MediaGlobal (New York)

15 August 2010

Africa: Solar Energy to Save Lives

An estimated 1.5 million deaths in Africa have been caused by the use of kerosene lamps. In an effort to address this issue, the first solar-powered light bulb is now being distributed as an alternative for people in developing countries who live without electricity.

It is estimated that 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas. Of these people, 90 percent have no access to electricity. In such instances, many people are forced to light and heat their homes with kerosene lamps.

The World Bank has found burning kerosene indoors to be equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. It is estimated that almost one billion women and children are breathing in kerosene on a daily basis. Continued use of these lamps can cause infection of the lungs or eyes, and respiratory problems.

In addition to the significant health risk of the fumes, fires can also erupt when a lamp is knocked over, or when household items or clothes are exposed to the flame.

A company called Nokero has begun producing the first solar light bulb. Tom Boyd, representative for Nokero, told MediaGlobal, "The target market is the extremely poor, the so-called 'bottom of the pyramid.' With 1.6 billion people worldwide living without electricity, and another 1.8 billion living with intermittent electricity, the demand for clean safe, solar light is nearly inexhaustible."

While distribution began on 10 June of this year, the new solar light bulb has already been purchased in 30 countries, and shipments for testing have arrived in Liberia, Pakistan, Haiti, and Nicaragua. "These bulbs are being used and tested by families who live with minimum or no electricity at all," Boyd said. "We hope for sustainable growth that will give the bulbs the longest possible lifespan on the market with the best possible outcome for those on the ground who are using it."

Nokera's solar light bulb is rain-proof, made of shatter-resistant plastic, with four solar panels on the sides to collect the sun's energy. When placed in full sunlight for eight hours, the light bulb will produce between two and four hours of light. Each of these green light bulbs has a battery that is designed to last two to three years and is both replaceable and recyclable. The solar panels on the side are expected to last five years or more.

"There is a great need for these light bulbs, and many people will be able to use them," Boyd stated. At present, the cost of these solar bulbs is a main concern for Nokero. A single unit is sold for $15, but when sold in bulk, the price will be significantly lowered, with some as low as $6.

Finding ways to make these solar lights available will reduce the number of kerosene lamps needed, providing safer and healthier living situations for the vast amount of people living without electricity today.

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