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.