Low-Cost Solar Brightens Lives in the Developing World
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
A decade ago, Katherine Lucey oversaw a heavily subsidized $1,500 solar-light installation in the rural district of Mpigi in central Uganda. The 60-watt rooftop solar panel system could power three lights in the four-room, off-the-grid house.
The family’s father wanted the lights in his office, bedroom, and main room. But his wife successfully argued instead for a light in the room where she cooked dinner, a light outside for security, and a light for her chicken coop. After all, chickens lay more eggs when they have more light.
Lucey recalls being struck by how something as simple as light could profoundly change a family’s life. Indeed, after solar-powered lighting was installed, the family prospered by selling more eggs and, over time, they bought a cow, a goat, and a pig. The woman even started a school and women’s literacy club.
“It was such a simple, fundamental intervention,” said Lucey, who now runs a solar lamp nonprofit called Solar Sister.
Today, solar lights are making similar differences in millions of lives in the developing world-at a fraction of what they cost when Lucey did the installation at Mpigi.
(Related: “Sunlight In the Dark“)
Thanks to technological advances, simple solar lamps go for as little as $10 to $20 each, and ones that have multiple brightness settings and an outlet to charge a cell phone don’t cost much more. For daytime use, there are even cheaper options, such as a $2 to $3 solar bottle bulb made of a plastic bottle of purified water and bleach, sealed into the roof. The water helps disperse sunlight into a room, while the chlorine keeps mold from growing.