Everyone needs light. After the sun goes down, you need some kind of artificial illumination to read, to clean up the house, to work. And if you're off the grid in a developing country, then that usually means burning a kerosene lamp, which is like sharing the room with a gasoline engine. That's why a $5 solar lamp is a big deal.
The SolarAid lamp is designed for "off-grid families and school children," and is both cheap to buy and cheap to run. It's tough, and unlike kerosene you don't need to buy fuel for it. It won't choke children while they do their homework, and it is twice as bright as a kerosene lamp.
The SolarAid lamp comes from the U.K.-based organization of the same name. The lamp was designed for SolarAid by Chinese solar-panel maker Yingli Solar, and is on sale to anyone who wants one. The catch is that you or I will pay £10 (around $12) to buy one, in order to subsidize their supply to Africa. SolarAid has been running for 10 years, and supplies lamps to Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda.
"When I first started at SolarAid 10 years ago the lights we sold in Africa were $25 each," said SolarAid CEO and founder Nick Sireau in a statement. "Working with our social enterprise, SunnyMoney, in Africa we will be selling the SM100 to people in rural communities for just $5 each. We sincerely hope this step change in pricing will help us to eradicate the kerosene lamp for good."
SunnyMoney is a spinoff from the SolarAid NGO. It's a "social enterprise" which focusses on selling the solar lamps and it, like its parent company, dedicated to eradicating kerosene lamps. SunnyMoney, so named because "we quickly saw that SolarAid is not a good name for entrepreneurs," said former SunnyMoney boss John Keane in an interview. "Trying to sell lights with the name ‘Aid’ on our t-shirt was not so effective." As a social enterprise, SunnyMoney is also involved in education, and the promotion of clean lighting over kerosene.
The SolarAid lamp pays for itself after just 10 weeks of use, in money saved by not buying fuel. After that it's free to use, and of course it's a lot cleaner and brighter, saving up to a ton of carbon emissions compared to a kerosene lamp, and running for five hours on a charge.
Developing countries are ideal for things like individual solar lamps, partly because their current needs are so modest. It's a lot easier to replace a single lamp with a solar alternative than it is to power an entire U.S. home with solar power, for example.
If you want your own SolarAid lamp, for camping, or just to use as an alternative to the flashlight in your cellphone, you can now pick one up at the SolarAid store—for each lamp sold to you and me, three can be sold at a subsidized price in Africa.