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Energy technology: Cheaper and better solar-powered electric lights promise to do away with kerosene-fuelled lanterns
WHICH plastic gadget, fitting neatly in one hand, can most quickly improve the lives of the world’s poorest people? For the past decade the answer has been clear: the mobile phone. But over the next decade it will be the solar-powered lamp, made up of a few light-emitting diodes (LEDs), a solar panel and a small rechargeable battery, encased in a durable plastic shell. Just as the spread of mobile phones in poor countries has transformed lives and boosted economic activity, solar lighting is poised to improve incomes, educational attainment and health across the developing world.
As previously happened with mobile phones, solar lighting is falling in price, improving in quality and benefiting from new business models that make it more accessible and affordable to those at the bottom of the pyramid. And its spread is sustainable because it is being driven by market forces, not charity.
The importance of design should not be overlooked. Just as mobile phones have become status symbols, the same could happen with personal solar lamps. That will mean placing more emphasis on styling and appealing to younger consumers, for whom a device capable of doubling as a torch and desk light would be particularly useful. A lamp (pictured) made by a Danish designer, Frederik Ottesen, and an Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, wins plaudits in this regard.
Called Little Sun, it looks like a plastic sunflower. The design helps keep the battery cool while charging and protects the lamp if it is dropped. Because the average age of the projected user is 15, says Mr Ottesen, “the aim was to make it friendly, like a Pokemon figure.” He hopes to sell 400,000 lamps, at around $10 each, through local retailers in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Mr Eliasson, known for his large-scale light installations such as the “Weather Project” at Tate Modern, says solar lamps “should not be designed with the language of the aid and relief industry.”
Demand for cheap, efficient lighting is only going to grow. Even in the best-case scenarios, the number of people without electricity will tick up to 1.5 billion by 2030, as population growth outstrips electrification. The rate of innovation in delivery models, technology and design, in both rich and poor countries, suggests a bright future for solar lamps—and a slow dimming of kerosene’s flame.
By Emily Wither for CNN July 15, 2011 — Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
(CNN) — Every evening thousands of children in Kenya sit down and do their homework by kerosene-powered light. However, the soot emitted from the burning lamps is not only an environmental hazard but the toxic fumes could be causing children serious harm and putting them at risk of respiratory illnesses.
Alice Njeri lives with her two sisters and their children in a suburb of Nairobi called Kayole. She says the indoor pollution can be difficult to live with.
“The Kerosene lamp emits smoke and gives my children eye problems and the smoke can bring them to tears,” she said.
The United Nations Environmental Program says that in rural Kenya more women die of smoke-related illnesses than they do of malaria and tuberculosis. This smoke is from cooking and lighting fuels.The inflammatory agents in kerosene lamps have been linked with everything from cancer to behavioral deficits. The lamps are also a safety risk as they can be easily knocked over and start fires in the home.
According to the CIA World Fact Book only a quarter of households in Kenya have electricity. It’s estimated that around a third of Kenyans rely on kerosene lanterns for their lighting needs. One company is on a mission to change this and is aiming to replace one million kerosene lanterns with solar-powered ones. It’s an ambitious project but one that the team feels can really make a difference to people living in rural Kenya who do not have access to electricity.
Its lanterns cost around $25 and are powered via a solar panel, which charges a lithium ion battery. Solanterns says it has reached over 1,500 households. This was partly helped by USAID which bought and distributed 500 lanterns around Nairobi.
But the team still has a long way to go if it is to achieve its goal.”We hope to expand access to solar lanterns through a wider product offering to meet different consumer needs and budgets,” Nganga said. “Critical to achieving our target of replacing one million kerosene lanterns with one million solar lanterns is consumer awareness,” he added.
The company says that each lantern will reduce CO2 emissions by 135 kilograms and save 52 liters of kerosene over its lifetime. This means that as well as the environmental benefits using solar lamps will save families money on fuel. The organization estimates that, over a three-year period, families will save $140 in lighting costs, making solar lamps cheaper than kerosene lamps in the long-run.
Leah also lives in Kayole and has a son in his last year at primary school. She said: “With the way life is right now and high fuel prices I couldn’t always manage to buy kerosene. “Sometimes my child has homework that he couldn’t do so the lantern has really helped me.”
Solar lighting is also being credited with better grades for school children. According to Solantern’s research, over half of children living in households with a solar lantern were able to study an extra two hours a night. “My child’s performance is different now because he could not do homework and study at night with the kerosene lamp,” Leah added. “He performs much better now.”
As well as using her solar lamp in the home, Njeri says that she uses it on her market stall in the evening. Its makers say it can lead to better sales at fruit and vegetable stands as produce is no longer spoiled by fumes from kerosene lamps. “My kids tell me not to return to the kerosene lantern but to instead bury it,” Njeri said.
CITARD is focused on using technology to improve the lives of people living in rural communities. We source for technologies that are affordable, durable and have great potential to improve the lives of poor people.
Our main interest is in making clean energy and energy efficient technologies available to all communities through donating a solar lamp, long term financing and direct sales of solar products, clean cook stoves and water purifiers.