Productive Use of Solar PV

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Precise information about the installed capacity, or the number of renewable energy systems, used for productive uses in rural areas of less industrialized nations is not readily available; furthermore, published data regarding these figures are scarce. This lack of precise information is particularly notorious in relation to off-farm productive activities (e.g. cottage activities and commercial services). Most of the existing information is anecdotal in nature and provides only a glimpse of the current and potential renewable energy applications[1]. A FAO study from 2000[2] provides a good qualitative overview on potential productive uses and system set-ups of PV in different countries. Even though pointing out that electric lighting is by far the most common application of PV systems, the study provides a large amount of other income-generating applications in the areas of agriculture, cottage industries, and commercial businesses.

Agricultural Applications

In the area of agriculture solar PV is found to be useful for applications such as water pumping for (drip) irrigation and cattle drinking, aeration for aquacultures, refrigeration of agricultural products, electric fencing, poultry lighting (cf. Lighting Africa study), and pest control. The main impacts of solar electricity on agricultural activities are described as increased productivity (including higher yields, lower losses and faster production) and improved natural resource management.

The relevance of small PV systems for agricultural production is, however, limited to the provision of power for activities that require little power input. PV systems are not an option for energy intensive activities such as in rice mills and other agricultural processing.

Please also check the article on Solar Energy in Powering Agriculture.

Applications in Cottage Production and Commercial Industries

For cottage industries and commercial businesses, the most common reported examples of productive use are related to the prolonged working hours due to lighting. Lighting is reported to improve also the quality of the productive activity and to attract more customers, according to the nature of the business. To less extend PV systems are also used for providing power for music, TV and simple devices for these businesses as well as the powering of small monitoring devices and tools in electronic repair shops which can improve the quality of repair and the productivity of the workshop with very limited power demand. A GIZ project in Mongolia reported the use of an inverter for a milk centrifuge. Other applications include the sale of electricity or related services. Examples are solar battery and phone charging stations, rural telephone and internet services, as well as recreational service businesses such as small village cinemas and dancing halls. Positive impacts on cottage industries and commercial businesses include longer working and opening hours, higher productivity, higher attractiveness for customers, more employment, and the creation of new productive activities[3].

Restrictions of Solar PV for Productive Use

While solar PV seems appropriate for household lighting and applications that use small amounts of electricity, it may not be suitable for promoting productive applications on a larger scale (e.g. machines for industrial manufacturing processes), because of the high costs of delivered electricity involved and the need for 3-phase electricity[4].Still, the small-scale productive application of small loads from solar PV systems seem to be potential “carriers of rural socio economic development”. Low power examples of PUE like cellphone charging or barber shops have a big potential.

GIZ Experience




Further Information


  1. ETCHEVERRY, J. (2003): Renewable Energy for Productive Uses: Strategies to Enhance Environmental Protection and the Quality of Rural Life. Toronto.
  2. VAN CAMPEN, B., D. GUIDI & G. BEST (2000): Solar Photovoltaics for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. Rome.
  3. GTZ, Impact Assessment of the Solar Electrification of Microenterprises, Households and the Development of the Rural Solar Market, GTZ-PREEEP, Kampala, September 2009
  4. KAPADIA, K. (2004): Productive Uses of Renewable Energy: A Review of Four Bank-GEF Projects. January 2004 draft version. Washington, D.C.