If you were asked to say the first thing that comes into your head when someone says the word solar you would probably say the sun or solar lights.

However, increasingly solar power is being used for a lot more than just providing light. Solar for productive use is an important dynamic within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It can underpin a number of the 17 different SDGs including clean water and sanitation, gender equality, job creation and economic growth. Ultimately helping individuals and businesses to flourish supports the entrepreneurial spirit of many African countries. In 2015, Virgin reported Uganda as the most entrepreneurial country in the world – pointing out that entrepreneurs don’t have to be like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, and in most cases starting a business is simply a tool for survival.

Virgin Unite, Energise Africa

Solar can help businesses thrive, whether it be refrigeration for selling consumer goods, or the so called “business in a box” – typically barbers kits or TVs where ‘would be’ entrepreneurs can almost instantaneously set up a business and then payback the cost of the equipment via an affordable payment plan.

Outlined below are some great examples of the life changing benefits that individuals and families are experiencing as a result of solar energy. These are actual customers of the pioneering solar businesses that are raising investment via Energise Africa. These people are demonstrating how solar can provide entrepreneurs with the tools they need to build sustainable businesses which can drive economic development.

Patience is a female business owner in rural Uganda. She runs a small local store, that provides her with income to look after her young family. Since getting solar, she has installed fridges, meaning she can sell cold drinks and refrigerated food to her customers, without the worry of high bills or power cuts. Since getting her solar system, Patience’s shop’s popularity has greatly increased and her customer numbers multiplied. 

Image of solar panels

Mary runs a barbershop in rural Uganda and has been earning a living from cutting hair for 15 years.  Recently, she purchased a solar system which provides her shop with reliable and affordable electricity, meaning she can use electric razors for haircuts and stay open longer - increasing her turnover and profits by 30 per cent. 

Since using solar, the crop irrigation now only takes half a day per week. This is a huge labour and time saving for Hajji, which can be used to expand the crops he farms.

However, the benefits of solar energy aren’t just limited to retail businesses - solar can be especially useful when supporting agriculture. Smallholdings (farms less than five hectares) have been the major economic driver for people in sun Saharan Africa and will continue to be a key source of development for the future. 

Solar panels

We are now seeing the emergence of younger, entrepreneurial farmers who are keen to take advantage of technology to create the best value for their crops and expand their holdings. In a sector that directly employs about 175 million people, smallholder agriculture is particularly important for women, as around 70 per cent of smallholders are female.

Increasingly however, the impact of climate change means farming families are experiencing challenges such as uncertain rainfall, water shortages and rising temperatures. All of this impacts on food production and reduces crop yields.

Hajji Ssenkere Umar is a farmer who grows tomatoes, cabbages and matoke (green bananas pounded to a mash) on his small farm, which is about the size of a soccer pitch. He used to spend 150,000 Ugandan shillings a month – (15 per cent of his salary) – to irrigate the farm by hand from a nearby pond. This job previously took three days every week.

In 2017, they bought a solar water pump which he is paying for via affordable monthly instalments over two years. Since using solar, the crop irrigation now only takes half a day per week. This is a huge labour and time saving for Hajji, which can be used to expand the crops he farms.

Whilst some people may have seen solar as a stop gap whilst communities become connected to the grid, the reality is that solar is increasingly seen as a long-term solution and distributed power in whatever form is a key part of not only Africa’s strategic energy plans but also its economic development.

Given the tremendous solar energy potential that exists in the region we’re hoping that this is the start of the solar boom and as such we as Energise Africa can help in accelerating the progress towards UN SDG7 – universal access to affordable clean energy and reach 600 million people by 2030!

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

- Please be aware that when investing via Energise Africa your capital is at risk and returns are not guaranteed.