lighting for the 1 in 4 humans with no electric lighting


While Howard Brandston makes a fool of himself demanding his “moral choice” to use 19th-century lighting technology, impoverished villagers in South America, India, and elsewhere are upgrading their entire standard of living by skipping from 17th-century oil lamps to 21st-century solar-LED systems.

As an antidote to my last post about the ridiculously self-indulgent behavior of the “save the bulb” Republican/Tea Party/Whoever nut jobs, I wanted to include a post about two organizations truly working for the good of humanity.

1 in 4 humans have no access to electric lighting.  Most commonly, they are forced to use kerosene lamps, paying outrageous prices from local dealers for the privilege of seeing their children breathing toxic smoke while struggling to read after the sun sets.

LED lighting, solar photovoltaic power systems, and rechargeable batteries have fallen in price so much that simple, well-designed systems can provide highly effective, off-the-grid lighting solutions that these villagers can actually afford.  This is an outstanding example of 1st-world technology helping the 3rd-world leap over centuries of slow progress.  For us spoiled-rotten 1st-world inhabitants, it can be shocking to read the stories of how children dramatically improve their learning and test scores, simply from having better quality, reliable lighting after dark.

Children reading under a single LED lamp

Light Up The World is a non-profit NGO that has had great success finding, developing, and getting small solar/LED systems into the hands of the people who need them most.  The problem they’ve found though, is that the non-profit approach of finding donations and giving away lighting systems just doesn’t scale to the massive number of people who need off-the-grid lighting.  As I understand it, they are taking more of an advocate role, trying to stimulate private, for-profit companies into launching products that serve this market, generating a sustaining profit while helping those who need the technology.  Basically, the money is transitioning from the kerosene industry to the solar/LED manufacturers.

Light Up The World - Solar/LED System

d.Light is a great example of this cause-driven, for-profit approach, with an added bonus of great design.  A spin-off of the Stanford D-School, d.light has developed a range of compact, durable, and inexpensive solar/LED light fixtures, ranging from portable lanterns to desktop reading lights.

It seems so simple: basic electric lighting.  But what a profound effect it has on people’s lives, especially when delivered via innovative, low cost off-the-grid systems.

But I am sure in that in some hut in some villlage somewhere in the world, there is a cranky old blowhard sitting around bemoaning the loss of the “perfect light of incandescence” that the kerosene used to provide, and how he gets headaches from the LED lighting.

Of course, the rest of the village has happily moved on to using  non-fossil-fuel-based, high quality and far healthier lighting systems…to the benefit of all.

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About Brad Koerner

Venture Manager - Luminous Patterns Philips Lighting
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