Off-grid solar waste in sub-Saharan Africa: Market dynamics, barriers to sustainability, and circular economy solutions

Christopher Kinally, Fernando Antonanzas-Torres, Frank Podd, Alejandro Gallego Schmid

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The rate of access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is just 42 %. The private market for household-scale off-grid solar (OGS) products (pico solar and solar home systems) is regarded as a key tool for increasing electricity access in SSA. However, the growing volume of unabated waste from OGS products poses a significant environmental risk. Based on a systematic literature review of 52 papers, the dynamics of SSA's OGS market, the drivers of OGS waste, the environmental and health impactions of OGS waste, the barriers to waste management, and potential circular economy solutions to address SSA's OGS waste flow are analysed. The market landscape is decentralised and predominantly unregulated. The lifetime of OGS products is found to be short (less than four years), limited by affordability constraints, the lack of local technical expertise, detrimental usage habits, and low access to maintenance and repair services. The widespread uptake of OGS products and short product lifetimes has resulted in rapidly increasing waste volumes across SSA (an estimated 12,000 tonnes of waste generated in 2020, a 545 % increase from 2016). The current informal recycling practices are found to have extremely severe environmental consequences. In particular, the informal recycling of lead-acid batteries is a primary driver of lead exposure in SSA. Formal waste management initiatives are hindered by competition with informal practices, inadequate legislation, the complexity of reverse logistics, the negative recycling value of some OGS products, and the absence of sophisticated formal recycling infrastructure. Furthermore, the emerging consensus on how to address SSA's OGS waste, from the industry's body and legislation across SSA, is found to be inadequate as it fails to address the majority of the waste flow. Finally, the authors recommend circular economy solutions such as promoting local resource conservation activities and pursuing effective public-private partnerships to capitalise on domestic value generating activities within the OGS waste chain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-429
JournalEnergy for Sustainable Development
Early online date23 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022


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  • Electromagnetic Sensing Group

    Peyton, A., Fletcher, A., Daniels, D., Conniffe, D., Podd, F., Davidson, J., Anderson, J., Wilson, J., Marsh, L., O'Toole, M., Watson, S., Yin, W., Regan, A., Williams, K., Rana, S., Khalil, K., Hills, D., Whyte, C., Wang, C., Hodgskin-Brown, R., Dadkhahtehrani, F., Forster, S., Zhu, F., Yu, K., Xiong, L., Lu, T., Zhang, L., Lyu, R., Zhu, R., She, S., Meng, T., Pang, X., Zheng, X., Bai, X., Zou, X., Ding, Y., Shao, Y., Xia, Z. & Zhang, Z.

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    Project: Research

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