The voice for Social Enterprises & Social Entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland. Connecting, supporting, developing and sustaining vibrant businesses to create social change.


Opportunities Presented by Solar Energy to Social Enterprises

Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr - Contct email - 

Solar energy has quickly become one of the most popular forms of alternative energy. It’s seen by many as a surefire way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide support to a planet in need. However, solar power is also seen as an expensive option only available to more affluent people in developed countries. But that’s not necessarily true.

Firms that place an emphasis on being socially and environmentally conscious are starting to use solar energy as a way to make a positive impact in the lives of less affluent people. Social enterprises in all corners of the world are taking renewable energies like solar power and using them in several ways to help people who sit lower on the socio-economic spectrum.

Solar Light Bulbs

More than one billion people worldwide use kerosene lamps as their primary source of light because they don’t have access to a reliable electricity grid. The problem with this is that kerosene is far more expensive than lightbulbs, taking away a significant portion of a family’s income. On top of that, kerosene contributes to air pollution and has been known to cause fires.

To combat this problem, several social enterprises are finding a way to sell light bulbs that run on solar power at a reasonable price to people that would otherwise use kerosene. In addition to being safer, they are far more cost effective, saving families money. These light bulbs also produce more light than kerosene, and so people can get more use out of them than with kerosene lamps.

Solar Cooking

Solar power isn’t all about turning lights on or finding alternatives to kerosene. Some social enterprises are providing cooking appliances that run on solar energy. Such appliances are more efficient than cooking with an open fire, which is the primary cooking method of many who don’t have electricity. Cooking with fire can also damage a person’s lungs, while also being a potential cause of forest fires, so it’s far from ideal.

Solar-powered cooking devices don’t require solar panels on the house. Instead, they come with detachable reflectors that help turn sunlight into an oven that can bake, slow-cook, and dehydrate food, reducing the need for open-fire cooking. In many ways, these solar-powered ovens are the perfect cooking tool for people in rural areas who aren’t connected to a utility grid.


As the solar industry is expanding rapidly, the cost of solar energy is consequently coming down. However, the upfront costs are difficult to manage for people who live in rural areas of developing countries and don’t have access to an electricity grid. Several social enterprises have made an effort to come up with creative financing systems to help more people afford solar power.

In parts of East Africa and Asia, solar companies have come up with a pay-as-you-go system that allows people to make a small upfront deposit and manageable daily payments in exchange for a solar panel and all the necessary accessories. Gaining access to electricity via solar panels can be life-changing for so many people who live in rural communities in developing countries, especially when it comes with realistic financing.