The off-grid solar revolution

Off-grid solar powered products are booming and giving millions of people access to electricity

By Antoinette Price

We don’t think twice about using lights at home during the day or after dark. We have also got used to charging our smart phones wherever we are – at the airport, on a train or in the office – so that we can make online purchases, read the news, send messages, do banking or make a call. When we forget our phones or there is a blackout for an hour and we can’t watch television, use the computer or boil the kettle, we find it very annoying, but imagine if this were the norm.

Pico solar technology for charging a mobile phone (Photo:

Turning on the lights

The 1,2 billion people who live without access to the power grid spend about USD 27 billion each year on lighting and mobile-phone charging with kerosene, candles, battery torches or other fossil-fuel powered technologies, according to the Off-grid solar market trends report 2016, commissioned by the Worldbank through its Lighting Global programme.

Solar powered light and home kits are cheaper, cleaner and more efficient and in the last five years, this industry has seen rapid growth. Pico-solar products, by definition have a photovoltaic (PV) panel smaller than 10W, and the large majority are portable lights. According to the report, by mid-2015, 20 million pico-solar devices had been sold, improving energy access for around 89 million people in Africa and Asia.

Pico-solar goes mainstream

Pico-solar is becoming mainstream for millions of people who cannot wait for the traditional grid infrastructure to reach them. Additionally, as solar power home systems continue to evolve, the report estimates that by 2020 seven million off-grid households in the developing world will use solar-powered fans and 15 million solar-powered televisions.

Ensuring quality products

In the pico-solar industry, the market share of cheap generic or unbranded products is at least as big as that of the quality-brand market. For this reason it is imperative to make sure that these vital products are up to standard.

The IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE) offers global testing and certification systems based on International Standards, to ensure safety, quality, efficiency and overall performance of components, devices and equipment for homes, offices and health facilities, including for pico-solar products.  

IEC Technical Committee (TC) 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems, produced a Technical Specification, IEC TS 62257-9-5:2013, which covers recommendations for small renewable energy and hybrid systems for rural electrification including the selection of stand-alone lighting kits.

Lighting Global aims to provide an opportunity to reduce the presence of low quality products in these markets through the Lighting Global Quality Assurance (QA) framework, which is based on IEC TS 62257-9-5.

Find out more about how International Standards are being used globally to certify products in the e-tech article Electricity access for everyone, everywhere.

Pico_solar_home_system Pico solar home system is an autonomous, mobile energy system for rural electrification (Photo:
Pico_solar_mobile_charger Pico solar technology for charging a mobile phone (Photo:
Pico_solar_controller Pico solar controller (Photo: