey, Director of Programmes and Partnerships at SolarAid says, “This programme shows there is a huge opportunity to reduce electronic waste and give second life to solar products across the continent. But there is also a big need for more investment to build an enabling environment with repair capacity, as well as policy changes and manufacturer buy-in, such as repair standards and access to spares.” 

Rodgers Mwamba, newly trained Repair Technician in Zambia says,

“I want to teach my fellow technicians on proper disposal of electronic waste because it is not only batteries that are harmful to the environment, some other electronic components also have adverse effects when not disposed of well (…) The effects of climate change have been felt here, things like change in rainfall patterns and sometimes drought.”