Solar Solution to Lack of Electricity in Africa

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


Electricity is critical to improving human development and living standards. Yet, for many in the global South, electricity is either non-existent or its provision is patchy, erratic, unreliable or expensive.

Just as Africa has been able to jump a generation ahead when it comes to communications through the mass adoption of mobile phones – a much cheaper option than trying to provide telephone wires and cables across the continent – so it could also bypass the burdensome costs of providing electricity mains to everyone by turning to smaller electricity generation technologies such as solar power. This is called “off-grid” electricity.

The UN has set the goal of universal access to modern energy services by 2030. A report issued in April 2010 by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC) calls for expanding energy access to more than 2 billion people (

The report found that a lack of access to modern energy services represents a significant barrier to development. Some 1.6 billion people still lack access to electricity.

A reliable, affordable energy supply, the report says, is the key to economic growth and the achievement of the anti-poverty targets contained in the Millennium Development Goals.

When a person has electricity and the lighting it powers, it is possible to do business and study late into the night. Electric lighting also makes streets and living areas safer. Electricity can power a plethora of labour-saving and life-enhancing consumer goods: televisions, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners and fans, washing machines, clothes dryers, computers. And electricity recharges that most essential item, the mobile phone, on which millions rely to do their daily business.

After witnessing the struggle African health clinics have to access electricity, a Nairobi, Kenya-based company has developed a simple solution to ensure a steady supply of solar electricity. One Degree Solar’s ( founder, Gaurav Manchanda, developed and sells the BrightBox solar-charging system for lights, mobile phones, tablet computers and radios.

He first gained experience working in the West African nation of Liberia with the Clinton Health Access Initiative ( Working at the country’s Ministry of Health, he found most health clinics operated without electricity.

He identified solar power as the only viable energy source. Trying to deliver fuel to power generators by the road network had two impediments: the diesel fuel was expensive and the road conditions were poor.

After seeing that large solar-power systems required significant maintenance and upkeep, he started to explore the possibility of low-cost, and simple-to-use solar electricity products that would be useful to community healthcare workers.

This became the beginning of One Degree Solar and its mission.

The company’s main product is the BrightBox, a cleverly designed solar charger. A bright orange box with a folding, aluminum handle at the top for easy carrying, it switches on and off simply with a bright red button. It has a waterproof solar panel. The BrightBox has USB (universal service bus) ( ports so that mobile phones and radios can be plugged in. It is also possible to plug in four lights at once with the four outports on the side of the box.

It meets the standards set by the Lighting Africa initiative ( of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank.

One Degree Solar claim it is possible to set up a BrightBox in 10 minutes. When the indicator light has turned green, the box is fully charged and capable of providing 40 hours of light.

A full charge can power two light bulbs for 20 hours. Manchanda told How We Made It In Africa ( that he has sold 4,000 units of the BrightBox since its launch in October 2012.

According to The Nation, the BrightBox is currently retailing in Kenya for Kenyan shillings 7,000 (US $82).

One Degree Solar’s product range is sold to local resellers and distributors. The products are designed to be repaired using locally sourced parts and can be fixed by local electricians.

Most of the sales so far have been in Kenya but the firm has also sold units to other countries.

Testimonials on the BrightBox website tell of the transformation to people’s lives the clean energy source makes: “BrightBox has helped us in so many ways! We used to spend 800 Shillings (US $9.50) a month for two paraffin lanterns. The fumes smelled and always made us feel sick.”

Manchanda is a strong believer in Africa’s potential and its future and dismisses those who are negative about the continent.

“That was not a holistic assessment, but rather, an unnecessary and damaging generalization,” he told How We Made It In Africa. “Fortunately, most news outlets in Africa are now available online and offer a wider range of perspectives. The middle class is booming in certain countries. We have seen the success of mobile phones in enabling people to access other services. I think hope and progress come with innovation. Technology access has helped create entirely new markets and reach populations that otherwise could have taken decades to service with traditional approaches.

“India was in a similar space 15 years ago before the Internet boom, and today parts of Nairobi (Kenya) are just like Delhi (India): people have a cell phone or two, there are large shopping malls, a booming middle class, and new construction everywhere.”


Global Off-Grid Lighting Association: Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) has been established to act as the industry advocate with a focus on small and medium enterprises. It is a neutral, independent, not-for-profit association created to promote lighting solutions that benefit society and businesses in developing and emerging markets. GOGLA will support industry in the market penetration of clean, quality alternative lighting systems. Website:

Solar Sister: Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. Website:

Solarpod: Sunbird Solar/Thousand Suns manufactures, sources and distributes the portable solar generator range. Website:

4) Little Sun: An attractive, high-quality solar-powered lamp in the shape of a hand-sized sun developed by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen. Website:

Southern Innovator logo

London Edit

31 July 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2022


NSD partners in bitter row over choice of satellite as Brussels deadline nears

DTH Scandinavia

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), September 21, 1995

ISSN: 02654717

OCLC Number / Unique Identifier: 1266447669

The controversial Nordic Satellite Distribution consortium is in danger of collapsing because of a row between two of its three big shareholders.

The row, between Swedish programmer Kinnevik and Norwegian telephone company Telenor, threatens the chances of the consortium coming up with a restructuring that will win acceptance from European Commission competition officials.

NSD has been trying to turn the 1 degree West orbital position – home to the Thor and TV Sat-2 satellites – into Scandinavia’s “hot bird” position. But Kinnevik also plans to take a substantial slice of capacity on the Swedish Space Corporation’s planned digital satellite Sirius-2, at 5 degrees East. Telenor is furious.

It is demanding that Kinnevik drop the plan and also give up its existing transponders at the 5 degrees East position, on the Tele-X and Sirius-1 satellites. Kinnevik already plans to give up its Astra transponders, to the relief of Telenor.

Kinnevik is buying capacity on the rival system simply as a way of hedging its bets. Sirius-2, with 16 transponders offering a mix of digital and analogue channels for the Scandinavian market, could become a powerful satellite and Kinnevik is worried that a strong rival service might be developed on it. The company is thought to be negotiating for six of the 16 transponders (another 16 transponders are aimed at the rest of Europe).

Per Bendix, chairman of the NSD, said that the group could continue without Kinnevik, although it would be difficult to find another company with such large pockets.

He downplayed the rows between the shareholders: “Of course, there are tensions between Kinnevik and Telenor. You can’t imagine a process like this, a complicated business deal, without some frictions which create some warmth. None of the partners can stop this initiative, it has gained too much momentum.”

TeleDanmark, the third member of NSD, has tried to play a mediating role between Telenor and Kinnevik.

One source close to the consortium said: “Kinnevik is definitely interested in investigating other satellite operators for the digital future. The company is known for doing exactly as it pleases, which clashes with Telenor which is trying to get 1 degree West into shape.”

Kinnevik and Telenor have clashed repeatedly over Kinnevik’s refusal to give up the 5 degrees East position, where it transmits five channels on Sirius. The issue has been exacerbated for Telenor by the fact that the mostly unencrypted Sirius/Tele-X package has achieved a better penetration than the encrypted Thor package.

The two companies have also been at loggerheads over the restructuring of the consortium, forced upon it by the European Commission.

Last July, competition commissioner Karel Van Miert ruled that NSD, which was planned as a vertically-integrated company providing programming, subscriber management and satellite capacity, was anti-competitive.

He ruled that NSD would “create or strengthen a permanent dominant position as a result of which effective competition would be significantly impeded” in the Nordic market for satellite broadcasting. It would dominate the provision of satellite transponders in Scandinavia, cable television in Denmark and direct-to-home pay-television distribution.

Bendix, with the backing of Telenor, has been trying to broaden the shareholder base by bringing in other Scandinavian programmers. But Kinnevik opposes the move because it does not think that it will meet Brussels’ concerns. It also does not want to play second fiddle to other programmers.

The shareholders have looked at other options, including one of splitting NSD into separate companies covering transponder-leasing, subscriber management and programming. The companies could have different ownership. Pele Tornberg, Kinnevik’s deputy managing director, would not say what alternative plan Kinnevik is proposing.

NSD has until next month to present Brussels with a revised shareholding structure.

Helsinki Media, the Finnish broadcaster, has rejected an approach to rejoin NSD, which it left in 1994 in a row over Kinnevik’s influence. President Tabio Kallioja said that the company maintained its view that NSD gave Kinnevik a stranglehold on the allocation of satellite capacity to other programmers. He added that Helsinki Media was interested in the plans for digital satellite television being developed by NetHold and by Telia Media, owned by the Swedish PTT, Telia.

More from New Media Markets and Screen Finance:

New Media Markets and Screen Finance

New Media Markets and Screen Finance were published by the Financial Times in the 1990s.

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2023


Research Reviews | 2001 – 2002


Research Review 2001: A Year of Excellence and Innovation 

Britain’s best-loved children’s hospital and charity, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH), contracted me to lead a two-year project to modernise the hospital’s web presence and take its brand into the 21st century.


Research Review 2002: Building on Success 

In 2003, the UK’s Guardian newspaper called the Children First website one of the “three most admired websites in the UK public and voluntary sectors,” and a UK government assessment called the overall GOSH child health web portal a role model for the NHS.
“A highly attractive website written by and with children at Britain’s biggest specialist hospital for children. The site is carefully segmented for different age groups and provides a powerful platform on which children can reach out from the confines of their hospital wards, share their experiences and learn about a range of medical issues as well as have access to fun interactive resources.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


© David South Consulting 2021

Archive Blogroll

Do TV porn channels degrade and humiliate?

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (London, UK), October 26, 1995

ISSN: 02654717

OCLC Number / Unique Identifier: 1266447669

Susan Sontag, the renowned American essayist, described pornography as a “crutch for the pyschologically deformed and brutalisation of the morally innocent.” The Campaign Against Pornography in the UK believes that pornography exploits women and children “in a degrading and humiliating way, often with the message that we enjoy this and want to be abused.”

The campaign encourages its supporters to take direct action against any distributor of pornographic material as part of its wider campaign to put the industry out of business.

The porn channels dismiss arguments that they degrade women and encourage male violence against women. Playboy managing director Rita Lewis argues that “women are happy to consume erotic imagery like pin-ups. Women are not hung-up by this anymore, they are not threatened by the fantasy women we show in our programming. We hope Playboy will lead to couples’ making love together.”

Andrew Wren, financial director of the Adult Channel, also dismisses the link between pornographic programming and sexual violence. “I don’t think there is anything in programmes that would encourage men to go and rape. Women are interested in sex as men are.”

Television X’s (Deric) Botham says that porn programmes are “a bit of titilation” in the fine, upstanding tradition of the British Carry On films. None the less, he admits that “I wouldn’t want my daughter to get involved in pornography.”

He says that the women involved in the programmes, some of them housewives, are willing participants and enjoy the opportunity. “I don’t produce anything that is against the law. We speak to the individuals concerned. If you have a reluctant model, it doesn’t work – I just won’t buy the video.”

The Campaign Against Pornography sees it all rather differently. Ann Mayne, a member of the campaign’s management committee, was particularly critical of two programmes on Television X – Shag Nasty and Mutley and Fly on the Wall.

She said that Shag Nasty and Mutley, in which a presenter approaches women in the street or in supermarkets and offers them £25 to look at their knickers, or £50 to be filmed having sex with him, gave the message that women were simply objects and that it was acceptable to harass them.

“It is complete prostitution of female sexuality,” she said. “Botham wants full-on, across-the-board prostitution of women. In his view, every woman must have a price.”

Mayne said that Fly on the Wall, in which real-life couples are shown having sex, was an open invitation for men to coerce their partners into being filmed, possibly to the point of abuse.

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Read more on the 1990s sex economy here: From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report On The Sex-For-Money Revolution

Update: It is over 20 years since this Special Report was published. The Internet now plays a significant role in the growth of sex content and the sex industry and vice versa. Here is an interesting overview of the situation in 2020. The Internet is for Porn – It always was, it always will be.

“One of the biggest and most interesting things happening in the consumer web right now is running almost completely under the radar. It has virtually zero Silicon Valley involvement. There are no boastful VCs getting rich. It is utterly absent from tech’s plethora of twitters, fora and media (at least, as they say, “on main”). Indeed, the true extent of its incredible success has gone almost completely unnoticed, even by its many, many, many customers.

I’m talking, of course, about OnlyFans.” 


© David South Consulting 2023