(News from Bloomberg)

About 99 million households worldwide may be powered by solar panels by 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The off-grid solar market has grown to $700 million now from non-existent less than a decade ago, according to a report Thursday from the London-based research company and the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global. They expect that to swell to $3.1 billion by the end of the decade.

There are about 1.2 billion people without access to energy and another billion who are connected to a national grid, but with unstable power. The report estimates that they spent $27 billion on crude lighting methods such as kerosene and candles last year. The demand for reliable energy is soaring with burgeoning populations and rising industrialization in emerging economies.

About 95 percent of these people are in sub-Saharan Africa and developing parts of Asia — and this is where the off-grid industry is taking hold. Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia are leading the way in Africa and India in Asia.

“Big markets with low energy access and an existing supply chain for portable PV products create the conditions for this technology to catch on,” said Itamar Orlandi, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Much of the growth will continue to come from today’s large markets, while stronger economies with unstable electricity grids such as Nigeria may see higher demand for large solar home systems.”

The solar systems range from sun-powered lanterns to rooftop panels that can power several lights, a fan, a TV and charge mobile phones. There are about 100 companies working in the off-grid solar industry today, and they have sold about 20 million products to date, reaching 89 million people globally.

While solar homes are still not the norm in Malaysia – the majority use of solar panels here is usually for water heaters – it is definitely worth an in-depth look, especially if it can help us save money, conserve energy and protect the environment. In addition to other green technology such as LED lighting, solar-powered homes will benefit users in the long term and should be a vital component of sustainable townships and communities. What do you think?