A fifth of the world’s population lives without electricity and a billion more with unstable supply of energy. Close to 35% of the world live in darkness – even during the day. The lack of light has incredible negative effects on productivity and thereby directly results in a death spiral for the poor. The end result is that the poor continue to be poor. Yes, it’s bleak.
What about green energy? Can green solve the problem? Yes, the technology is maturing but based on the reach of green it’s still insufficient. Green is just not reaching the rural parts of the world and it’s still too expensive. Let’s not forget the biggest challenge of any energy is transport and storage – these 2 factors alone demonstrate how difficult it is to reach the rural parts of the world where (according to World Bank) 50% of the population live. But, there might be hope – two companies have come up with very innovative ways to bring light to these masses and they employ completely different strategies.
Liter of Light or “Isang Litrong Liwanag” is a project that brings eco-friendly bottle light to communities living without electricity. Created by Alfred Moser and a group of MIT students, the concept is quite brilliant. Take an old plastic bottle, fill it with water and chlorine and you get a 55-watt solar bulb that refracts light, powerful enough to light up any shack or home. The bottle is installed into the roof of a home (by carving out a hole) and if installed correctly can last up to 5 years. The project’s strategy for expansion is even more commendable. Employing a pseudo open source approach they have set up a global network of organizations across the world to implement the solution for the underprivileged everywhere. By connecting with local NGOs and universities, Liter of Light has illuminated homes in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Zambia, India and in the Philippines where the project started. The bottle harnesses sunlight to light the home and enables indoor studying, cooking and helps raises productivity. Although the solution doesn’t work during nights – it can still save on electricity costs where the monies saved can be used for alternative purposes for example sending kids to school or buying books. Win-win.
The second company, I’ve followed for over a year is due to my unhealthy obsession with the sport of football (soccer). Soccket – a product by Uncharted Play is an energy harnessing soccer ball. Started by Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman, Soccket has the potential to revolutionize energy storage via the medium of play. The way it works is quite simple and ingenious – a kid plays with the soccer ball and during the time of his play raw energy is converted to electricity, stored in a port. A small LED bulb or lamp can in turn be plugged directly into the port – viola you have light. What strikes me is not innovation or the elegance of the product but the power it could exert over kids through play. Football is ubiquitous in most developing countries and Soccket turns this pastime into a productive activity. The company’s strategy for expansion has been slow and methodical. It’s based around working with NGOs and building educational programs around the ball. It’s the right strategy, because without education the ball could just be wasteful. Additionally a slow market expansion allows Unchartered Play to gain valuable inputs from field tests and improve their product and productive use rate. You can also back the project on Kickstarter.
In the absence of electric grids in rural areas, social enterprises like the above are making a dent in communities. The products are green and allow the BoP to significantly improve their quality of lives. It’s inspiring and more projects like these need to get off the ground.