Over the last five years Worldchanging has covered a number of stories about the leapfrog potential of increased use of solar power, and solar, portable and LED lighting in Africa. As James Cascio wrote in 2005: "...in the developing world, Africa in particular, solar has the potential to be a life-saver, providing clean energy in the remotest of locations." Rural electrification projects provide the underlying power necessary for bettering education, increasing information access, and enabling or expanding work opportunities for all people, and especially for those living at the base of the pyramid. What follows here is an update on recent design innovations in solar powered, portable, LED lights for Africa and the distribution issues that still exist.
The five winners of the World Bank Group's Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awards were recently announced:
When the World Bank and International Finance Corporation started the Lighting Africa program in 2007, it was estimated that Africans spent $17 billion (€12.5 billion) a year on lighting sources such as kerosene lamps that are inefficient, polluting and hazardous, and that 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa had no access to power. Today the numbers are improving. According to Nathan Wyeth at Next Billion:
There are still 1.6 billion people without access to electricity, but decreasing costs of solar panels and LED lighting have put individual solar-powered lamps at a price that is affordable for much of the base of the pyramid. Solar lantern distribution is projected to grow at 25-40% rates over the next 5 years in Africa.However, Wyeth continues:
Does this mean the path to modern energy for rural Africa is in clear view? I'm not sure it is, which is why when I'm meeting people at this conference sponsored by the IFC's Lighting Africa program, I'm saying that I'm still looking for killer apps. Engineering better, cheaper products is often a process of putting one foot in front of the other, but distributing them will require side-stepping the barriers that solar energy has continually run up against at every price point.
And even if the goal is defined as lighting for Africa, lighting products themselves may not be the best starting point or a standalone approach, as opposed to more comprehensive platforms for energy access - laying the groundwork to go from portable pico-power retail products to household and community scale energy distribution, in terms of both business infrastructure and customer readiness/ability.
Isn't that sort of over-generalizing? Africa doesn't "have no food". It is poverty, bad infrastructure, or market barriers that cause most of the hunger in places like Africa, not a lack of food.