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Lighting up the Developing World

May 8th, 2009 · 6 Comments

With ever-more attention being given to Black Carbon, ’simple’ technology solutions like solar cookers and more efficient stoves have ever more appeal.  In the same realm of ’small’ can make a great difference, providing just a low level of lighting for the night can provide tremendous economic boosts in developing countries. Think one efficient light bulb and how much better a child might do in school work, being able to read by light one hour each evening.  And just as solar ovens and efficient stoves can cut into the pollution and costs (monetary, time, and otherwise) of burning wood, more modern lighting options can carve into the pollution and costs of, for example, using kerosene for lighting.

After the fold, a discussion of two different companies that have ‘business’ models for getting that efficient lighting into the homes of the world’s poor.

PowerMundo sees this as the challenge … and opportunity:

Over 3,000,000,000 people do not have access to affordable, safe, and healthy products to meet their daily needs for survival.

PowerMundo seeks to create a global business network, marketing products that might represent an upfront capital investment for sustainability but long-term efficiency and cost-effectiveness by either drastically cutting polluting energy use or a total reliance on renewable power.  Their products include solar powered lighting, efficient wood stoves, and renewable energy radios.

As discussed by Anne Field in Not Only for Profit,

The target market is the billions of people around the world without access to electricity, who use kerosene lamps or camp fires for light and, also, have virtually no access to news, except for battery-operated radios (when they can afford batteries).  PowerMundo’s solution is to sell such simple, low-cost products as biomass cook stoves, wind-up radios, and solar lanterns to low-income households, focusing first on the poorest communities in Peru. After that, they’ll expand to other countries in Latin America and Africa.

In a short period of time–perhaps a few months–consumers can recoup their investment. For example, a solar lantern costs $30, but it eliminates the need to shell out $10 a month for kerosene. Plus, it emits less air pollution and CO2. There’s also an economic development part to PowerMundo’s plan, by offering locals the chance to become distributors.

D-Light design focuses quite specifically on the lighting arena and has received serious start-up money.  Their target is quite explicitly the 1 in 4 people on earth who do not have reliable access to electricity and who rely on kerosene for lighting at night.  The concept is to set up micro-loans, enabling people to buy their solar energy, battery, light combinations (ranging in price from $12 to $30) that will then be paid back due to no longer having to pay for that kerosene.  D-Light is focusing on India and has, in fact, lit up an entire (even if small) village with renewable systems. In terms of the impact:

The D.light lamps sell for about $25, steep for someone earning $1 per day, but the D.light team quickly found that the quality of light was so good that people with the D.light lamps were able to do more work at night and increase their income. Two families in New Keringa, a village of 47 families in southern India, took the plunge on D.light lamps. Says Tozun: “All of a sudden the two families were able to work at night,” mostly weaving banana leaves into plates. “Their average monthly income increased from $12 to $18, and they could save the time spent traveling to buy more kerosene.” Within a few days the entire village had sprung for the lights. “These people are great customers if you give them a clear value proposition,” Tozun says.

While D-Light will take donations, make no bones about it: it is a business. These owners/developers of D-Light believe (know) that they can do well by themselves by doing good.  As per the above, the challenge is getting the foothold. Once their, there is quick understanding of the value that D-Lights products provide.

Now, among other things, one of the truly appealing elements of these approaches in the relatively low cost threshold for revolutionizing life for those ‘off the grid’ while, as well, providing a logical path toward ‘improving’ life in a sustainable way.  Spending, with a micro-loan, $30 on a solar-light combination that might cut kerosene demand by $5 / month means that, with interest, the loan is paid off in seven months.  Every year, that home could add another lighting system and still save the equivalent of five months of kerosene purchases. (If at $10/month, the payoff is that much faster.)  In three years, moving from unreliable, costly, and polluting kerosene lamps to enough clean energy and higher quality lighting for multiple rooms while saving money.

Right now, kerosene can account for 30 percent of some household’s income.  The D-Light and PowerMundo approaches can eliminate this expenditure … while pollution.

Tags: Global Warming · Solar Energy · green · renewable energy

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Richard Mercer // May 8, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Another simple solution for third world countries, that I’ve read about, is small cheap digesters for garbage, that create methane for cooking.

  • 2 Hank Roberts // May 11, 2009 at 12:59 am

    What specific LEDs are they using?

    I did not see this information. Would suggest contact either/both groups.

  • 3 Energy Smart Micro-Lending // Sep 20, 2010 at 10:41 am

    [...] clean (renewable) energy is a developing empowering path around much of the world. For example, an LED-light/solar power with battery combination can be had for the cost of a few months of kerosen…. The direct financial ROI for that capital investment could, easily, be many times over due to [...]

  • 4 Energy Smart Micro-Lending | CleanTechies Blog - // Sep 24, 2010 at 11:31 am

    [...] clean (renewable) energy is a developing empowering path around much of the world. For example, an LED-light/solar power with battery combination can be had for the cost of a few months of kerosen…. The direct financial ROI for that capital investment could, easily, be many times over due to [...]

  • 5 Stoveman … // Jun 28, 2011 at 11:15 am

    [...] related, solar powered efficient lighting is another win-win-win opportunity in energy-short households. Share and [...]

  • 6 Starved for power, new Indian government translates “Chicken in Every Pot” into “Solar on Every Roof” // May 20, 2014 at 8:42 am

    [...] this is a very cost effective option. A solar lighting system costs in the range of 1-2 months of kerosene for an indoor lamp. Just on fuel costs, perhaps a 400 percent return in the first year — freeing up money for [...]

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