A bright future in Africa: less cost, better health
A common image in African countries: a mother is working in a field, carrying a child on her back. Today, you may also see a small plastic device, hanging on her back: a solar-powered LED light! While the woman is working, the device is collecting power for later that night. LED lighting systems may have a great future in Africa, as they are becoming more affordable and more robust. Several NGO’s offer LED solutions to African villages as an alternative to kerosene lamps that produces toxic fumes.
In countries near the equator, it gets pitch dark at around 6pm. With no electricity at hand, villagers light their kerosene lamps, which is – in more than one way – a costly way to bring light in the darkness. The cost of kerosene can add up to a quarter of a family’s budget, and people often have to walk for hours to buy it. A kerosene lamp hardly gives enough light to enable children to do their homework, and it is a great source of household fires. It also produces toxic gases that result in bad coughs and, in many cases, lung cancer.
In some parts of Africa, the use of solar power panels on rooftops offers a great alternative, but to most Africans a solar panel is too expensive. For them, smaller solar-powered LED lamps offer an affordable alternative. Several NGO’s in countries like Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana and Rwanda are offering villagers these lamps, made up of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), a solar panel and a small rechargeable battery, encased in a durable plastic shell.
Solar lighting is falling in price, improving in quality and benefiting from new business models that make it more accessible and affordable to the poorest. The spread of the new technology is sustainable because it is being driven by market forces, not charity, says Bram Dingemans, Business Development Manager of Project Support. His company is supplying the Flexiway Solar Muscle, a solar-powered LED lamp to Africa. “We supply to local stores in several African countries and several NGO’s offer the Flexiway in SOLAR-lighting projects.” The product is also listed in the emergency catalogue of the international Red Cross, which is a recommendation in itself.
Simply shipping LED-products like the Solar Muscle to Africa is no solution, Dingemans warns. “Although the Flexiway Solar Muscle offers good value according to western standards – one LED lamp costs US$ 10 to 15, delivering 7 to 14 hours of bright light – it is an investment that many families cannot afford. Even if the LED light pays off in two to three months (with savings on kerosene), the one-time cost is more than many Africans can handle. The NGO’s we partner with – like Oxfam, Concern Worldwide and others – come up with creative projects that include micro finance.”
Africa switches from kerosene to LED, for its affordability and sustainability, but there is more: bright LED light enables kids to do their homework safely at night, without the risk of fire and health problems. Furthermore, parents can be more productive than before, which in the long term will bring them a better – and brighter – future.
The Solar Muscle can be used as a desk light. Its compact, square design, with a solar panel on one side, 12 LEDs on the other and connectors on the side, also allows several Solar Muscles to be clicked together to make a larger panel.
LED solar-powered lamps are great for Africa but not every African can afford one. How can we ensure that Africans benefit?