Rob Katz

Off-grid rural electrification for $25

A recent article (available here, PDF)in the journal Science tackles theproblem of electrification in low-income households with analysis showcasing arobust technical solution that could be made available for US$25 fixed-cost,without subsidy. The technology,solar-powered white light emitting diodes(WLEDs) are more efficient than fuel-based lighting (biomass, kerosene,candles, etc) by a factor of 100. Inaddition, the article’s author, Evan Mills, estimates that fuel-based lightingaccounts for annual worldwide energy consumption of 77 billion liters of fuelper year–an amount equivalent to US$38 billion per year or US$77 perhousehold. Mills states:

?Despite the paucityof lighting services obtained, individual unelectrified households in thedeveloping world spend a comparable amount of money on illumination as dohouseholds in the developed world.?

With 14% of urban households and 49% of rural householdswithout electricity as of 2000 (citation here), thisrepresents a huge market opportunity. Companies are starting to take high-tech water filters, wirelesstelecommunications, and financial tools into low-income communities. When will companies start taking high-techapproaches to off-grid electrification into those same communities? At $25 per year, some microfinance organizations should think hard about giving loans to purchase these systems.