There is a clear potential for off-grid products to play a significant role in the energy market in the DRC
While the DRC is endowed with colossal natural resources that could ensure the population’s access to electricity, the Congo River basin remains the world’s largest untapped source of renewable hydroelectric energy – only 2.5% of hydroelectric potential is exploited. Instead, traditional biomass dominates, representing 95% of total energy consumption in 2009. Electricity accounted for only 2%.
With such low rates of electricity usage, there is clearly potential for modern, off-grid lighting to play a significant role in the energy market. Trust in solar products, however, has been hampered by the domination of informal street vendors selling poor quality products that don’t last.
Analysis and pilot project
The Government of DRC recognized the immediate and ongoing need for energy in off-grid communities, and the need to promote quality products. Thus, together with Lighting Africa’s support, they developed a US$ 1.5 million program sub-component of the 2006 Regional and Domestic Power Markets Development Project (PMEDE) for off-grid lighting. This has focused on analytic studies and a pilot project for market seeding. Together, these activities aim to increase awareness, access, and understanding of solar lighting products that have been quality-verified and meet our Standards.
The pilot project, which is still ongoing, has been helping to introduce solar lighting and energy products into communities. 20,000 solar lanterns are being provided to social institutions in selected off-grid districts for use by key community influencers, such mayors, teachers and healthcare professionals in their day-to-day work. In addition, 5,000 basic plug-and-play Solar Home Systems are being distributed to town halls, schools and healthcare facilities. These products will remain the public property of the local authority or organization to which they are entrusted. These activities are implemented in partnership with local retailers ensuring that the demand created by increased market awareness can be met with supply.
The pilot is implemented in partnership with the Cellule d’Appui Technique à l’Énergie (CATE) of the Ministry of Energy and Hydraulic Resources and in collaboration with other relevant line ministries.
Only a few years ago the market for quality, off-grid solar products was virtually non-existent in DRC. A fledgling market is now growing in the country, although it remains concentrated in a few regions to date. Looking ahead, we aim to catalyze this market across the country. Market intelligence studies can help tackle the reluctance of some manufacturers to engage due to perceived risk and difficulty of investing in DRC. Consumer education campaigns help to identify quality products and understand their benefits. Public sector engagement, for example training key officials and ensuring tax breaks for quality-verified products, can play an important role in creating a receptive environment.