Japanese electronics giant Panasonic has announced plans to celebrate its 100th anniversary by bringing light to the lives of the needy across several countries in Asia and Africa.
The company will donate 100,000 solar lanterns in Asian and African countries to communities that lack access to electricity. The company donated 3,000 lanterns in Myanmar and 5,000 lanterns in India through non-profit organizations in February and March 2013 respectively. Communities in Kenya are expected to receive 2,000 lanterns soon.
The company said that Asia and Africa are home to billions with no access to electricity. It recognizes that lack of electricity impedes social, economic, and personal development and therefore distribution of solar lanterns could prove a significant impetus for development of poor communities in these countries.
This is not the first time Panasonic has been involved in such activities. The company donated 1,000 lanterns in Tanzania and recently donated 2,000 lanterns in Cambodia where, the company claims, many households have reported financial savings due to reduced dependence on kerosene.
Availability of solar lanterns to those with no or minimal access to electricity can have life-changing impacts. It not only reduces the consumption of fossil fuels and reduces air pollution, but also improves the living standards of the users, opening new opportunities for them to grow. Even in a fast growing economy like India, people living in rural areas struggle to get access to electricity due to lack of infrastructure, bureaucratic hurdles or simply due to a lack of energy sources like coal and gas.
A recent study highlighted the benefits of solar lanterns:
They found that households both above and below the poverty line saved significantly on energy expenditures. Women and school-aged children benefited in particular, gaining more hours in which to accomplish housework and study, respectively. The children’s performance at school markedly increased with more hours in which to study.
They concluded that “the use of solar energy will contribute to India’s future energy security, particularly in rural areas where the technology that converts sunlight directly into electricity offers a decentralized alternative to uncertain electricity supplies. If implemented efficiently, renewable energy projects could not only improve the quality of life for India’s rural poor but also enhance sustainable use of the environment.”
The Indian government has been investing heavily in expanding the solar lantern program across the country’s rural areas. The government spent $10 million as subsidies for projects aimed at promoting the use of solar energy in rural areas. The subsidies went to projects which distributed solar lanterns and installed solar home-lighting systems in villages across the country.
Several companies across the globe have launched such programs to distribute or donate solar lanterns to communities with no access to electricity. Several of these programs are based on the business model of selling carbon offsets generated from the reduction in kerosene consumption. Such programs sell these carbon offsets to companies looking to comply with emission reduction targets or fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities.
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