It has only been 20 years since Africa was introduced to the cellphone. In that time, millions of people have gained access to a communication tool that has changed lives and kept friends and families in touch in places that would never have been reached by land lines.
A similar kind of revolution is taking place in Africa – lighting. Light is key to the social fabric of most societies – allowing people to meet, socialise and work after dark. In so many villages across the continent, light is either provided by fires, paraffin lamps or candles. Electricity is a luxury for many – either not available or too expensive to connect and use.
If you’ve ever tried to read a book by candlelight or the flicker of a paraffin lamp, you’ll know that after a while, the low light level and the flicker will tire out your eyes. Yet millions of students study by candle light or paraffin lamps every day. Until now there just hasn’t been an alternative.
Enter a low energy consumption light source (LED lights), a mechanism to create power (solar cells) and a cheap way to store energy (rechargeable batteries). While solar and battery technology has been around for some time, led lighting has only recently become viable with higher lumen outputs that make their performance acceptable. But that is not the only reason that change is about to accelerate. What will drive the change is the cost reductions in all three technologies.
In fact, with ever increasing oil prices trading off against technological breakthroughs and scale advantages of these new technologies, pricing is coming within range of “affordable”. A 2 watt solar cell with a battery and a series of small LED lights can light up a small house and now with improvements in quality and longevity, the upfront cost of purchase can be recovered very quickly. Thereafter, the lighting is effectively free and plentiful. All this thanks to the amazing low power consumption of led lights. With over 100 lumens per watt now becoming the standard, just 3 watts can light up a desk or a kitchen area with enough light to see and work by.
Besides the cost recovery angle, the quality of the led lights is far superior to the alternatives anyway, and so students can study with cool white light that does not stress the eyes.
As we move through 2012, and the cost of led lighting declines, and new technologies impact the solar cell and battery components, expect to see led lighting move through Africa at a rapid pace. Perhaps not as fast as the cellphone, but like the cellphone, it will bring welcome changes to the social and educational environment in Africa.
An article by LED Lighting Solutions