M-KOPA case study

Affordable access to off-grid solar home systems

The proliferation of affordable access to off-grid solar home systems has played a vital role in helping to improve the lives of millions of households across Africa. Rural households in particular stand to gain the most from access to these products and services, where energy and other household appliances can transform the way they work, live and connect with communities. Furthermore, women stand to disproportionately gain from better access and engagement with off-grid solar home systems, given that they hold primary responsibility for collecting food, water and firewood and running the household activities.

M-KOPA is a solar energy company that was founded in 2012. It has pioneered and built one of the world’s most advanced Pay-As-You-Go platforms and expanded the product line from lighting solutions to fridges and mobile phones. We worked with M-KOPA to undertake an impact study to understand the benefits of a new fridge product, and how these are felt within purchasing households.

The study showed notable benefits with many disproportionately impacting women as female heads of the household:

  • Time savings: through reduced trips to markets and reduced time to  prepare meals – 8 hours saved each month
  • Cost savings: through ability to buy in bulk, reductions in cooking fuel costs and less food waste due to spoilage as a result of being able to store food – $15-20 costs saved per month
  • Lower stress: having a refrigerator was noted to relieve women from rushing to the market and then back home to prepare dinner at a certain hour; many noted that they felt assured that their food is “safe” and “alright”
  • Increased reliability: the refrigerator’s key advantages included increased reliability of cooling due to constant solar power (compared with unreliable alternate electricity sources) and no separate electricity bills.
  • Income gains: through the sale of cold drinks and vaccines where the products were being used by women for commercial purposes, but also converting time to productive labour – 71% women more likely to start business

These findings provide proof of concept that, for the product to be commercially successful, the product design, distribution, marketing and financing options should be tailored around women’s expressed needs, preferences and behaviours. This also demonstrates the business case for women-centred design in off-grid solar products.The path to commercial viability and positive impact for a broader set of households for off-grid refrigeration will rely on building awareness and improving affordability. M-KOPA will continue to innovate on its off-grid solar products to help female customers climb up the energy ladder and make more benefits available to more people.