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Quality Matters

A recent Lighting Global analysis demonstrates that a rigorous quality assurance framework – which includes product testing and quality standards – remains essential to the health of the off-grid market.

At the end of 2017, Lighting Global tested 17 top-selling, non-quality verified solar products from retail stores in Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Tanzania. All 17 products failed to meet Lighting Global Quality Assurance (QA) standards for pico-PV products, which test for energy efficiency, product durability, and other factors important to off-grid consumer experience. Results indicate that non-quality verified products break more often, more quickly, and for a variety of reasons, undermining consumer confidence and market health.

It is estimated that more than 500 million households worldwide still rely on kerosene as their primary source of fuel for lighting. Kerosene, wood, and other collected fuels are extremely inefficient, dangerous, and expensive. The Lighting Global QA Program, which is managed by CLASP in partnership with the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University and the World Bank Group, contributes to efforts to achieve universal access to energy by helping industry stakeholders easily identify good quality off-grid solar products. The QA program establishes the technical foundations for product testing, supports recently implemented performance policies, and communicates key product quality and performance information to market stakeholders.

Lighting Global designed the study to answer these two questions: Are the prevalent non-quality verified pico-solar products really sub-standard, and, if so, what are their main points of failure? Notable outcomes include:

  • 94% of the tested products fail to meet the standards due to one or more deficiency that affects product durability (including battery protection and durability, physical durability, water ingress protection, and lumen maintenance).
  • 88% of the tested products inaccurately advertise product performance.
  • 88% of the tested products do not include a consumer-facing warranty.

The results of this study give credence to ongoing efforts to adopt and enforce national pico-solar standards, coupled with other market development strategies to increase the uptake of high quality products.

“Quality testing and standards provide the backbone for a healthy off-grid solar market and successful market development partner programs. Moving forward, the entire ecosystem of industry stakeholders, policymakers, donors, and consumers must work together to increase the prevalence of quality verified products in the global market,” according to Itotia Njagi, Lighting Global Program Lead.

This study also provides useful insight into the common shortcomings of non-quality verified products, which helps Lighting Global and other key partners develop a more nuanced understanding of the market and better target efforts to improve product quality. Additional research is needed to more fully understand the quality of “cheap” pico-solar products, and to gain insights about consumer experiences with both sub-standard and high quality products.

Click here to read the full report.

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