IFC-World Bank Study Establishes Significant Climate Benefit of Solar Lighting Products

Children on the outskirts of Dakar use a solar-powered reading light to do their homework © Bruno Demeocq/Lighting Africa

Children on the outskirts of Dakar use a solar-powered reading light to do their homework © Bruno Demeocq/Lighting Africa

A new research study published by the IFC-World Bank Lighting Global program finds that replacing all kerosene lamps in use with solar lights would reduce the equivalent of 5 percent annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, or 12 percent of India’s annual emissions.

The study confirms that modern solar lighting products designed for low income families without access to grid electricity are far more energy efficient than widely used kerosene lamps.

“Fuel-based lamps require a small amount of energy to manufacture, but then consume a large amount of energy through fuel burnt daily. A solar-powered electric light, by contrast, requires a larger energy investment to manufacture, but consumes no further fuel because it generates its power from the sun,” says Dr. Arne Jacobson, technical lead for Lighting Global, a sister program to the IFC-World Bank Lighting Africa program.Dr. Jacobson is also a Director of the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University.

The study found that quality-verified solar lanterns, which have been championed and promoted by the Lighting Africa program since its inception in 2007, typically reduce a family’s consumption of kerosene for lighting by at least 50 percent. Such lamps can completely replace kerosene-fueled lamps from a household.

“Replacing kerosene lights with solar powered products thus represents a local solution that has significant positive global implications,” says Dr Jacobson. Today 1.4 billion people across the globe rely on fuel-based lighting such as kerosene that emit carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot).

The study, titled Energy and Carbon Benefits of Pico Powered Lighting, reviewed small modern solar powered lighting products designed for households in off-grid areas or locations with unreliable grid electricity. They include flash lights, portable lanterns, task and ambient lights, as well as solar home lighting kits that can light more than one room and power appliances such as radios, fans and TV sets.

The study is part of a series of Technical and Eco Design Briefing Notes published by the Lighting Global program to build knowledge on various aspects of modern off-grid lighting products designed and developed for the consumers not connected to grid electricity.

The study used an energy return on investment (EROI) analysis to estimate savings. The study found that an EROI of 1.0 represents a product that saves exactly as much energy as the energy it consumes. The EROI ratios for pico-solar were found to be quite high—about 15‐45 (depending on the kerosene replacement scenario) for products with a 2-year lifespan. While upfront costs are higher, these products pay for themselves many times over from an energy perspective.

Quality verified solar products often have a lifespan of two years, although some last longer. Because of their energy efficiency and use of no fuel, they are able to very quickly offset the energy used in their manufacture and transportation when compared with kerosene lamps. The simple energy payback for such solar lighting products was found to be between one to three months for the products evaluated by the study.


Google Funds Research on Impact of Solar Lighting on Poverty Alleviation

Priscilla & son, Zambia - Patrick Bentley-2

Zambian mother and child with one of the solar lamps that are lighting homes across Africa © Patrick Bentley / SolarAid

Google is funding a two-year study on the impact of solar lights on poverty alleviation. Google has put up $650,000 for a Randomised Control Trial study (RCT), the first large-scale research project of its kind, for pico-solar lights.

The study will be undertaken by SolarAid,a leading distributor of solar lights in Africa.

At the inauguration of the study mid-February, Jacquelline Fuller, a Director at Google.org said: “Research is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against poverty. SolarAid has committed to rigorously assessing their programs and openly sharing their findings, and not just the rosy ones, to make sure they’re making a big impact in people’s lives. We’re excited to further support their mission.”

Solar lighting has the potential to transform people’s quality of life through reduced indoor air pollution, and to unlock their socio-economic potential through extended productive hours for study and business. The switch from expensive lighting fuels such as kerosene, candles or batteriesenables families to redirect income saved towards health, education and capitalizing their businesses.

SolarAid’sDirector of Researchand Impact Kat Harrison said: “Despite being such an important field, there is not a lot of empirical evidence out there on the links between solar lighting and poverty alleviation. This hinders our, and the sector’s, ability to advise on policy, make recommendations to governments and to fully explain just what impact a pico-solar light can have”.

SolarAidwill engage and update interested stakeholders in the course of this study. You can follow the updates here.