Approximately 600 million people living in Africa do not have electricity in their homes. This equates to more than 60% of the population, and consists predominantly of communities living in rural areas. These communities depend entirely on fuel-based energy sources for cooking and to provide light in their homes. The light emitted by these sources is poor, which impacts children’s ability to read, learn and do school work at home, and consequently limits education and economic opportunities. Fuels used to provide energy contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions, pollute the atmosphere, and are hazardous – posing both a fire and health risk. Fires in informal settlements in African cities are common, and because shacks are built close together, a fire that starts from a burning candle or kerosene lantern in one shack, very often quickly engulfs a whole settlement, leading to loss of possessions, and sometimes tragic loss of life.
Using the Power of the Sun to Light up the Night in Rural Africa
Lighting Africa, a program funded by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), hopes to change this by providing Africans with a clean, safe, and affordable off-grid lighting solution. As part of the global Solar and LED Energy Access program, an initiative striving towards a global economy that is built on clean energy, Lighting Africa’s approach is to develop sustainable markets to bring affordable solar lighting solutions to impoverished communities using modern lighting technologies, such as LED lighting, that are more energy efficient. The program is already underway in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, and Nigeria, where it has been highly successful in providing low-income households and small businesses with access to an alternative and cost effective form of lighting. To date the program has brought electricity to 2.5 million people in Africa, but the long-term goal is to provide 250 million people with clean lighting by 2030.
Key Benefits of Modern Lighting Over Traditional Fuel-based Lighting Sources
- Allows children to study at home in the evenings, thus promotes education
- Allows businesses to operate for longer hours, even after the sun goes down, thus increases productivity and generates more income.
- Improves indoor air quality, reducing respiratory diseases
- Reduces fire risks and improves safety in the home
- Households and businesses can save on fuel energy costs
- Environmentally friendly – greenhouse gas emissions are reduced
A Cheaper Method of Lighting up Africa
It is estimated that Africans spend approximately $10.5 billion annually on fuel for lighting. Off-grid solar lighting provides an alternative that is cheaper, healthier, greener and safer. Compact solar powered lights featuring fluorescent or LED bulbs, and sometimes even a built-in cellphone charger, provide free lighting after the initial purchase of the unit. While this market provides a huge potential for marketing solar powered lighting products, there are many obstacles that prevent entrepreneurs from entering this market. That’s where Lighting Africa steps in. Working with a broad range of industrial players, they have made this market more accessible and easier to penetrate by providing business development services, training workshops, and access to finance.
In addition, Lighting Africa undertakes community educational campaigns to highlight the benefits of transforming from expensive and hazardous traditional forms of lighting to low-cost solar powered alternatives. They hold fun educational forums and roadshows that sometimes draw crowds of up to 500 people at a time, getting their message across through song, dance, enacted drama skits and trivia questions to teach consumers about the benefits of switching to solar. They also conduct training sessions at these forums, to help consumers differentiate between high quality and poor quality solar lighting products.
Environmental Benefits of Lighting up Africa with Solar
Through this program, 502,000 high-quality solar lighting products have been sold to date, providing better quality lighting to 2,500,000 people. This amounts to 50,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions that have been avoided – equating to removing 9,800 cars from the road. Lighting Africa’s long-term goal is to see the above figures increase a hundred fold by 2030 – this can only be a win-win situation for the people of Africa, and the environment.