A clean energy startup called Nuru Lights has come up with a low cost pedal-powered LED light kit that is designed to help households in East Africa and India ditch their kerosene lamps. Kerosene lamps are ubiquitous in the developing world. They’re a notorious fire hazard and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when improperly vented. In impoverished areas, kerosene soaks up scarce cash that households could use to improve farming or pay school fees.
For communities dependent on kerosene a cleaner, more affordable alternative is a big deal, and Nuru Lights is getting some significant recognition for its efforts. The company has just been named one of 24 semifinalists in this year’s MIT Clean Energy Prize. Earlier this month it won the grand prize of the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition in Seattle, and in February it was awarded a United Nations Environment Program Saskawa sustainability prize.
Nuru Lights’s design approach takes full advantage of the flexibility of alternative energy compared to fossil fuels. After all, there is not much you can do – safely – with a kerosene lamp except maybe take it off the table and hang it on a hook. In contrast Nuru Lights can be hung around the neck, strapped around the head, mounted on a wall, or hung from the ceiling. They can also convert to inexpensive table lamps by popping them on an empty soda bottle. They were designed as modular units that can be used individually for task lighting, or hitched together to light up a room. The power source is also flexible. Nuru Lights can be charged with an inexpensive pedal-operated generator that works with either foot power or hand power. They can also be charged with a solar pack or from a regular power grid if one is available.
Affordable, Carbon Neutral Light
One critical stumbling block for getting kerosene-free light into impoverished communities is price. Nuru Lights kept the price of the lights themselves below $7 (solar lanterns can cost far more ). Nuru also designed the system to create jobs for local entrepreneurs, who can buy the pedal generator (with micro loans or other appropriate financing if needed) and then line up customers who pay a fee to have their lights recharged. Compared to the fossil fuel supply chain, this arrangement helps keep more local dollars circulating within the community. Nuru Lights estimates that a 40 hour pedal powered charge costs about 30 cents per light, which is much brighter than a kerosene flame. In comparison, kerosene costs about $1.75 per liter, which provides only 13 hours of light.
Image: Bicycles by Sister72 on flickr.com.