Experiencing Solar Products in the Dark Sheds Light on their Power
This Spring, Lighting Africa demonstrated the transformative power of off-grid lighting and energy products to hundreds of World Bank staff and visitors. To do so, we set up black-out tents in the atrium of the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., with support from the Lighting Global Program. The tents were outfitted to resemble the inside of a rural African home, powered by a number of quality-verified off-grid solar lighting and energy products. Visitors were then able to experience for themselves that grid extension is not the only avenue to bring light and energy to the roughly 1.1 billion un-electrified people around the world.
Our installation was set-up for four days to coincide with the World Bank’s ‘Energy and Extractives Week 2017,’ a semi-annual learning event around energy and extractive issues, bringing together World Bank staff and visitors from all over the world.
The sight of two large black-out tents in the atrium drew many curious passersby, who came in for a tour. Entering the darkness of the first tent – initially lit only by a single-point solar task light – was startling. This helped visitors get a feel for how dark a home without electricity truly is – a darkness that is the daily reality for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa whose only light after sunset is that from a kerosene lamp – emitting a weak light together with hazardous fumes.
Thinking Back Looking Forward
We soon learned that a startlingly large percentage of World Bank staff grew up with kerosene lamps back home. Walking into that dark room and seeing the bright, simple, safe solar task light that can affordably displace the kerosene lamp, the stories came tumbling out. One gentleman from Afghanistan described the taste of kerosene he remembered from his childhood – explaining how traces of it wafted through the room as the lamps burned, settling into his lungs, his eyes, and even into the taste of his food.
And here, in his hands he held an alternative to that memory. An alternative that typically retails for between $6 to $18 – no more than the cost of a few months of kerosene for a lamp; a quality-verified solar task light that will provide years of safe, clean, bright light, and in many cases can charge a mobile phone as well.
Experiencing larger products
Next, we introduced our visitors to solar home systems (SHS), which have the ability to provide lighting for several users at once, and can simultaneously charge USB-compatible devices. Based on the SEforALL energy access definition, these systems provide Tier 1 level service, or basic electricity services (lighting and mobile phone charging). Switching on these lights changed everything. Suddenly we could clearly see each other, the pictures on the wall, and the small box that had contained this plug-and-play SHS, consisting of a small solar panel, a battery, and three lamps. Our visitors were impressed by how much light could be produced by such a small solar panel – and even more impressed when we told them that these systems retailed for roughly $80 – $120. Upon hearing the modest cost, a World Bank lawyer originally from Haiti grew visibly moved, imagining the effect that these SHS could have in her home village.
We then moved on to demonstrate the Tier 2-and-above SHS, showing how they can power a fan, lights as bright as those powered by the grid, and even a TV. Seeing these more powerful products in action really drove home the message that due to advancements in solar technology coupled with a drop in price, grid-expansion is no longer the only option to bring energy services to those lacking grid electricity. In fact, in rural and sparsely populated regions, off-grid solutions are often the least cost option as they are able to quickly and effectively reach those far from the grid. At the same time manufacturers and retailers are making these larger systems affordable to end-users through a variety of payment options, including pay-as-you-go (PAYG), similar to the familiar payment method for cell phones.
We truly enjoyed demonstrating the possibilities provided by quality-verified off-grid solutions to our hundreds of visitors, many of whom completed surveys after their tour. The vast majority of respondents indicated that they had changed their opinion about off-grid solar products after experiencing them first hand in our tents. Many echoed one survey response that they felt the products were more ‘impressive, low-budget, and high performance’ than previously believed.
We are thankful to all of the companies that provided products for us to display, and to all of you who braved the darkness of the tents to experience the light and energy off-grid solar can provide. Based on the popularity and impact of this installation, we hope to recreate the experience in the future – please check our website or follow us on twitter to keep informed about any future events – or get in touch if you have a suggestion for one.
More About Us
Lighting Africa is part of the World Bank Group’s contribution to Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). It is implemented in partnership with the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the governments of Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
ESMAP is a global knowledge and technical assistance program administered by the World Bank. It assists low- and middle-income countries to increase their know-how and institutional capacity to achieve environmentally sustainable energy solutions for poverty reduction and economic growth.