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close this bookPhotovoltaic Household Electrification Programs - Best Practices (WB)
close this folderAttaining financial sustainability
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentTerms and conditions
View the documentPricing strategies
View the documentGrants and subsidies
View the documentEnforcing repayments
View the documentFinancing battery replacements

(introduction...)

6.1 Household PV programs must be financially self-sustaining. This Chapter examines financing terms and conditions, pricing strategies to secure cost recovery, and appropriate roles for grants and subsidies. Strategies for securing repayments, financing battery replacements, and serving low-income consumers are also suggested.

6.2 The relatively small scale and marginal profitability of existing household PV programs limits suppliers' capacity to establish efficient production and assembly facilities, obtain bulk procurement discounts, and set up effective sales and service networks. The high first cost of solar home systems requires financing to make them affordable to rural populations. The financial characteristics of the four models of PV systems delivery discussed in the preceding Chapter are summarized below in Table 6-1.

Table 6-1. Financing Characteristics of PV System Delivery Models


Solar Home System Delivery Model

Financing Characteristic

ESCO

Lease/Purchase

Consumer

Cash Sales

Affordability

High

Moderate

Low

Low

Interest ratea

Low

Medium

High


Repayment period

Long

Medium

Short


Down payment/Connection fee

Low

Moderate

High

Full cost at purchase

Loan Security/Collateral

System

System

System and/or other collateral

None

Risk to lender

Low

Moderate

High


Administrative castb

High

Moderate

Moderate

Low

System Ownership

ESCO owns generation components only, rest by user

User (at end of lease)

User

User

a. Interest charged to the borrower (ESCO or customer). The ESCO passes this financing charge on to the consumer as part of its service fee.

b. Costs borne by implementor/supplier.

Terms and conditions

6.3 The financing terms and conditions of existing household PV programs vary from country to country and depend on the local cost of funds, the degree of risk to the lender, and loan processing and administration costs. Connection costs for ESCO customers and down payments for borrowers range from zero in a government-sponsored program in Sri Lanka to 50 percent under a loan scheme offered by one private supplier in Indonesia. Repayment terms can be lenient—twenty-year, no-interest loans—or stringent—two-year loans with 34 percent interest. Not all programs are sustainable, with a full cost-recovery basis. Table 6-2 compares the financing terms available for solar home systems in the United States and the four country programs reviewed by ASTAE. In general, the high interest rates and short repayment periods under consumer financing are the most onerous to the borrower. Government/donor-sponsored programs and NGO-run initiatives usually have more favorable financial conditions. Government programs may be heavily subsidized (for instance, the BANPRES project in Indonesia and the 1,000 Solar Home System Project in Pansiyagama, Sri Lanka). NGO projects often receive investment capital in the form of an initial grant from local or foreign donors. Examples include the ADESOL and ADESJO projects in the Dominican Republic and the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) support for Solanka in Sri Lanka. SELF has also supported local NGOs in China, Vietnam, India and elsewhere. Donor funds are used to seed a revolving fund to facilitate the purchase of PV systems. As participants repay their loans the fund is replenished and additional loans can be made.

Pricing strategies

6.4 Market surveys provide a useful tool for assessing consumers' willingness to pay for PV electrification services and should be incorporated into program planning. Some government sponsored household PV programs set very low monthly fees, based on average household expenditures for kerosene. This policy assumes that rural consumers have a very low capacity to pay. Such programs are intrinsically unsustainable because they do not plan for full cost recovery; in addition, they often have difficulty collecting fees. In the Sri Lankan Pansiyagama Project, beneficiaries considered the program a government giveaway (in some ways it was, since funds were lent at zero interest and little attention was initially given to fee collection). Fee collection rates were only 52 percent, even though only a minimum payment of $1.50-$2.50/month was required. However, the Pansiyagama repayment rate increased significantly when the modules of several delinquent customers were removed. The BANPRES project in Indonesia also did not give high priority to cost recovery. The average fee collection rate ($3.75/household/month) was about 60 percent, although it varied from 5-95 percent among participating cooperatives. Several subsidized schemes in the Pacific Islands have also failed, due to financially unsustainable pricing policies.

Table 6-2. Terms for Solar Home System Financing in Selected Countries

Country/ Solar Home Systems Initiative

Type of Financing

Source of Funds Solar Home Systems

Down Payment (Percent of Rate (Percent)a Cost)

Annual Interest (Years)

Repayment Period Rate (%)e

Prime/One Year T-Bill

Indonesia







BANPRES

Leasing

Gov't

5

0

10


Dealer

Consumer

Supplierb

30

18

3


Dealer

Consumer

Supplierb

50

18

2

18.0/10.0

Sri Lanka







Gov't

Leasing

Donor/Gov't

0

0

20


Dealer

Consumer

Dealer

25

30-34

2


Cooperative

Leasing

Donor

15

7

8


NGO

Leasing

Donor

10

10

10


Dealer

Consumer

Bank

20

22

5

17.1/13.9

Philippines







RECs

ESCO

Gov't/Donor

18

22c

10

15.1/12.9

Dominican







Republic

Dealer/






Dealer

Consumer

Supplier

50

0-50

0.5


NGO

Consumer

Donor/Bank

25

20-36

1-2

29.0/18.0

USA







Utilities

ESCO

Utility

5

1.6%

15-year

7.75/6.0





monthd

minimum


Notes: The majority of sales in the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka have been cash sales, owing to the lack of credit facilities.

a. May include service and administrative fees.

b. Suppliers use working capital loans or lines of credit from commercial banks to finance sales through dealers.

c. Includes a 10 percent margin for administration. Consumers do not pay this cost, so this rate should not be compared with consumer loans.

d. The fee for service is given as a percent of net installed cost. It includes capital recovery as well as PV systems servicing and maintenance costs.

e. Indonesia: rate as of mid-August '94 (Indonesia does not have a one-year T-Bill; rate given is 90-day bank CD rate). Sri Lanka: rate as of mid-September '94. Philippines: mid-July '94 rate; United States mid-October '94 rate.

6.5 Consumers are often willing and able to pay more than government programs charge for energy service. Government and bilateral donor-funded PV projects, designed without regard to cost recovery, may also damage private efforts if customers expect to receive subsidized systems. Recent commercial sales in Indonesia demonstrate that consumer willingness and capacity to pay is influenced more by the size of the down payment than by the number or magnitude of monthly payments. Commercial suppliers in Indonesia note that a down payment higher than 30 percent of the cost of an installed system (around $120) severely limited demand. For example, consumers prefer to purchase a solar home system at Rp. 800,000 with a payment scheme that requires a Rp. 250,000 down payment and 36 monthly payments of Rp. 20,000 rather than purchasing the same system with a down payment of Rp. 300,000 and 40 monthly payments of Rp. 16,000 (de Lange 1994). Clearly, not all consumers can pay these fees, and thus sales are limited primarily to wealthier consumers in these rural areas.

6.6 Full recovery of the capital investment, borrowing and operating costs is crucial for financial sustainability. In an ESCO, these costs will include: debt servicing, staff salaries, administrative expenses (for instance, account, billing and collections, disconnections and reconnections, consumer education, and staff training), expenditures for facilities, maintenance costs (battery replacement and recycling, spare parts, and consumables), allowances for defaults and losses, and transportation expenses—and of course profits. In a sales scheme, costs will include purchases of materials, debt servicing, staff salaries, dealer margins and other sales expenses, general administrative expenses, and expenditures for such essentials as facilities, consumables, and transport, as well as profits.

6.7 Ideally, repayment periods for consumer loans should be short, for example, less than the average life of the battery (three years) as in the Dominican Republic programs and in commercial ventures in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In this way, borrowers will have repaid all or most of their loan by the time the battery has to be replaced and will have the necessary funds to replace the battery. Shorter repayment periods also reduce lender risks. While they increase the monthly payment, short loans are less sensitive to interest rates. For example, a 25 percent rise in interest rates increases monthly payments by only 6 percent in a three-year payment scheme, while the monthly payment increases 15 percent with a ten-year repayment period.

6.8 The down payment should ideally cover a significant portion of the system cost, if it is to serve as the primary security for the loan. A reasonably large down payment is a useful mechanism for screening consumers and establishing creditworthiness. At a minimum, the down payment should cover the sunk costs of transport, labor, wiring, and fixtures, allowing for full recovery in case of default. Alternatively, the down payment can equal the cost of the battery, to select out those customers capable of meeting battery replacement costs. The most sizable down payment would equal the cost of the module, typically 50 percent of the total system cost. While a large down payment provides additional loan security and reduces monthly payments, it does limit the number of households that can afford the system. Energy planners, financiers, system suppliers, and others involved in household PV programs must strike a balance between program goals and participants' ability to pay.

6.9 Serving Customers with Limited Ability to Pay. To increase the number of households able to pay for solar home systems, pricing strategies can include flexible repayment, fee schedules that match customers' income streams, or extending this repayment period (with due regard to the additional risk this entails). Farmers, for example, may prefer a semiannual or quarterly payment plan, while salaried workers may find it easier to pay monthly or authorize payment deductions. Defaults can be avoided if users make a deposit before the system is installed—a scheme similar to the "lay-away" programs offered by US retailers. Payment due dates can also be extended on a case-by-case basis.

Grants and subsidies

6.10 Governments and donors have provided grants or subsidies for technology promotion and demonstration, regional development, poverty alleviation, environmental and other reasons. Grants and subsidies should only be used for market-conditioning activities, or under the right conditions, as limited injections of equity to buy down the capital cost of a project. Such subsidies should not be used to demonstrate untested technologies on unwary consumers. Market-conditioning activities include training, promotion, project design, feasibility studies, setting and enforcing quality standards, monitoring, and establishment of infrastructure. If the capital investments are to be subsidized, a strong case must be made, based on need and an assessment of beneficiaries' capacity to pay. The amount of capital cost buy-down should preferably be limited to defraying the higher costs associated with the start-up of a new solar home systems program. The buy-down amount should be calculated, taking into account the price to the consumer in an established program serving a larger group of consumers.

6.11 The grants or subsidies must be very transparent and targeted, bearing in mind that, as in any subsidized program, the benefits may not go to the most deserving. Before subsidies are introduced, their impact on the development of a broader PV market should be assessed. A subsidized program may produce a quick injection of PV equipment, but potential consumers may form unrealistic expectations about obtaining systems at below-market rates. This can damage long-term, larger scale PV diffusion. A donor-subsidized program which "dumps" PV equipment will result in unstable market conditions as local project implementors gear up to meet a short-term demand. It could also hurt local commercial suppliers as they cannot compete with the subsidized goods' (Covell and Hansen, 1995).

6.12 Grants and subsidies must not be used to cover recurring operating costs. While governments or donors may initially agree to cover some of the operating costs of a household PV program, changes in policies may reduce or eliminate such funding. If a program depends on ongoing subsidies, any reduction can jeopardize its long-term sustainability.

Enforcing repayments

6.13 Disconnects for extended non-payment of fees can be an effective tool for cost recovery. Even though the need for a strong disconnect policy is recognized in theory, in practice, it is difficult to disconnect households in arrears, unless an external agency takes responsibility for such an unpopular action. The ADESOL program in the Dominican Republic has yielded a high loan recovery rate since its loan fees are collected by local representatives and societal pressures to honor one's debt are high. Societal pressures might not always function this way, and local solar home systems organizations might not always be the most effective fee collectors. In the Philippines, an impartial outside organization had to be hired for fee collection tasks, while the local solar home systems company continued to provide solar home systems service and maintenance. In Tuvalu, fee collection was undertaken by a national organization to avoid problems due to patronage and family ties (Conway and Wade, 1994). The Pansiyagama Project in Sri Lanka originally had no local organization for fee collection. This was a major issue until the government agency contracted with a private company to provide maintenance services and collect fees.

Financing battery replacements

6.14 Batteries are a major replacement cost in solar home systems. Customers unable to afford new replacement batteries purchase poor-quality or reconditioned substitutes instead. ~ If these components do not function well, users are likely to become dissatisfied and leave the program, jeopardizing its sustainability. Where users' ability to buy replacement batteries is a concern, an arrangement to finance battery replacements should be considered. An Indonesian supplier operates a successful three-year battery replacement plan for its customers.

6.15 Setting up a battery replacement fund is worth considering under ESCO or leasing models. The scheme can include a small monthly charge, held in escrow, to pay for replacement batteries. For example, placing $1.50/month in an escrow account for three years will generate the $50 necessary to purchase a new battery. Should the battery need to be replaced in less than three years, the consumer can pay the difference; if the life of the battery exceeds three years, the consumer can receive a rebate. This approach offers several advantages: it finances only high-quality batteries; it allows for volume discounts from suppliers; and it facilitates care of batteries and battery recycling.

6.16 Increased affordability should never be based on cost reductions achieved by lowering the quality of the equipment or decreasing support services. Instead, smaller high-quality units can be offered. For example, a 10-Wp solar lighting kit provides lighting equivalent to that of a kerosene mantle lantern and can be offered instead of a 50-Wp solar home system. Customer satisfaction, and hence loan repayment, requires that users be aware of the lower level or service they will receive from smaller systems, and that they have the option to obtain larger systems in the future.

6.17 In summary, the financial sustainability of household PV programs requires:

· Selecting qualified customers (those with the ability and willingness to pay);
· Offering high-quality products and responsive service (see Chapter 7);
· Matching consumer expectations with the level of energy service the program will provide;
· Establishing a pricing strategy that covers all costs and insures judicious use of any grants or subsidies; and
· Creating simplified administrative procedures for financing, fee collection, and disconnecting customers in case of non-payment.