The use of kerosene lamps in Africa has been a subject of concern for many years now. These lamps are used most commonly in developing Sub-Saharan Africa and the southern regions of Asia. More than 95% of communities without electricity are found in these regions.
For people who live off the grid, kerosene is in such high demand that some families spend up to a quarter of their monthly income just to have light in their homes. Worse, while kerosene may be considered cleaner than other solid fuels, the lamps still bring the danger of poisonings, fires, and explosions. Yet this is their only affordable alternative for lighting, as expensive as it is. Therefore, a safer and cleaner alternative is greatly needed.
A Larger Problem?
Health hazards to users aren’t the only concerns regarding kerosene lamps. A recent study by the Ecologic Institute in Berlin found that kerosene lamps emit 20 times more black carbon than previously thought–about 270 tons a year worldwide. This has a global warming equivalent of about 240 million tons of CO2. Clearly then, the best solution for this environmental and safety problem is a totally clean alternative source of lighting.
Solar Lamps as a Solution
Solar powered lamps present a perfect viable alternative. There is, however, a hurdle to overcome. How do you sell a solar power system that costs around $50 to a family that is barely surviving on $3 a day? One company, called Azuri Technologies, is providing pay-as-you-go solar power, that works very much like pre-paid cell phones. Families purchase a scratch card that only costs $1 a week to pay for their power panel. The system provides eight hours of completely clean lighting per day, along with the ability to charge mobile phones at home, instead of with local charging stations. If the system is not paid for that month, it shuts off and must be restarted upon payment. After 18 months, once the unit is paid off, the customer has the option to keep the unit as-is forever, completely unlocked and fully owned, or upgrading to a larger power system.
Lights for Life is approaching the problem in a different way, by providing LED lights with a 10-year capacity and POWERcycle generators. The POWERcycle generator provides electricity to charge the lights when it is pedaled for about 20 minutes. It is very easy to operate and even children can pedal it. The return is roughly 20 hours of clean LED light sufficient for doing homework and household tasks. The initiative is currently providing these systems in Rwanda and Kenya through donations and has already seen improvement in grades at school.
SolarAid is aiming to completely eradicate the use of kerosene lamps in Africa by the year 2020–a lofty goal with such a short timeline. They are working with communities in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda to bring solar lighting to over ten million people. Its social initiative SunnyMoney sold more than 620,000 solar lights in 2014, and has distributed more than two million lights total at this point.