By Adva Saldinger* [caption id="attachment_21926" align="alignleft" width="616"] Elizabeth Mukwimba, an M-Power Off Grid Electric customer in Tanzania. With increased investment, cheaper products and innovative business models, solar is not only on the rise, but could transform the way the African continent is powered. Photo by: Russell Watkins / U.K. Department for International Development / CC BY[/caption] For years solar seemed like a potential solution for millions without access to electricity in Africa, but high costs and slow technology left it largely out of reach. In the past few years, however, that has changed. With increased investment, cheaper products and innovative business models, solar is not only on the rise, but could transform the way the continent is powered. It will be used to boost economic activity as businesses stay open late and students are able to study after dark, but it may also be used for unexpected purposes such as lighting a goat hut to keep prized animals safe from predators. And this growth is being driven by private companies who look at the 600 million people in Africa, or the 1.3 billion people in the world who lack access to power and see the vast market opportunity. “Energy access and infrastructure are fundamental to eliminating poverty and improving people’s lives,” said Russell Sturm, global head for energy access at International Finance Corp. Advisory Solutions. “Building an electric grid and having centralized power is untenable for much of the world — particularly Africa.” It’s a sentiment that seems to be echoed more widely these days. And there are examples across the spectrum — from inexpensive solar lanterns, to home solar systems, to microgrids or commercial-scale projects. Just in the past week the U.S. government announced millions of dollars in new commitment to off-grid solar and the U.K.’s Department for International Development launched a new Energy Africa initiative. And this week the off-grid solar industry is gathered for the 4th International Off-Grid Lighting Conference, organized by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association.