Solar Lanterns In Malawi  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Renewable Energy World has a column from the the Director of SolarAid, an non-profit organisation that is is training young Malawians to become "solar entrepreneurs so that they can build and sell small solar products such as solar lanterns and solar chargers for mobile phones and radios". The solar lanterns replace kerosene based lanterns, which are no doubt getting significantly more expensive to operate as fuel prices climb - The Power of the Sun: Solar Lanterns Transform Lives in Malawi, Africa.

The average African household uses 55 or so liters of kerosene per year, at an approximate cost of £80 [US $158]. This contributes to health problems as the burning of kerosene inside houses is a major cause of respiratory illness, fires, burns, accidental poisonings, eyesight problems and death in the developing world. Kerosene is far more expensive and far less efficient than electric lighting: the cost of useful light energy ($/lumen hour of light) for kerosene is 325 times higher than the inefficient incandescent bulb and 1,625 times higher than compact fluorescent light bulbs.

In rural areas, the high cost of kerosene can consume much of a family's income. One lamp consumes 0.07 liters per hour with daily usage of around two hours burn time, amounting to around 4 liters per month. In the developing world, a family's lighting costs, because of kerosene fuel costs, are equal to those of a family in the developed world. Even with government subsidies, kerosene requires 10% to 25% of a villager's annual income.

The training that SolarAid is doing involves teaching your Malawians to convert a standard, medium sized kerosene "hurricane" lanterns (not pressurized or "tilly" lanterns) into LED solar lanterns. Conversion of the lanterns involves putting rechargeable AA batteries into the chimney and using 3.3V, 25mA LEDs (wired in parallel) to direct light down onto an improvised cone reflector, which sits over the top of the old wick. The reflector is constructed from locally collected materials such as aluminium foil, gift wrap, or the inside of a cigarette packet, and is configured in a conical shape to provide uniform reflection. ...

Barely 2 percent of the rural population in Malawi has access to electricity. The other 98 percent relies on expensive kerosene for lighting, single-use batteries for radios and the occasional charging of their mobile phones — amounting to 20 percent of their monthly income. One microsolar panel can answer all these needs, leading to major energy savings for rural households.

There's also a climate change angle. According to market research carried out by SolarAid in Malawi with TRAID funding, the average kerosene lamp creates around a ton of carbon over 10-14 years. There are probably around 1 -1.5 million kerosene lamps in Malawi, so replacing them with solar lanterns will lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions.

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