The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 1.5 billion people still lack electricity.

Solar_PanelsInnovations in solar energy have the potential to bring electricity to much of the rural poor in developing countries.

The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 1.5 billion people—including 89% of rural sub-Saharan Africa—still lack electricity. African villages tend to rely on diesel generators and highly toxic kerosene lamps for light, even in rural clinics, despite the risk of respiratory diseases.

Solar power, however, is starting to make inroads in locations where extending the electric grid may not make economic sense. Various solar applications are becoming more affordable thanks to such technological innovations as photovoltaic panels that use thin films; light bulbs that capture energy during the day to provide light at night; and solar mobile-phone chargers.

Speaking at a conference on solar lighting in Africa earlier this year in Nairobi, Kenya, Johannes Zutt, a World Bank country director based in east Africa, said that as recently as 2008 there were only a handful of quality solar products under $50. Today, he says, “there is a wide variety of products between $25 and $50.”

Rural communities in developing countries could be a bounty for solar companies. For just sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank estimates the off-grid electricity market at $17 billion a year.

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Source: Benoit Faucon | The Wall Street Journal