Perceived Health Benefits of Off-Grid Products: Results of an End-User Survey in Uganda

Finca International

This research explores the health benefits that were perceived by low-income customers using solar lanterns, small solar home systems (SHS) and improved cookstoves, which we refer to as off-grid products. The mixed-methods study combines the results of focus groups with 50 users, a survey of 782 randomly selected respondents and 70 follow-up interviews. The study participants were chosen to represent the three product categories and the clients’ geographic distribution in Uganda.

Conclusion

Client perceptions open a window into the benefits and limitations of off-grid products from the point of view of the customers who use them daily. While they do not have the predictive power of a controlled experiment, they can give us a detailed understanding of the customer experience, which is central to both the value proposition of a growing venture and to the social concerns of its mission-driven stakeholders. In economic terms, the customer perceptions fundamentally shape the utility curve, which ultimately determines the demand for a product. If we want customers to adopt and use these off-grid products, knowing which benefits they generate, and for whom, constitutes actionable market intelligence.

Each of the off-grid products we studied generates a detailed and unique impact response by customers. We use our data to describe this response in terms of the specific types of health benefits that are attributed to the product, the frequency of these responses and the order in which they are mentioned. Our data also allowed us to look at customer characteristics—such as gender, income and location—to see what influence they have on product uptake and how they might shape the perceived benefits.

We summarize our findings at the product level, which allows us to synthesize the results from each mode of analysis.

Solar Lanterns

Women are more likely than men to purchase a solar lantern, especially when they are married, have at least three children and live in a household with two sources of income. Eighty-seven percent of clients perceive some kind of health benefit from their solar lanterns, with the majority citing one or two benefits. The most frequently perceived health benefit is relief from eye problems, including reduced eye strain (from having a brighter light) and the avoidance of smoke, which produces red, itchy eyes. Due to their usage at close-range, solar lanterns even out-perform SHS in these attributes. The second-most perceived benefit in clients’ minds is fewer burns, the result of reduced interaction with open flames. This encompasses both fewer direct burns on the skin and fires that can result in lost property and a burned-down house. Reduced exposure to toxic fumes and improved respiratory health are mentioned by 20 percent of customers, but typically as a second- or third-order attribute.

The benefit profile for solar lanterns is strongly influenced by location (urban/rural), education and income level of the customer. Urban residents are much more likely to cite fewer eye problems, while rural customers are more likely to mention less toxicity (fumes) and the deterrence of rats and pests. This pattern also tracks to education: the more educated a client is, the more likely she or he will mention improved eye health, while the inverse is true for deterrence of rats and pests and less toxicity. Unlike the other products, gender and length of ownership also play an important role in shaping the impact response. Women are more likely than men to notice multiple health impacts, as are customers who have owned their product for at least 18 months.

Solar Home Systems

The purchasers of SHS are more likely to be married men with larger families (at least three children). They are also likely to live in a household with at least two sources of income. Of the three products we studied, SHS generate the strongest sense of health impacts—fully 95 percent of respondents mention at least one benefit, with the majority citing anywhere from two to five impacts. The perceived health benefits are more evenly distributed across a wide range of attributes, including some we have not seen in other research, such as sleeping better at night and deterring rats. Fewer eye problems is the first response in the vast majority of cases (75 percent). Unlike solar lanterns, this attribute is also frequently recalled as a second response, along with fewer burns and sleep better at night. The health benefits of solar lanterns are not concentrated among any client segment, although families with three or more children are more likely to cite multiple impacts.

Cookstoves

Seventy percent of cookstove users cite positive impacts, especially less toxicity (fumes), fewer respiratory problems and fewer burns. The benefits of improved air quality (less toxicity and better breathing) are top-of-mind for these customers. These findings are encouraging, given what is known about the health impact of indoor air pollution caused by traditional three-stone cooking.

However, it is important to highlight that the majority of poor, rural households perceived no health benefits from their cookstoves. Follow-up interviews revealed that customers in this segment are struggling with adoption issues; as a result, they have either abandoned their cookstove or are using it infrequently. Helping users overcome these issues will hopefully encourage fuller adoption of the product and unleash the same health benefits that are perceived by urban customers.

Excerpt from: Perceived Health Benefits of Off-Grid Products: Results of an End-User Survey in Uganda (2018 FINCA International)

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