Energy COOL: Lighting up the Developing World

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating ... exciting ... even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL.

With ever-more attention being given to 'simple' technology solutions like solar cookers and more efficient stoves have ever more appeal. In the same realm of 'small' can make a great difference, providing just a low level of lighting for the night can provide tremendous economic boosts in developing countries. Think one Black Carbonefficient light bulb and how much better a child might do in school work, being able to read by light even for just one hour each evening. And just as solar ovens and efficient stoves can cut into the pollution and costs (monetary, time, and otherwise) of burning wood, more modern lighting options can carve into the pollution and costs of, for example, using kerosene for lighting.

Thus, here is a discussion of some companies with Energy COOL business models for getting that efficient lighting into the homes of the world's poor and bringing more people to the web with each passing day.

PowerMundo sees this the billions with lighting as a challenge ... and opportunity:

Over 3,000,000,000 people do not have access to affordable, safe, and healthy products to meet their daily needs for survival.

PowerMundo seeks to create a global business network, marketing products that might represent an upfront capital investment for sustainability but long-term efficiency and cost-effectiveness by either drastically cutting polluting energy use or a total reliance on renewable power. Their products include solar powered lighting, efficient wood stoves, and renewable energy radios.

As discussed by Anne Field in Not Only for Profit,

The target market is the billions of people around the world without access to electricity, who use kerosene lamps or camp fires for light and, also, have virtually no access to news, except for battery-operated radios (when they can afford batteries). PowerMundo's solution is to sell such simple, low-cost products as biomass cook stoves, wind-up radios, and solar lanterns to low-income households, focusing first on the poorest communities in Peru. After that, they'll expand to other countries in Latin America and Africa.

In a short period of time-perhaps a few months-consumers can recoup their investment. For example, a solar lantern costs $30, but it eliminates the need to shell out $10 a month for kerosene. Plus, it emits less air pollution and CO2. There's also an economic development part to PowerMundo's plan, by offering locals the chance to become distributors.

D-Light design focuses quite specifically on the lighting arena and has received serious start-up money. Their target is quite explicitly the 1 in 4 people on earth who do not have reliable access to electricity and who rely on kerosene for lighting at night. The concept is to set up micro-loans, enabling people to buy their solar energy, battery, light combinations (ranging in price from twelve to thirty dollars) that will then be paid back due to no longer having to pay for that kerosene. D-Light is focusing on India and has, in fact, lit up an entire (even if small) village with renewable systems. In terms of the impact:

The D.light lamps sell for about $25, steep for someone earning $1 per day, but the D.light team quickly found that the quality of light was so good that people with the D.light lamps were able to do more work at night and increase their income. Two families in New Keringa, a village of 47 families in southern India, took the plunge on D.light lamps. Says Tozun: "All of a sudden the two families were able to work at night," mostly weaving banana leaves into plates. "Their average monthly income increased from $12 to $18, and they could save the time spent traveling to buy more kerosene." Within a few days the entire village had sprung for the lights. "These people are great customers if you give them a clear value proposition," Tozun says.

While D-Light will take donations, make no bones about it: it is a business. These owners/developers of D-Light believe (know) that they can do well by themselves by doing good. As per the above, the challenge is getting the foothold. Once there, there is quick understanding of the value that D-Lights products provide.

Now, among other things, one of the truly appealing elements of these approaches in the relatively low cost threshold for revolutionizing life for those 'off the grid' while, as well, providing a logical path toward 'improving' life in a sustainable way. Spending, with a micro-loan, $30 on a solar-light combination that might cut kerosene demand by $5 / month means that, with interest, the loan is paid off in seven months. Every year, that home could add another lighting system and still save the equivalent of five months of kerosene purchases. (If at $10/month, the payoff is that much faster.) In three years, moving from unreliable, costly, and polluting kerosene lamps to enough clean energy and higher quality lighting for multiple rooms while saving money.

Right now, kerosene can account for 30 percent of some household's income. The D-Light and PowerMundo approaches can eliminate this expenditure ... while pollution from burning the kerosene is eliminated.

And, on to the web ...

Lighting people's lives can make a real difference. Connecting them -- via phone or web -- can as well. Inveneo is putting together networks of providers for turn-key solutions for information and communication technology (ICT) for the "More than 2 billion people in the developing world live in rural and remote communities that lack basic access to information and communications technologies, such as telephony, computing, and Internet access."

Here is a couple year old CNN segment on Inveneo.

To date, Inveneo claims to have worked in over 250 communities, reaching more than 700,000 with a target of more than million before the end of the year. A million. That is an impressive number. But the challenge is 2+ billion. That is an impressive challenge.

Inveneo has focused much attention to energy efficient options, which provide lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) over less efficient options. And, in the case of off-grid or unreliable power situations, that energy efficiency makes it far easier (and cost effective) to power the systems with renewable power, like solar power.

Effective Solutions for Real Problems

Above are three clear examples of companies and organizations working light and connect some of the most challenged communities and people in the world. To light and open up their lives in sustainable and cost-effective ways that will improve those communities and lives while lowering the footprint on the planet.

These are not Silver Bullet solutions to the challenges of catastrophic climate change, but these are the types of efforts that help form the puzzle of paths that, together, provide us a chance to turn the tide on Global Warming's rising seas.