We need more market data and facts!

Many companies and organizations that deal with off-grid electrification repeat mantra-like that 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity. As correct this estimate of people without access to electricity may be, as little it actually says whether there is a market for energy or only a demand. And if there is a market: how big is it? For which applications is energy required? What energy capacities are needed to meet the demand? Which appliances are needed?

The focus of the off-grid discussion is currently often narrowed. Sometimes, the impression arises that you only need to replace the kerosene lamps used by these 1.2 billion people by solar flashlights and the problem is then solved. But the spreading of flashlights is known to have nothing to do with poverty alleviation or rural development. This requires more.

It requires, among other things, the decision of entrepreneurs and investors to seriously and enduringly deal with the demand of these off-grid customers. Only an economically viable supply of clean energy can durably lay the foundation for poverty alleviation and development. But entrepreneurs and investors need facts that show the market potential. There is such data for many energy industries worldwide, for example, for the on-grid PV market. But in the off-grid sector, the facts assessment is very poor. At least in the energy sector. For other industries, such as mobile communication, soft drinks (Coca Cola / Pepsi) or lending by microfinance institutions, you can find market data. And also the big oil companies indubitably know exactly how much kerosene was sold worldwide – and if this happens at a profit or loss.

For the off-grid energy supply with renewable energies, business decisions must still be met based on vague assumptions, individual cases or personal assessments.

To be taken seriously about its concern, the off-grid industry needs therefore more than just the statements that it will contribute to climate saving, that it triggers a social impact and that it promotes health. The industry needs more precise market data and reliable facts. Not only for investors but also for governments and their policy makers. To this end, the following questions must be answered:

            How many jobs can be created in the off-grid industry?

            How large is the sales potential – and thereby the potential for additional tax revenue for a state?

            What are the consequences for a country, if the value-added chain would be extended from distribution and sale also to the manufacture of components (solar panels, batteries, charge controller)?

It may be assumed that the off-grid industry will only achieve a real breakthrough when, besides the social and environmental impacts, also the economic importance can be documented. That would be a task for an off-grid industry association or for one of the big consulting firms such as McKinsey or Ernst & Young.

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