‘I used to sell only 2 sodas a day, now I can sell on average over 20’.
This statement summarises the experience of Joseph, an entrepreneur who lives in Masaka, a town to the southwest of Uganda’s capital Kampala. We have selected him alongside 35 other shop owners in southwestern and eastern Uganda to test the 17 best fridges emerged from the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition, which is funded by Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development partners, the UK Department for International Development, Power Africa and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
After two weeks to one month of trialling the fridges, of which most are solar powered, all entrepreneurs have recorded an increase in customers and sales.
Joseph’s sales went up especially because he can now store and sell soft drinks. Meanwhile, Resty, who also owns a shop, highlighted that the solar-powered fridge she is testing consumes less energy than traditional ones. Moreover, she is no longer making losses because juices stay fresh longer. Ibrahim is the only person who owns a fridge in his village of over 1,000 inhabitants, which has resulted in sales increase.
All the entrepreneurs interviewed in July by prize evaluators from Nesta and implementing partners Energy 4 Impact and Clasp, agreed that the refrigerators are impacting their businesses positively. Not only have they acquired more customers, but could also diversify the type of goods offered. Joseph, for example, can now sell locally packed water in plastic bags and home-made fresh juice, and hopes to start selling watermelon and yoghurt as well.
A key goal of the Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition is to create awareness of and increase demand for solar-powered fridges, helping to create a new market. The prize’s impact on demand, albeit on a small scale, is evident from our interviewees answers. After experiencing first-hand the benefits of using the fridges, they are all willing to buy them if prices permit.
Entrepreneurs also indicated that they would use solar power for other purposes as well, from lighting to phone charging. Other advantages experienced include good lighting quality, longer business operation hours, increased safety due to fewer risks of electrocution compared to on-grid electricity and a more reliable supply. Importantly, solar fridges offer an alternative to candles and highly toxic kerosene lamps.
‘Before solar, I would walk far to charge my phone. Now it saves time as my phone is always on’, says Agnes, one of the shop owners interviewed.
All entrepreneurs would like to see others using these fridges. Field testing has also aroused curiosity of their friends, who have approached them with the intention of acquiring refrigerators. In this regard, lack of information is an issue because they don’t know many places where they could buy them. Affordability remains a concern too. However, increased savings and revenues resulting from the use of solar fridges were mentioned as factors that would make the investment worthwhile.
We think field testing shows that there is huge opportunity for this new market both for producers and consumers and the positive signals so far seems to bode well for the sustainability of the competition.
After field testing, we will award the best fridge in October based on appropriate design, user experience and energy efficiency, so watch this space!
About The Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development
The Scaling Off-Grid Energy (SOGE) Grand Challenge for Development is a global partnership founded by the US Agency for International Development, Power Africa, the UK Department for International Development, the African Development Bank, and independent charity, the Shell Foundation. SOGE works to accelerate growth in the off-grid energy market to provide 20 million households in sub-Saharan Africa with access to modern, clean and affordable energy.
Cover photo: Resty (right) is one of the 36 Ugandan shop owners who are testing the best fridges emerged from the first stage of the UK Aid-funded Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition. Credit: Efficiency for Access Coalition.