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Yibeltal Tebikew Wassie

Muyiwa S. Adaramol

Constraints and problems facing solar PVs use in rural Ethiopia

While solar power could be a big catalyst for change, counterfeit panels are holding back its rollout. But major problems with product quality and after-sales service also exist with legal traders.

That’s the conclusion of a study published in the journal Energy for Sustainable Development that looked at solar photovoltaic (PV) system use in rural households in Ethiopia, which traditionally have relied on kerosene for power.

Read an excerpt here:

"To assess the major constraints and challenges facing the efficient use and widespread adoption of solar lighting systems, solar-user household-heads were asked to identify all the major problems and barriers they encountered through open-ended questions.

 

Poor quality products mainly from illegal/unverified supply sources

The primary challenge facing solar users in rural southern Ethiopia today is the flooding of the market with poor quality and counterfeit products. Many of the solar products currently in use were purchased from illegal (black) markets that have no government approval, nor product guarantee. Consequently, many of the solarusers (47.44%) reported experiencing failure in their solar PV systems, burning of lamps, battery failure, and reduced performance within a short period.

The quality problem, however, does not stop with the black-market dealers. According to the survey respondents and local solar technicians, even solar products from legal suppliers had quality and accountability problems. They underscored that there is little oversight of the quality and execution of guarantees of solar products even from legal suppliers.

 

Lack of after-sales maintenance and technical support (training) service

There lies also a major challenge from the lack of after-sales maintenance and technical support services. This is due in large part to the fact that many of the solar products are acquired from black markets with no installation service or guarantee.

However, even when products are purchased from legal suppliers with a warranty, the chance that solar users will have after-sales maintenance and training services is minimal. Respondents attested that despite having a two-year warranty certificate from the company that sold the product, problems such as early burnout of bulbs, failure of controllers, and fast draining of batteries were not solved.

 

High cost of quality approved products

Although the global price of solar PV modules has decreased sharply in recent years, the high cost of SHSs from legal (licensed) suppliers remains one of the major barriers preventing rural households in the study areas from purchasing higher capacity SHSs.

As a result, many had to buy low-quality SHSs from the black market at lower prices or buy lanterns that have limited capacity and use them only for lighting or mobile charging services.

 

Unreliable supply of solar products from legal importers and retailers

About 30% of solar users surveyed (most of them lanterns users) stated that even when they have the money to purchase higher capacity SHSs, the supply stock from licensed retailers is very limited and they often have to wait for 3 to 6 months until the products reach to local markets. According to local solar PV retailers interviewed, the problem of inadequate stock in part lies in the low purchasing power and working capital of the retailers. Along similar lines, a few solar importer company representatives interviewed stated that the lack of foreign currency in the country has forced them to wait up to a year before they have access to foreign exchange and import the solar products.

 

Lack of alternative and sufficient financing sources

Another hurdle expressed by solar users is the lack of credit financing and loan services to acquire quality-verified products. Since 2012, Ethiopia's government through the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) has launched an energy credit facility to Private Sector Enterprises (PSEs) and Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) to help promote the use of renewable energy and energyefficient technologies in rural/off-grid areas of Ethiopia The DBE receives a forex credit line from the World Bank and provides a loan to PSEs and MFIs. With this credit line, households can get access to solar loans from local MFIs.

A few solar users surveyed who had access to the DBE credit line explained that the solar loan is implemented in such a way that the household first saves a minimum of 5% of the cost of the solar product after which 95% of the cost is covered by the credit from the local MFIs. While these solar users acknowledge the importance of access to the credit, they maintain that the high-interest rate of 15–18% imposed by the MFIs has made the loan repayment too difficult. On the other hand, other solar users interviewed noted that access to the DBE credit line is very difficult since many MFIs are unwilling to provide the loan.

 

Lack of adequate knowledge and operational skill

Most of the households (>75%) surveyed have some level of awareness about solar PVs. Yet, significant (≈28%) number of solar users also stated that they lack the basic technical know-how and operational skills to properly use the products. This has contributed to some of the problems they faced in properly replacing fuses and bulbs, installation of solar PV systems or handling of solar batteries. Against this backdrop, the Solar Energy Foundation (SEF) (Link zu www.stiftung-solarenergie.org) has so far established some 14 solar - centres and trained technicians across Ethiopia. While this initiative taken by SEF plays a key role model in improving the durability and reliability of solar products in the long term once installed, Solar Energy Foundation alone can only meet a fraction of the solar training service demand of the growing number of solar users across the country."

 

Excerpt of: Socio-economic and environmental impacts of rural electrification withSolar Photovoltaic systems: Evidence from southern Ethiopia, by Yibeltal T. Wassie / Muyiwa S.Adaramol (2021), p. 60/61.

 

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