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LED vs. Kerosene Lighting

Need for Solar-LED Lighting

Worldwide there are around 1.5 billion people without access to electricity. The problem is very acute in Sub-Saharan Africa where over 500 million people lack modern energy, with rural electricity access rates as low as 2% [see “Lighting & Development” in Lighting Africa].   India is not much better off with around 450 million (one person in three) not connected to the national electrical grid.

It is most enlightening to view the Earth from space, as it can be clearly seen that, Africa at night is basically unlit—as dark as all-but empty Siberia – indeed the “Dark Continent”. With nearly 1 billion people, Africa accounts for around a sixth of the world's population, but generates only 4% of global electricity, and the majority of that energy is used by South Africa, Egypt and the other countries in the north.

Among the poorest of the poor, lighting is often the most expensive item among their energy uses, in many cases accounting for up to 30% of total household income, and thus the poorest pay proportionally much more than the rich. Yet, while consuming a large share of scarce income, fuel based lighting normally provides very little illumination in return, and expenditure on Kerosene lighting literally goes up in smoke. To make matters worse it is also very unhealthy and unsafe.

Recent advancements in lighting technology, such as Solid State Lighting (SSL), which uses Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), and also renewable energy, such as Solar Photovoltaic panels, promise safe, healthy, bright, rugged, long lasting and increasingly affordable electric lighting. 
The challenge is to make these products accessible to the billion plus "lighting poor" in Africa, India etc. With expenditures on worldwide fuel based lighting estimated at US$38 billion annually, the financial incentive exists to attract the international lighting industry to engage in this new market place, as long as the product meets the true needs and is appropriately priced.

Benefits of Solar-LED Lighting

In 2008 LUTW stated that “Solar-LED lighting is arguably one of the most important Agents of Change available to the Developing World in the past 50 years!”, and everything that has happened since confirms it. The following are a brief summary of the primary benefits of Solar-LED lighting in the developing world: 

Social & Economic Benefits

Extend the working day for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), thus expanding production, enriching income opportunities, improving working conditions, and increasing customers.

Extend productive time in the home, providing opportunities for income generating activities such as the development of informal cottage industries. 

Enhance safety and security via outdoor lighting for personal, business, and community activities. 

Create conditions to attract teachers, retain students, expand time for student reading and studying, and improve grades and school retention rates. 

Effectively increases the family’s disposable income (once the system is paid for) since it is no longer necessary to purchase kerosene every single week.

Significant potential to increase family savings.

Provide opportunities for adult literacy and higher education programs.

Increase gender equality for women.  

Improve health services delivery and thus reduce productivity loss due to illnesses.

Increase the quality of life.

Health & Safety Benefits

Fuel based lighting, which is mainly kerosene, can potentially cause severe health hazards in the form of burn accidents and indoor air pollution. Fires sparked by knocked over kerosene lamps are a major cause of bodily injury, death or property destruction among the rural villages in developing countries.

Surveys conducted by LUTW in Nepal and Sri Lanka reported burn accidents of some degree once in every month due to kerosene lamps, where in most cases the victims were small children and women. Compared to burn accidents, a much greater health risk caused by kerosene lamps is the indoor air pollution.

Kerosene lamp emits harmful gases such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur oxides (SOx), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and also particulate matter (PM). Of these pollutants CO is lethal to human and the others cause chronic respiratory illnesses and kerosene lamp users are continuously exposed to them.

Kerosene lamps also emit greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide CO2. A liter of kerosene burnt emits 2.5kg of CO2. Thus a household that uses about 5 liters of kerosene per month for lighting emits a tonne of CO2 in about 6.5 years and a village of 100 houses emits 15 tonnes of CO2 annually.

LED lighting systems are essentially emission free in their use phase and by replacing kerosene lighting with LED lighting the aforementioned health and environmental hazards can be avoided. It is also most informative to appreciate both the initial energy required, and the CO2 produced, during the manufacture of kerosene, since the use of LED lighting removes these negative aspects.

Millennium Development Goals (MDG)

By the year 2015, the United Nations Member states have pledged to:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
8. Develop a global partnership for development.    

Contribution of Solar-LED Lighting to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Through the promotion of Solar-LED lighting VLE is addressing serious socio-economic and environmental problems in the developing world and beyond. The reported benefits of LED lighting technology being used as a development tool in the developing countries include improved living conditions, enhanced safety and health, improved physical environment, ability to read and study after sunset and operate cottage industries by night. Given the potential impact of Solar-LED lighting on the wellbeing of the poor, there is no question that it is an important tool in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Without question affordable Solar-LED Lighting applies to all 8 MDG’s!

Fuel Based Lighting

Environmental Impact

Reduce potent Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the burning of kerosene and other fuel-based lighting sources that help give rise to climate change.

Improve indoor air quality and minimize incidences of burn victims and respiratory ailments associated with smoke inhalation, especially for those most affected - women and children.

Initiate the transition towards a more sustainable energy economy and energy future throughout the developing world.

Fuel based lighting in the developing world is a source of around 250 Million tonnes of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere each year, or 58% of the CO2 emissions from global residential electric lighting. LED lighting powered by renewable energy replaces fuel-based lighting thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions largely responsible for climate change.

Kerosene-fueled wick lamps used in millions of developing-country households are a significant but overlooked source of black carbon (BC) emissions. During its short atmospheric lifetime, one kg of BC produces as much positive forcing as 700 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) does over a period of 100 years.            

Carbon Credit Impact

With LED lighting the avoided CO2 emissions can be used as Carbon Credits and may be traded either in formal markets, e.g. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), or in a growing voluntary carbon market (e.g. Google, Nike, Yahoo), and thus they could be used to finance Solar-LED lighting implementations in developing countries. It is important to note that the Carbon Credit market has been highly volatile in its early years and has yet to ‘settle down’.                                   

Potential Economics of Carbon Credits from Fuel Based Lighting

Global usage of kerosene for lighting  =  100 B liters/year (Cost (approx) = $100 B)

Resulting CO2 produced from kerosene  =  250 M tonnes/year

Potential Carbon Credits from Kerosene CO2  =  $2.5 B/year (at $10/Tonne)


Final Words

It is very important to remember that at the end of the day all expenditures on kerosene basically “go up in smoke” and with very little light!  It is akin to literally burning the family’s precious funds and they are gone forever!

On the other hand a Solar-LED lighting system not only saves lighting expenditures on an ongoing basis, but it is always a physical asset which can be sold in times of dire need.  It is in essence a form of emergency savings!