Green IT

Solar LEDs enable life after dark

Read time 3min 40sec

A new initiative by Philips Electronics will see the installation of 100 “light centres” across rural Africa, with the aim of enabling social, educational, healthcare and sporting activities in the evenings for some of the 500 million Africans without access to electricity.

The project involves lighting up areas the size of small soccer pitches (approximately 1 000m2) with energy-efficient, solar-powered LED lights. The goal is to “extend the day” for communities living without electricity, creating communal areas of light where learning, markets, sports and other activities can take place after dark.

The company announced the initiative during the concluding leg of its Cairo to Cape Town road show, which focused on the ways technology innovations could help address key challenges in Africa.

The light centres will be rolled out over the next three years, with more information on exact locations to be announced in October. The first 40 are scheduled for installation later this year, and will be focused on schools closely linked to villages or towns in off-grid or semi-grid areas.

Nick Kelso, senior communications manager for Philips Lighting Africa, says the project is targeting schools that are central to their communities, to help facilitate activities including adult learning classes, homework and healthcare programmes. “It's about enabling life,” says Kelso.

Philips has committed to a total investment of EUR1.2 million for the project (spread over three years), and plans maintenance to be self-sustaining, as local authorities will be able to rent out the light or advertising space and generate an income. The initiative has been in development for several years, and in November 2009, the first soccer game was played under solar-powered LED floodlighting in Nairobi, Kenya.

Light centres have already been installed in a number of African countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya and SA, and Kelso says SA will get a significant number of the 40 planned for rollout this year.

The set-up includes four eight-metre poles fixed in the ground with four LED lights attached, which consume less power than a 60W light bulb and provide around 20 lux of light (of similar intensity to that used in parking lots) across the pitch-sized area. Kelso says communities can decide for how long to keep the lights on each evening, and that one day of sunshine is generally enough to replenish the battery.

“Light-emitting diodes are the big revolution going on in lighting today. They are very energy-efficient and last for a long time, so it's a no-brainer to use LED in these types of situations,” says Kelso.

LED lighting is more expensive than conventional lighting, but produces more light per watt and lasts much longer - around 50 000 hours compared to an incandescent bulb's 750 to 2 500 hours. Kelso also believes the price barrier is coming down, and “expects the gap to close soon” between new and older lighting technologies.

With the programme, Philips is putting its weight behind the UN secretary-general's 'Sustainable Energy for All' initiative, which aims to make universal energy access a reality by 2030. Kandeh Yumkella, DG of the UN Industrial Development Organisation and co-chair of the High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, says the UN initiative is about creating opportunities for people to live healthy and productive lives. “The private sector plays a key role in the implementation of this initiative, and Philips' work will help us achieve our goal of sustainable energy for all by 2030.”

Some 1.6 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, and for those living near the equator, darkness falls around 7pm year-round. This slows down or completely halts many vital activities. Kelso says that as more businesses move into Africa, there is a need to look at the broader environment within which they operate. “As a company, it's important that we look at society. It's about lifting Africa out of poverty.”

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