At the end of January 2017 I paid a visit to our recent partner PEG Africa at their Ghana office. PEG Africa provides solar home systems to low income people in rural areas with the objective to electrify 500,000 households in West Africa by 2020. The benefits to households of using the solar home systems include saving on money spent on kerosene and batteries, health benefits in the form of clean energy, and having access to a more reliable source of energy with knock-on benefits for education and safety.
My first day was spent touring around Accra, Ghana’s capital. Although challenging to navigate without the aid of a local, through the dusty alleyways you can find a rich culture of traditional weaving techniques, stunningly colourful clothes, voodoo rituals, countless tribal cultures, and friendly and warm people that make you feel like you’ve known them for years. My guide’s stories brought the dilapidated fort and lighthouse we visited to life. The stories that have resounded in my head include the fact that Ghanaians are a diverse people in terms of tribes, languages and religions, yet inter-tribe relationships are more than normal and communities live together in peace, something the world could take as an example nowadays. Having requested to eat at a typical local restaurant, a tilapia fufu (a type of doughy maize) curry later and I was falling asleep in the back of the jeep on the way back to the hotel.
My first day spent with PEG started off at their head office in Accra which is a light, open working space with lots of orange so naturally, being Dutch, I felt right at home. Management team members held presentations about their respective departments and all came across as vibrant and passionate people. Following on from this, we drove about three hours northwards to visit some of PEG’s customers. A bumpy, windy, narrowing, long road later and we had reached our first customer.
Here was a family of about 10 people living so remotely. The small hut they called home was dark with clothes hanging everywhere, leaving hardly any space to move. Yet inside, a solar lamp was brightening up the room. As we visited the second customer, we could hear his solar-powered radio loud and clear as the family was enjoying the Africa Cup of Nations football. The third customer who seemed more well off, actually had a TV. However, he had no electricity to power it. He said that after finishing paying off the basic solar system package, he would be interested in PEG’s add-on products such as a TV or fridge.
The reasons these customers had opted for solar were to facilitate the education of their children, using the light to do their homework in the evenings. A more practical reason was to protect themselves from encountering scorpions and other dangerous animals in the night. Issues that they faced were mainly related to low mobile network signal which was necessary to make mobile money payments and to unlock the system’s battery. In addition, the majority of customers generate their income through some form of agriculture so their spending pattern varies over the year. Overall, they seemed positive about PEG’s products and services and had all recommended PEG to friends and family.
Although pleased with the positive feedback from its customers, PEG continues to work hard to improve its business. Increasing sales and dealing with issues related to the mobile network are just two of the issues PEG is tackling right now. It’s inspiring to see Oikocredit support PEG on this journey because the social impact of PEG’s work is blatant. Renewable energy partners like PEG are making a tangible difference to everyday lives and it’s fantastic that we’re able to contribute to this.