Solar power has long been looked to as the most viable off-the-grid lighting source for rural populations. With the technology required finally coming of age and prices dropping to reasonable levels, companies and NGOs are looking less at technological hurdles and more towards issues of funding and distribution.
TERI, India’s leading energy research institute, started the Lighting One Billion Lives initiative in 2007 to provide solar lanterns and charging stations (which also charge mobile phones) to villages in India that have no or little access to reliable electricity. The centralized stations power the lanterns during the day to make them ready for pickup by villages in the evening.
The project uses a combination of sources for funding, including donations and sponsorship from companies and even Bollywood stars to provide the lanterns, charging stations, and tech support. Crucial to the success is keeping the cost to the final user as low as possible — low enough to compete with the $1 a month typically spent on polluting and dangerous kerosene. While relying on sponsorship and donations reduces the sustainability of the project, more and more villages are looking to micro-finance solutions that allow villages to rent the lamps for just a few pence a day, and even at systems that allow a charging center’s maintenance to provide full-time work for a community member. TERI, for its part, is working to reduce the production cost of the lanterns and to substantially improve battery life.
The project caught our attention because of its flexible and inventive options for financing and spreading their product without working strictly towards making a profit. While there are still reliance and sustainability issues to work around, this dynamic and individualized approach to distribution gives the ini
tiative an innovative edge. It stands as a reminder to avoid one-size-fits-all approaches and instead cater any effort to needs and capacities at a local level.
Here is an article outlining the initiative from The Guardian.
Lighting a Billion Lives
This article was originally posted in spring of 2013.