No, really today, 31 august Core blog comment

Lighting Africa:

Perhaps key to the appeal, is the World Bank calculation that the so-called “energy poor” in Africa spend about $17bn each year on fuel-based lighting. “It’s a sleeping giant from a market perspective,” says the IFC’s Mr Sturm. “The poor, even the poorest of the poor, can be a profitable market.”

Since I worked in lighting for a few years, I have to say this could be an easy one. Use an 40 or 60 watt A19 light bulb ($.25 cost perhaps?). Sockets and wires are cheap. Just hook it up to a battery and charge the battery with solar. Now that I think of it, perhaps a 12 volt bulb would be better choice, no need to convert the juice. However, all of this is probably for naught.

I read an article about a local african entrepreneur that was trying to sell solar cells for radios to replace batteries. His solar panel cost about four times the cost of replacement batteries. He was saying how he thought he would have to close shop, he couldn’t convince anybody to make that up front investment.

I don’t know if the problem was locals didn’t trust the solar technology, or they didn’t trust the salesman or perhaps they just weren’t confident they wouldn’t replace their batteries more than four times. Whatever it is, this isn’t a question of cost, it’s a question of marketing.

At least, according to me.

I can’t wait to see the undoubtedly LED heavy (ie, way to expensive for Africa) entries into this contest. I hope a few of those trendy designers do submit some found-material lighting solutions, those might have some traction.

Oh its going to be intresting for sure, wonder how many will make the mistake of doing their sums IE sqft of solar pannel vrs real output, plus storage, plus light output…my guess some sexy designs that are total bullshit from a engineering standpoint. I would guess some “human powed” stuff, but hey us humans only put out 1/10th hp for any lenght of time…

What makes economic sense in the US might not make sense in Zambia.

One of the biggest obstacles to introducing higher tech solutions to just about anything in sub-Saharan Africa is inflation. With inflation rates many times higher than in the developed world, it rarely makes sense for poor or working class Africans to save up the cash to buy some technology that will save money down the line, since prices often rise faster than money can be saved.

Building construction, for example, is often conducted in stages as cash becomes available, leading to lots of partially completed structures with rebar sticking up from the second floor, awaiting the money for the third story’s concrete.

So take that factor and apply it to lighting – why would you save up for a $50 solar panel you might never be able to afford, when you could go buy a $5 kerosene lantern right now?

Not that it’s an insurmountable problem, but I think a lot of the clever solutions for the developing world that designers come up with aren’t based on much developing world reality…

agree with your points totally. Not all advanced technologies will work for all. It depends on the situation. But have you ever wonder why abundant solar energy in areas like Africa is not well taken into full use ? Can we do it cheaper ? Or can we just educate and pass the entire technology to them so that they could do it in their price terms that they can afford ?

just a thought here.

As he pointed out its economics, not education or tech but good old bucks and pounds.