Escaping Darkness: Understanding Consumer Value in PAYGo Solar

29 December 2017
There are reasons to be both excited and cautious about the expansion of PAYGo solar.
Innovation is messy business, and it is hard to predict just who or what is going to be disrupted. But you cannot understand the true potential of a service or product without knowing how it works for the people whose lives it is meant to improve. Much has been written about the potential of pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) solar to transform energy access and financial inclusion. But, there has been little research on the value—and shortcomings—of this new technology from the perspective of the customer. 
 
CGAP and FIBR—an initiative of BFA in partnership with Mastercard Foundation—wanted to understand the value that customers derived from PAYGo solar, why they decided to purchase it, how they were able to afford it, the manner in which they paid for it, and if they considered the product a “good deal” in the end. 
 
The paper explores below the surface, deeper than most surveys allow. To do that, researchers from BFA conducted 138 long-form household interviews with customers from four different PAYGo providers (M-KOPA, Off Grid Electric, PEG Africa, and Bboxx) in four different markets (Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire). We spoke with cocoa farmers and shopkeepers, artisans and watchmen—customers who offered us a window into their financial lives. 
 
This paper summarizes the results of our research, including the following:
 
The value that customers perceive in being able to pay for solar over time.
The impact of the improved lighting and connectivity on their quality of life.
Who makes the decision to acquire the PAYGo solar home system.
How customers afford PAYGo solar loans.
What causes people to fall behind in payments.
Customers’ understanding of the terms and conditions.
 
The paper highlights the customers’ own words, side-by-side with aggregated insights from the study—a blend of evidence and analysis. Based on customers’ responses, this paper also offers concrete recommendations for how providers can improve customer value. 
 
PAYGo is not a perfect model. There are still risks that must be monitored and managed. The frontiers of affordability can still be expanded. Yet all in all, we found that customers consider PAYGo solar to be an exceptionally good deal, and have generally high opinions of the companies themselves. We asked customers what they thought about PAYGo solar. This is what they told us.