Global LEAP Awards
Efficiency for Access
7 min readOct 16, 2020


Credit: SolarAid

The Global LEAP Awards are an international competition to identify and promote the world’s best, most energy-efficient off-grid appliances. In 2019, the Global LEAP Awards launched the inaugural Solar E-waste Challenge to identify innovations in solar e-waste management across sub-Saharan Africa. Through a rigorous evaluation process, the competition selected eight winners spanning five countries to implement projects in consumer awareness, take-back and collection, product reuse, repair & recycling. This blog series explores solar e-waste ecosystems and provides insights into each company’s unique challenges and opportunities.

“We hope that through our Solar E-Waste Challenge project, we can show the necessary steps to enable repair for off-grid solar products. We want to see products better designed for repair and for the [off-grid solar] sector to coordinate more efficiently to source replacement parts.”

-Courtney Paisley, Project Manager at SunnyMoney

After more than a decade in Zambia, SolarAid’s social enterprise SunnyMoney remains committed to provide solar lights to the most vulnerable communities. Through the Global LEAP Awards Solar E-Waste Challenge, SunnyMoney is building a solar product repair ecosystem in-country to support bottom of the pyramid customers.

Zambia’s Increasing Demand for Solar Energy

“Our mission is to leave no one in the dark by 2030 so we focus on small, affordable pico solar lights. Since 2008, we have sold almost 300,000 lights to dispersed, hard-to-reach communities across Zambia,” explains Karla Kanyanga, SunnyMoney Operations Director.

Over the past few years, load shedding has become a debilitating reality for grid-connected Zambians and is driving solar sales in urban areas. When SunnyMoney applied for the Challenge, electricity in the capital Lusaka routinely cut for 12–16 hours a day, seven days a week.

“About 30% of the Zambian population has access to the grid, but only 4% of the rural population has access. With load shedding, the grid-connected population is looking for alternative energy sources. Our urban light sales have increased ten times this year, but we are committed to our mission and will continue to provide services to the rural poor.”

Many solar actors have come to Zambia over the past decade to address growing energy needs, but there remains minimal infrastructure to manage products at end-of-life.

Electronic Waste in Zambia is Largely Untouched

“When we were applying for the Solar E-Waste Challenge, we went to the Solar Association of Zambia but they did not know of any workable solutions. They wanted to learn what SunnyMoney could find out about managing e-waste,” elaborated Kanyanga.

No solar company SunnyMoney contacted had comprehensive e-waste management plans in place. Most companies were storing products in hopes that one day formal recycling infrastructure would become available.

Mr. Nsolo tests voltage in his repair shop. Choma, Zambia

A challenge for e-waste management in Zambia is the lack of sufficient materials: “Because we have a relatively small and spread out population, companies say that there isn’t enough materials to make e-waste profitable here. The only option is to ship it abroad to Namibia or South Africa for processing, but that’s a huge cost-burden.”

Because batteries are the most common fault in solar products, sourcing replacements and recycling EoL batteries plays an important role in sustainable e-waste management. However, SunnyMoney has struggled to source replacement parts for out-of-warranty products and recyclers who will process smaller quantities of batteries.

“Recycling is a numbers game. Even if we organize all of the solar actors in Zambia together, we may still not have enough material to work with,” Kanyanga explained.

Because batteries cannot be disposed of in-country, the Zambian government set importation limitations, making it extremely difficult to source replacements. Lithium-ion batteries are not duty/VAT free so taxes alone could bring up the cost by 35%.

To address some of these challenges, SunnyMoney is developing the local repair ecosystem and researching e-waste management opportunities for the wider solar sector.

The Global LEAP Awards Solar E-Waste Challenge Project

Through the Solar E-Waste Challenge, SunnyMoney is focusing on life-extension repair services for off-grid solar lights. Their Challenge project aims to:

  • Pilot an incentivized voucher scheme
  • Develop a customized app
  • Set up and equip the repair centers
  • Establish a partnership with a recycler for safe disposal of collected items

SunnyMoney is developing an innovative incentive scheme to encourage the take-back of EoL products from customers in Southern Province. The consumer awareness campaign informs customers of the dangers of e-waste and encourages them to bring their broken or EoL products to dispersed SunnyMoney technicians.

Mr. Nsolo at his repair shop in Choma, Zambia.

“We are trying to understand what is needed for repair to become financially feasible to run independently. Our goal is to create a repair ecosystem where repair people are informed and can easily locate and order spare parts; consumers can easily identify repair workers; and products are used until they truly reach end-of-life.”

The solar lights obtained through the take-back scheme will inform the development of repair guides that will be made available through a manual and mobile app. SunnyMoney will train and organize a network of repair technicians, providing them with good quality spare parts for repair. The project aims to also empower customers to conduct their own at-home repairs using the manual/app.

Increasing Take-Back for Consumer and Environmental Protection

The project is implemented in Southern Province, where the majority of communities rely on subsistence farming. Improper disposal of EoL solar products — especially batteries — through burning or dumping can have catastrophic impacts on the environment, and subsequently livelihoods of rural Zambian farmers.

“Our take-back scheme aims to figure out how to get broken and non-functioning lights back from customers. In Zambia, people tend to hold onto appliances — like TVs, microwaves, and solar — when they stop working because there is a feeling of prestige associated with ownership. But this can be harmful for human and environmental health,” explained Courtney Paisley, Project Manager. “In Southern Province, it is very important to ensure that toxic chemicals are not leaching into the soil.”

Project Coordinator Beenzu Chitenge assesses the fault with a customers’ product. Southern Province, Zambia.

SunnyMoney hopes to quantify the value of a broken light for consumers. Through the incentive scheme, they are piloting a test group that receives a financial incentive and a control group that receives no incentive. The test group is offered vouchers worth 15 Kwacha ($.075) for smaller products or 30 Kwacha ($1.50) for larger items. Taking into consideration the reality that many consumers rely on seasonal income, vouchers can be redeemed anytime within a 6-month period.

“While the control group won’t receive a voucher, we will explain the risks associated with decomposing batteries and e-waste and see if that is enough reason to bring-back their products,” Paisley elaborated.

The solar lights obtained through the take-back scheme will inform the development of the manual and mobile app repair guides. The app will include diagnostic and repair guidance for 6 key SunnyMoney products.

COVID-19 Response and Next Steps

The COVID-19 pandemic led to national shutdowns across Zambia, where a weak health system coupled with a large economically vulnerable population could have been disastrous. SunnyMoney partnered with the Ministry of Health to support pandemic response. They donated lights and charging stations to hospitals and testing centers, as well as used their dispersed field agents to spread factual information on the virus to their communities.

Photo: LendwithCare, Peter Caton

While the pandemic delayed some project activities, SunnyMoney will complete the Solar E-Waste Challenge by the end of October 2020. Over the past year, their team is most proud of supporting the development of a new, but critical, solution to extend the life of picosolar products. 100% of customers surveyed wanted to access solar light repair. Despite the challenges, SunnyMoney is committed to enabling this service in a sustainable way.

“We hope that through our Challenge project, we can show the necessary steps to enable repair for off-grid solar products. We want to see products better designed for repair and for the sector to coordinate more efficiently for replacement parts,” Paisley concluded.



Global LEAP Awards
Efficiency for Access

Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership | Identifying & promoting the world’s best, most energy efficient off-grid appliances