University of Nairobi conducts first low cost tests for solar lamps

Importers and local distributors  in East Africa are closer to getting a  source of testing solar lanterns destined for their markets as the University of Nairobi opened a laboratory to test solar portable lights, using Lighting Africa initial screening method. From February 2011, the laboratory will conduct the tests as a commercial service.
This is the first laboratory of its kind, where local manufacturers and distributors of lighting products in Kenya and the East Africa region, as well as NGOs and government agencies can bring in their lamps for a quick screening that will be able to determine market good quality products.

In the past five years, substandard solar lanterns have infiltrated the  market, eroding consumer confidence in solar lighting technology.  Consumers have fallen victim to overrated product claims  and would purchase solar torches, task lamps or room lamps in an attempt to cut down on kerosene use, only to realize that the products do not live up to their expectations. Lighting Africa’s initial screening method is a quick reference to distinguish between substandard and quality products. Importers will now have an affordable avenue to test the products before importation.

So far, the laboratory at the University of Nairobi has tested 21 products for system level performance, component performance, durability and manufacturing quality.

With a turnaround of four to six weeks, and a cost of approximately 500US$, Lighting Africa initial screening method is faster and cheaper than other methodologies to determine the potential of lighting products. Those products which pass this initial screening also become members of Lighting Africa, benefiting from a range of business support services, such as advice on product design and access to Lighting Africa’s fully fledged Quality Test Method at half cost (3,000 US$ for members versus 6,000US$ for non members).

Lighting Africa is working with the off-grid industry to develop a quality seal  that will in the long term provide  a global benchmark for consumers and independent verification of quality and performance for the consumers. The program has in the last few months worked with the staff at the University of Nairobi laboratory to build capacity in battery, photovoltaics and photometrics testing, electronics durability and quality assessment, and interpretation of test results to ensure that the testing standards are upheld.

Lighting Africa is currently working to establish a similar low cost, local testing centre using the initial screening method in Dakar, Senegal, while three international laboratories in Germany, China and the United States are accredited to conduct the more extensive Quality Test Method. In the course of 2011, Lighting Africa will be developing a quality seal for consumers to be able to easily identify products which have passed its quality tests.

Uganda student uses off-grid lighting for phone charging business, boasting earnings and higher marks in school

Story adapted with the permission of Barefoot Power

Bakole Joel reading for his future © Barefoot Power

Bakole Joel reading for his future © Barefoot Power

      There is now reason to pass my exams.” –Bakole


Bakole is a Primary seven pupil at the Ojuku Primary school, in the Maracha-terego District of Aii-Vuu Sub-County, Uganda.  With the help of his Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA),Bakole was able to purchase a Barefoot Power Fireflyâ„¢ 12Mobile lamp. He uses the lamp to run a business charging mobile phones and to study at night, both of which have dramatically changed his life for the better.

In the past, Bakole’s only source of income was to sell tobacco that he grew.  Tobacco is the main cash crop in the area and, while Bakole recognized it was not an ecologically sustainable business, it was his only option for generating cash. Still, this business was not enough for him to earn enough savings for his family.  He had dreamed of being able to help take the burden off his elderly father, MuzeeErina Albino, from having to pay for his educational materials — books, pens, uniforms, etc.

Then he had a brilliant idea. There was only one location for phone charging in his village — a video hall that had a generator and offered charging services, but only operated at night, making it difficult for people to get to the charging center.  If he could borrow 25,000 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) (~US $12.50) from the Village Savings and Loan Association and save up enough from his tobacco sales to match that amount, he could purchase a Barefoot Power Fireflyâ„¢ 12Mobile lamp.  Then, he could both use it for personal use, to study at night, and as a means to make money from offering phone charging services at times that are more convenient for the community.

His idea worked.  Bakole’s name became associated with a successful commercial phone charging point in the village andpeople prefer his place to the generator at the video hall because it is more convenient. Today Bakole boasts earnings of about 2,500 shillings ($1.25) daily from his phone charging business alone, and is seeing increasing demand, with many people asking for bigger systems that can charge multiple phones simultaneously. He believes his savings will only continue to increase from here.

“I had bought this system [Firefly 12 Mobile] for my per¬sonal use given that waiting at night for charging was very disturbing for me.” –Bakole

“My system has been more convenient for the community and I have attracted more custom¬ers.”–Bakole

Bakole confirms the benefit of reaching out to his community’s VSLA and his excitement over his Firefly12 Mobile. Because of his lamp, his hope of helping his father by contributing to his school materials is becoming a reality.  Furthermore, with a stable source of light for reading at night, Bakole believes that his academic performance is improving. Being able to acquire a consistent source of income from his Firefly 12Mobile phone charging business has proved to be able to both increase his sav-ings capacity and help him meet his scholastic needs.

Barefoot Power is an Associate of Lighting Africa, and has three products which meet Lighting Africa’s minimum quality standards and pass its recommended performance targets.

Learn more about the Firefly 12 Mobile’s product performance:
Visit Barefoot Power’s website:
Learn more about BASE technologies: call or text 0716 781212, 0776 781212, 0756 781212. e-mail:

Lighting Africa opens the path for carbon financing

The United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board just approved an update to the methodology for crediting emissions reductions from clean off-grid lighting, bringing it  into close alignment with Lighting Africa’s quality assurance framework.

icon_TESTING icon_standards icon_targets_met

Under the updated framework, products that meet Lighting Africa Minimum Quality Standards and Recommended Performance Targets based on test results from the Lighting Africa Quality Test Method (LA-QTM) will likely also be qualified for CDM projects. Testing through the LAQTM affords manufacturers an easy path to entry for accessing carbon financing.

Originally approved in Cancún a year ago, the methodology—officially called AMS.III-AR—provides requirements for product quality, performance, and project accounting to ensure the validity of carbon credits. This year’s update follows months of engagement by Lighting Africa personnel.

The official documentation for the methodology can be difficult to decipher, so the following is a quick summary of the key requirements and how they compare with Lighting Africa’s Quality Assurance framework.

  • Product Performance: Requires the same brightness levels (20 lumens or 25 lux over 1,000 cm2) and similar run time as Lighting Africa. The run time requirements in AMS.III-AR are less stringent: 3.5 hours per day of solar charging and 7 hours from a full battery if the product is charged by the grid (compared to 4 hours and 8 hours for Lighting Africa).
  • Product Quality: Requires the same levels of water exposure and physical ingress protection (depends on produce form factor), and similar levels of lumen maintenance and warranty protection as Lighting Africa. The lumen maintenance requirement is more stringent, at 80% or 85% maintenance of original brightness after 2,000 hours of operation—depending on the crediting period (compared to 70% for Lighting Africa). The warranty requirements are also more stringent at one year (compared to six months for Lighting Africa).
  • Testing Requirements: LA-QTM is the main reference for product test procedures, among other allowable procedures (most of which are less affordable and not tailored for the off-grid lighting market). The test results from LA-QTM are sufficient to complete the Project Design Document for CDM.

The new method, available at the following link, is valid beginning Dec 09, 2011:

New energy policy in the making in Kenya

Lighting Africa facilitated the Kenya Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) stakeholder deliberations on the Kenyan draft National Energy Policy, on 29 November in Nairobi.

Key stakeholders in the energy sector, such as KEREA, the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Kenyan Investment Authority, GIZ, Carbon Africa, UNIDO and the Independent Power Producers met to make comments on the draft for the government’s consideration.

The KEREA and its members are advocating for a great role for decentralized renewable energy technologies in the new national energy policy, to increase energy access in the rural areas in Kenya.

The draft energy policy reviews the energy sector framework to align it with the new Constitution that was adopted in August 2010. The energy policy seeks to ensure adequate, reliable, quality, equitable, sustainable and cost effective supply of energy to meet national and county development needs, while protecting and conserving the environment.

The deliberations are part of a six months consultation process between the Kenyan government and civil society on the energy policy.

Visit the Kenya Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) website:

Better light for more people

Nearly 600 million people in Africa – about 70 percent of the population – lack electricity and rely on expensive and polluting lighting sources such as kerosene lamps and candles. Thanks to Lighting Africa, close to 1.5 million people have cleaner, safer, better lighting.

With the population growth fast outdoing the electrical grid expansion, many Africans will not know electrification in their lifetime. But alternative, modern off-grid lighting products can provide an immediate solution: In 2011, the sales of quality off-grid lighting products in Africa registered a 450% growth over 2010.

Lighting Africa has contributed to this market transformation by removing market obstacles for several players:

Manufacturers and distributors can now test lighting products locally in a testing lab at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, using Lighting Africa low-cost initial screening method. The lab is the first of its kind in East Africa to offer testing of off-grid lighting products as a commercial service.

Consumers are better equipped to make buying decisions with Lighting Africa consumer education campaign, explaining the benefits of clean off-grid lighting having reached 11 million people in rural Kenya and 675,000 in Ghana.

Importers, retailers and consumers can assess which products live up to their expectations: Lighting Africa publishes the performance of the products tested by the program on this website in detailed, comparable and free specification sheets.

Consumers have a larger choice of quality products, with a total of 15 products which have passed the full set of Lighting Africa quality tests. To address the upfront costs bottleneck for consumers, Lighting Africa has reached out to MFIs to provide consumer finance. Three MFIs in Kenya and two in Ghana are actively providing finance to consumers in rural areas.

Governments can benefit from Lighting Africa advice on how to make modern off-grid lighting an integral part of their energy access expansion programs.

The program works to increase energy access for and provide better lighting to 2.5 million people by 2012 and 250 million by 2030.

Off-Grid Lighting Sector in Africa Shows Positive Growth


450% growth in sales in 2011 over 2010…

  • Consumers are better equipped to make buying decisions in today’s market.
  • Lighting Africa’s consumer education campaign, which works to generate consumer awareness around the benefits of clean and affordable off-grid lighting, has now reached 11 million people in rural Kenya and 675,000 people in Ghana.
  • The campaign has supported the 450% growth in the sales of off-grid lighting products across the continent in FY 11.

Over 1.5m people in Africa with access to better lighting…

  • Since 2010, close to 1.5 million people in Africa have cleaner, safer, better lighting and improved energy access.

The variety and choice of affordable and good quality products to off-grid consumers in Africa has increased…

  • 6 new products passed Lighting Africa quality tests recently, bringing the number of good quality and affordable lanterns available in the market to 14.
  • To address the upfront costs bottleneck for consumers, Lighting Africa has reached out to MFIs to provide consumer finance.   3 Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in Kenya and 2 in Ghana are actively providing finance to consumers in rural areas.

SOLUX brings solar light to pregnant mothers and AIDS orphans in Uganda

The Adult Education College in Bad Alexandersbad, Germany has partnered with two Ugandan communities to bring solar light to community projects.

The first of these partnerships is a small community run maternity clinic in unelectrified Kanungu–newly equipped with 11 Solux solar portable lamps.  A group of 24 women called Kihanda Women for Development established a clinic in the late 1990s. In this very mountainous, rural area bordering the Republic of Congo, pregnant women had to walk long distances to reach the hospital – and many babies died on the way. They financed their local clinic through income generating projects, supplemented by financial support from the Adult Education College.

The second partnership concerns a primary school near Kampala that the Adult Education College provided with SOLUX solar portable lanterns.  Although the school is connected to the grid, it experienced frequent powercuts, as the Kampala municipality implements power sharing schemes.  With the SOLUX solar lanterns, the students have now light in their classrooms every evening – independently from the municipal supply. Several years ago, the Center provided financial support to Mary Kayamba, who was teaching AIDS orphans on a rented veranda, to build her own school on a donated plot of land.  Today she is heading a school of 10 teachers, 1 matron and around 200 pupils, some of them boarders, some of them day-schoolers. The orphans go to school free of charge.

New report: African Women Stand to Gain from Modern Off-Grid Lighting

women_coverA new report from the joint IFC/World Bank Lighting Africa Program finds that women in Africa are both important beneficiaries and key facilitators of the modern off-grid lighting revolution. Affordable products utilizing technologies like micro-solar power and LEDs can replace fuel-based lighting—enabling women and men to save money, reduce indoor pollution, and operate their small enterprises with reliable, clean lighting.

The new report, Expanding Women’s Role in Africa’s Modern off-Grid Lighting Market, analyses women’s role as both consumers and entrepreneurs and identifies women-specific opportunities in the expanding market for modern off-grid lighting.

Modern off-grid lighting products could be an immediate solution for African businesswomen who often run small retail businesses – exactly the type of businesses that benefit most from improved lighting and extended productive time.

In the household, women influence the decision 40% of the time in regards of when to buy a new lighting device and which one to get – a decision-making role that warrants attention from marketing and education campaigns.

Women and children are inordinately affected by the toxic smoke from fuel-based lamps.  The research shows that people with awareness of the issue prefer to use solar lanterns.

The report compiles the findings of extensive Lighting Africa consumer studies focused on Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia.  Lighting Africa partnered with IFC’s Women in Business (WIN) program to  author the report.  For more information, visit
Download the report in low-resolution (best for email and screen viewing)

Innovative Rural Employers Keep Pace with Employee Needs

“I was buying a full jerry can [of kerosene] costing Ksh 600/- ($ 6.40) for my father and mum every month, only for them to see.  Then my brother’s children were coming to my mother’s house to study,” said Rebecca Muthiani, employee of Tambuzi Farm in Nanyuki, Kenya whose income supports a large extended family.  With the cost of living in Kenya rising, large scale rural employers are thinking of innovative solutions to alleviate financial pressure on employees, arranging loans to make products such as good quality portable solar lanterns affordable to all.

Girls completing homework under a LED light © Jamie Seno/Lighting Africa

Bringing solar lanterns into employee homes
A year ago, Maggie Hobbs, director of the Tambuzi flower farm, which is located in an area with no grid electrification, attended a Lighting Africa conference in Nairobi.  She was particularly interested in the fact that many products had undergone quality testing carried out independently by Lighting Africa.  Once she was assured that there were good quality portable solar lanterns available in the marketplace, that can provide clean, sustainable, bright light in the home, she was determined to try to give all her 225 employees access to these products.

 After the conference, Maggie arranged to take a sample product from each of the eight category winners from the 2010 Lighting Africa Outstanding Product Awards Competition and, together with her employees, undertook home testing.  Upon seeing the products, the farm employees were all keen to switch from kerosene to solar lighting.  They unanimously voted for one product, the Barefoot Powapack 5, making it possible for Maggie to negotiate a reduced price for a large order.

She also approached the Waitrose Foundation, the farm’s main UK client, which provided a subsidy of Ksh 2,000/- ($18) for each unit sold.  The final subsidized selling price of each Barefoot Power Powapack 5 was Ksh 3,000, which employees paid back at a rate of  Ksh 250/- per month over one year, some opting to pay back more quickly.  Each solar kit comprises four lanterns, one solar panel and a battery that can recharge a mobile phone and run a radio.

“We have never had a CSR [corporate social responsibility] project as successful as this, that truly addresses the issue and by saving on the cost of kerosene and phone charging, ultimately puts cash back into employees pockets,” Maggie said.

Tambuzi Farm is currently rolling out the second phase of the initiative, this time offering employees the choice of buying subsidized bicycles, water tanks, iron sheets (mbati) or solar lanterns on manageable repayment terms.  Half of the employees have chosen to buy additional solar lamps for family and friends.

Lighting up rural areas
Rebecca Muthiani, Production Manager at Tambuzi Farm, has so far bought a set for herself and five more Powapack units for her extended family many miles away in Nyara District, Eastern Kenya. In my village they are asking me for them.  The whole village is calling me every day.  By the time I get money, I buy another one.

Investing in Education
Maggie Hobbs also found donors to purchase the Greenlight Planet Sun King solar powered portable task lights for all ten teachers at Mukuri school and each of the 25 students in year 8 who are preparing for exams to graduate to secondary level.

“They (the students) used to come early in the morning to do homework before school.  These days they come ready,” said Stephen Mwangi, headmaster of Mukuri School. The task lights are now school property. The students charge them each day on the school premises and then take them home at night to study. The plan is to hand the lamps on to the next group of year 8 students in January 2011.

Tambuzi Farm also provides these students with prep diaries, which are signed off by their parents every day, in order to supervise their homework. Since the initiative started, the school has seen an improvement in the year 8 students’ grades.

“I am seeing a great, great change,” Mr. Mwangi said. “It would be good to see this project extended to year 6 or 7.”  Currently the lantern is used by siblings at home, so already each lamp is benefiting more than one student. Another 265 pupils are enrolled at the school, the majority without access to the grid.

The example of Tambuzi Farm shows that the initiative had a bigger impact than first imagined, improving the lives not only of the students, but of the wider community.