Why solar product makers often prefer longer-lasting items

Greenlight Planet Sun King solar

A Kenyan family enjoys entertainment on the Greenlight Planet's Sun King Home 400 solar product. 

Photo credit: Pool

How many meetings does it take to change a light bulb? The comical responses to this joke are often a reflection of bureaucratic inertia, exposing a truth about our preference for complexity over simplicity.

Across the world in California, a fire station houses a bulb that has illuminated for an astounding 120 years.

This bulb not only brought fame to the town of Livermore but secured a spot in the Guinness World Records. Guided by the Centennial Light Bulb Committee, this singular bulb thrives under perpetual care, dispelling the notion that managing a bulb requires endless meetings.

In the world of manufacturing, some critics contend that modern products have shortened lifespans to bolster profits. Echoing this sentiment, my father, a reputable electrician, Hassan Snr, still extols the virtues of his decades-old Frigidaire refrigerator. Despite its weathered appearance, it continues to serve, embodying the ethos of enduring craftsmanship.

In a further twist of modern-day manufacturing ethos, solar photovoltaic (PV) is embracing longer lifespan products. Most reputable installers are now shifting to long-lasting components in an attempt to beat the myths surrounding acquisition and ownership of solar systems.

In Africa, the solar PV industry grapples with perception challenges. Despite sunny landscapes and renewable promise, misconceptions cast a shadow over solar power’s brilliance. Tradition’s influence overshadows solar PV reliability; sceptics fear power inconsistencies during cloudy days or nights. This perspective ignores advancements in energy storage technology ensuring uninterrupted supply.

I have noted, encouragingly, that Kenyans are embracing longer lasting lithium storage which has gained favour among industrial and commercial installers despite being costlier. This preference stems from lithium’s durability, backed by warranties.

This shift challenges a misconception about high initial costs. Solar panels last 20 to 25 years, lithium batteries offer up to 10-year warranties, and advanced solar inverters with artificial intelligence capabilities ensure efficiency. This appeals to consumers seeking standardised, scalable, plug-and-play solutions for stable, long-term power at lower instalments, but which you will eventually own after five years or so.

Furthermore, leading producers are integrating the system to ensure a turnkey solution. They do this by simplifying systems, integrating AI-capable plug-and-play setups with minimal operation and maintenance. For large consumers, power purchase agreements seem suitable for reliability and cost-effectiveness.

I have noted that despite the advances of technology, there is a general lack of awareness of solar PV products. Many are unaware of solar systems’ working principles, environmental benefits, and potential for energy independence. I have come to believe that only awareness campaigns can dispel myths and inspire confidence.

One such campaign, albeit localised, was executed by a group of young dynamic and entrepreneurial students from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, who spearheaded a solar project at Gachororo Primary School. The students yielded a five-kilowatt system that is benefiting the school community. In one fell swoop, they achieved multiple United Nations Sustainable Development Goals illustrating technology transfer (to the students), awareness creation (to the community), social responsibility (to a school that serves the needy), and environmental sustainability.

My father may come from an age group that treasured their vintage acquisition and have a general disdain for anything new, but the embracing of longevity by the solar industry is a game changer.

The solar industry is producing longer-lasting products, and no, it’s not altruism; it’s profit-guided. Who wants to sell a product on a service agreement and be tied to an expensive operation and maintenance contract that eventually erodes all profitability?

The writer is the business development manager, Solarnow Services (EA) Ltd