Does PAYGo solar improve women’s lives? A look at the evidence

Pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) solar financing has electrified the homes of more than 100 million people and transformed many households that aren’t connected to the electrical grid. While evidence suggests that energy access improves women’s wellbeing and economic empowerment, it’s less clear whether PAYGo financing has any particular benefits for women. To learn more, CGAP reviewed the existing impact literature for PAYGo solar and interviewed a range of experts and industry stakeholders. While there are some indications that the PAYGo model is well suited to women’s energy and financial needs and could potentially have a positive impact on their lives, it’s clear that more rigorous research will be needed to better understand the impacts.

Photo: CGAP

PAYGo financing improves access to energy and finance for low-income households in ways that likely benefit women

Energy poverty disproportionately affects girls and women in poor households. Women spend more time and effort than men collecting and preparing wood and other household fuels, face heightened risks from indoor air pollution, and spend a larger part of their day on domestic chores. This often leaves little time for productive activities. Women are also more likely than men to be financially excluded. Despite significant progress, the gender gap in account ownership in developing economies remained about 9 percentage points between 2011 and 2017. Taken together, inadequate access to energy and finance has implications for women’s time, health, economic and social status, and it makes it harder to escape poverty.

Self-reported data from PAYGo providers and anecdotal evidence suggests that PAYGo financing models improve access to both energy and finance for poor households. While sex-disaggregated data on the impact of these models is in short supply, there are good reasons to hypothesize that there may be specific benefits for women.

The grid electrification literature clearly shows that access to energy can have transformative effects on women. These include increased participation in non-farm jobs outside their homes, increased labor productivity, greater hourly wages and improvements in child schooling outcomes like school enrollment, weekly study time and test scores.

Whether PAYGo electrification can lead to similar impacts is an open question, since it powers much smaller appliances. However, CGAP and FIBR interviews with over 130 households in Africa shows that low-income households value off-grid devices and are willing to finance them with PAYGo loans because light is useful and provides a sense of safety and comfort. Over the years, the range of PAYGo devices has expanded from solar lamps and mobile phone chargers to larger household appliances like solar home systems, cookstoves, refrigerators and solar water pumps. Evidence is emerging that these appliances can reduce women’s workloads at home, provide greater flexibility in how and when they perform domestic chores, and free up more of their time for income-generating activities.

PAYGo financing has also expanded households’ access to financial services that may prove useful to women. It is well known that formal credit is often beyond women’s reach because they lack the credit history or assets to collateralize loans. Asset-based financing models like PAYGo solar offer a way around this challenge. They enable customers to build transaction histories that financial services providers can use to underwrite loans and increase women’s access to finance. These models also offer flexible payment options that are better suited to women’s needs than traditional loans. Recent research also shows that once a device has been paid off, it can be re-collateralized for subsequent loans to meet other household needs, such as paying for children’s school fees.

More rigorous research and sex-disaggregated data is needed to better understand the impact on women

Despite the rapid growth of PAYGo financing, sex-disaggregated data and evidence for impact on women remains scarce and anecdotal. In our review of the impact literature, we found only a few studies that document the impact of these financing models on women:

  • An IGC study in Tanzania finds that access to PAYGo solar lamps increases the likelihood of women working outside the household by 5 percentage points, equivalent to an increase of 40 minutes of paid work and 24 minutes of unpaid work per day.

  • An Ashden report shows that women who have access to PAYGo solar lamps and solar home systems in Tanzania feel they have more flexibility in how they use their time for different tasks, such as domestic chores, cooking, and childcare.

  • Other reports show that PAYGo off-grid devices enable some women to start new businesses, such as charging people to watch TV or charge their phones at their homes, selling home-cooked food or making textiles.