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Friday, September 23, 2016

Guest Blog: Solar Lighting and LEDs... a virtuous circle

Recent studies by lab researcher Evan Mills (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) suggests that solar-LED lighting will have a momentous impact on the employment rates of third world countries. His research saw the very first global analysis of how a transition to solar-LED lighting will affect employment. The results? By replacing kerosene and other fuel-based lighting, analysis shows that there’s potential to create two million new jobs.
To demonstrate how powerful this discovery is and to put substance behind the person and organisation who has uncovered it; 13 Nobel prizes are associated with the Berkeley Lab, 17 lab scientists are members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), 13 Berkeley scientists have won the National Medal of Science, 18 engineers have been elected into the National Academy of Engineering and an extra three scientists have been elected into the Institute of Medicine. This was no flash-in-the-pan study conducted by a novice.
There’s approximately 150,000 fuel-based lighting jobs. Yet many of these jobs, particularly in impoverished areas, fail to adhere to safety regulations and offer little to no basic human rights for their workers. A surge in Solar-LED innovation, and its production, will not only ensure more jobs are created but these destitute working environments will significantly improve; as conditions become legal, healthy and stable.
There are so many benefits attached to this finding. New jobs, better working conditions, safer living conditions, cost reductions, a healthier planet and the continued development and investment in LED-Solar technology. With all of this in mind, surely a study of this magnitude should ignite the thinking-caps of decision makers? If they need reminding of what this can do, then perhaps they should read on.

Health Benefits To Existing Off-Grid Communities

It’s hard for people living in the western world to fathom life without electricity. With electricity, comes the ability to provide artificial light. So what happens if this can’t be achieved? Off-grid locations such as sub-Saharan Africa have been using fuel-based lighting to counteract their inaccessibility to light. The use of fuel-based lighting may serve a momentary fix but it comes with a staggering amount of negatives.

 Easy accessibility means kerosene lamps continue to be the most popular alternative for off-grid locations. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re adequate, in fact they are quite the opposite, because kerosene lamps and similar lighting fuels contribute to more than 1.5 million deaths per year, causing anything from lung disease and respiratory problems to eye related deficiencies. 
But what other choice do people living in poverty have? For some locations in Sub-Saharan Africa, a full power outage increases the probability of rape by 20%. This fear alone is enough for people, mainly women, to adopt a kerosene lamp as their only source of light. In recent years’ design teams have come together to present a safer and more cost-effective alternative, typically involving LED-Solar technology. Using solar to soak up sunlight during the day provides people with access to LED light at night – saving lives, improving living conditions, reducing costs and being kinder to the environment. What’s not to embrace and push forward as an established scheme?

In 2014 Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura were awarded with a Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of ‘the greatest benefit to mankind’, for their affordable solar-LED lights, intended to be used by some of the world’s poorest people without electricity. This inroad not only advances the relationship between solar and LED technology but it shapes a healthier future for those that desperately need it. 
SunnyMoney headed by SolarAid, is the largest solar light distributor in Africa. They have sold over 1 ½ million solar lights, with 90% of its customers living below the poverty line and thought to be surviving on the equivalent of 94 pence a day. Their ambition, like many others, is to eradicate the use of harmful kerosene lamps from Africa. In the past they have set a target to do this by 2020 but whether this prediction is on track remains to be seen. 
Financially, the switch from kerosene to solar would save a family around £52.60 in reduced lighting costs. It would also mean that children would be able to extend their homework hours and households could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 300kg per year, including other short-lived climate pollutants too.

Even though it doesn’t get much more prestigious than a Nobel Prize, will this type of random recognition for innovation be enough? Despite the endorsement of people like Richard Branson, will the likes of SolarAid be able to improve living conditions, save money and initiate an eco-friendlier planet? These are all questions that remain unanswered.
It’s examples like the habitants of off-grid Sub Saharan Africa, or people living in warzones or those dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters, which arguably demonstrates the very best usage of the Solar-LED combination. Solar and LED technology has been standing alone for a while now and as independent entities they have come a very long way. However, bringing the two together to create an effective combination is less renown. How about we change this and what better way to start than by improving lives?

So What Can We Do To Support This?

As human beings we should all feel compelled to support the needs of those living in poverty. Many of us contribute to charity organisations who assist with a whole host of humanitarian aid projects across the world. And although this is undoubtedly a great thing to do, there should also be a mass drive in awareness to specific products and innovations that help to improve living conditions.
An awareness to inventions like Solar-LED lights would initially have to start with the media and the involvement of new investors, because it is they who hold the power to influence a million minds and can whip up substantial support overnight. All it would take is an explanation of the problem, how the product solves this, what technology is involved, how it reforms lives and where people can donate. If this kind of campaign was rolled out over all mainstream channels and endorsed all over the globe by celebrities, world leaders and the like, and it was given the same attention as the latest Nike trainers or Beyonce album, then we might be onto something. 
Knowing that an all-encompassing drive to supply millions with these inventions, whilst also continuing to support the development of Solar-LED technology, would go on to improve lives on a titanic level – it begs the question, why isn’t it happening? It’s the same argument with food and clean water. It’s estimated to cost around 22 billion pounds a year to end world hunger, which on the face of things, seems like a lot of money. But when you put it in perspective, the US spends the equivalent of around 557 billion pounds a year on their defence budget. Something’s clearly wrong. It’s almost like they want people to still be dying or suffering as a result of something that can be prevented. But I guess that’s a whole new can of worms to open.

Written by

Thomas Bray (The Talem Recruitment Group) Astra Recruitment - specialists in engineering, IT and logistics sectors.