SolarAid, a British charity, has announced that sales of its solar lights to the African market will exceed 320,000, forecasting £2.08 million (US$3.14 million) by the end of March this year.

The charity’s aim is to eradicate the need for kerosene for lighting from Africa by 2020 by bringing light to nearly 60 million African households.

From April 2011 to March 2012 SolarAid sold 51,811 units which rose to 228,000 at the end of 2012, beating last year’s sales by almost 600%. By finding a route to mass market in Africa, it claims it is on course to make solar lanterns an everyday household item.

Pippa Palmer, Managing Director of SolarAid, said: “Solar has a crucial role to play in the developing world where countless communities are trapped in a cycle of perpetual poverty by costly and deadly kerosene. By offering the chance to buy a clean tech alternative, SolarAid makes a life-changing difference to these communities and the children within them – a difference that could ultimately change the environmental and economic fortunes of Africa.

“We are filled with excitement at the prospect of achieving the hugely ambitious mission we have set ourselves: leading the world in eradicating the kerosene lantern from Africa by 2020.,” said Palmer.

SolarAid states that only 9%of people in rural sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity, which leaves over 90% in poverty, spending up to 30% of their income on toxic kerosene for lighting. SolarAid research demonstrates that solar lights will give a return on investment in as little as five weeks, thereafter freeing up valuable money for food, medicines, education and investments in business.

According to the World Bank’s Lighting Africa programme, SolarAid’s wholly-owned social venture SunnyMoney, took 25% of the all-Africa market share in the last six months - ahead of oil giant Total’s retail operations.

“SunnyMoney’s sales are explosive, but we have barely begun. To reach our goal, we’ll need a lot of support from fundraising donations, corporate support and large-scale low-interest debt financing,” said Palmer.

SolarAid’s fundraising target for this calendar year is £2.4 million

The organisation's policy is not to give solar lights away. Instead it sets out to mend large-scale market failure by distributing and selling lights at an affordable price – a strategy that has proven so successful, SunnyMoney’s on-the-ground teams cannot keep up with demand, claims SolarAid. As the customers’ payments cover the cost of the actual lights, but not the large upfront cost in procuring, delivering and distributing lights into remote rural areas, this goal will be coupled with a renewed drive to raise donor funds and working capital.

With clean, plentiful light, children are able to study for at least an extra hour every night, with many teachers witnessing a marked improvement in school results. In addition, a solar light will save a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions over its five year lifetime.