Lighting the developing world with solar-powered LEDs

Electrical lighting is a vital part of modern life. In the global south, there is a significant lack of access, especially in South Asia. Current competitors focus almost exclusively on Africa, which means that South Asia is in dire need of support. Furthermore, the existing limited access is not environmentally friendly. For instance kerosene lamps are damaging to human health and produce waste that contaminates the local environment.

This solar powered LED technology is grown on silicon substrates and is significantly cheaper to manufacture than existing technologies. The integration of these LEDs into cheap lighting solutions with renewable energy sources in the developing world could have a significant impact.

The scope for this application is vast. The i-Team chose to focus on investigating different aspects of implementation in different scenarios. These are instances in which lighting was often limited or inaccessible, or appropriate lighting could create impact. Within these scenarios, variables such as the type of access, scale, and income were accounted for.

The scenarios examined were:

  • Personal use – Kerosene lamps are widely depended upon for personal use. The target demographic typically lives on low incomes (subsistence or living on less than $2 a day) and would need the product not to be hand-held. Therefore, the team recommended cheap and wearable technology such as headlamps. There are competitors in this market such as SolarAid, and Gravity Light, but by leveraging existing distribution channels this could be a valuable application.
  • Disaster relief – Lighting in disaster relief and refugee camps is a considerable challenge. Rates of sexual assault can be higher in refugee camps than in conflict areas and the effects of sexual and violent assault are exacerbated in poorly lit areas. Easy-to-use, robust and portable lighting would be desirable for the safety of those in disaster relief areas. The i-Team found that this technology could be produced as outdoor lighting with the support of organisations such as WakaWaka and UNHCR.
  • Commerce at night – Durable outdoor lighting also allows for commerce at night. If shops are kept open later, it would ensure increased income generation. The lighting could be solar-powered using a pay-as-you-go model to allow for fair use and distribution.
  • Home systems – Home systems require reliable light so children can participate in education, families can communicate, and household chores aren’t only reserved for daytime hours. Charging capabilities are unpredictable; with most homes being unreliably on-grid. Employing a pay-as-you-go system ensures that energy is only used as needed.

The Development i-Team explored market challenges and recommended a focus on power sources, a reduction in manufacturing production cost and partnership opportunities.

The product and plan developed by the i-Team was taken further by CGE. It is now a start-up company called SOLAWARE which is part of the CGE Cultivator program. SOLAWARE’s progress has been significant, as they won the £5k social enterprise stream and Allia incubator award from Cambridge University Entrepreneurs in May. They plan to move the project forward into distributing the technology as soon as possible.

i-Teams website link:

Lighting the developing world with solar-powered LEDs