Going Off Grid

Solar Powered Lighting

The solid-state lighting industry is providing safe illumination for billions of people without electricity — and many of these companies are exhibiting at Lightfair.

By Cindy Foster-Warthen

Electricity is an expected convenience for the majority of the world; however, there are still 1.2 billion people who do not have access and hundreds of millions more who face regular blackouts due to unstable grids.

The effects of energy poverty are enormous. Natural disasters can leave cities and countries without the use of power for days or weeks and many under-developed countries lack the funding and economic environment to benefit from electricity. Right now, more than one-quarter of the world’s population lives without access to electricity.

Off-grid lighting addresses this dilemma by providing illumination and power to those in need. The move to off-grid lighting and power sources is transforming lives and economies in developing countries around the world by increasing incomes, assisting educational development, and improving health and safety. Currently the solar lighting and solar home systems sector is a $300-million a year market globally — and rapidly growing.

Under-developed countries.  The downside is that these lamps are very inefficient, dangerous, expensive, and have extensive health and environmental drawbacks. However, there are a number of companies using innovation to create alternative solutions.

Headquartered in Denver, Nokero – which stands for “No Kerosene” – is one of the first U.S. manufacturers to produce and distribute solar-powered lights and lamps to households in Africa, India, and other countries.  When placed in sunlight, the Nokero bulbs charge enough to provide four to nine hours of light. Company executives calculate that the effect of each solar light improves approximately five lives, resulting in 10,000 people benefiting from clean, renewable energy.

Today, Nokero has sold nearly 1 million solar light bulbs – which average $7 to $45 each, depending on the model, and typically last more than three years – in developing countries. “Families who once spent up to 25 percent of their income on kerosene now save about $60 a year,” comments Nokero founder Steve Katsaros, adding, “They can invest that extra money in agriculture, education, preventive health care, or clean water.”

By providing solar-powered lighting to under-developed countries, Nokero is helping school children and families enjoy more hours of illumination at home.

Netherlands-based WakaWaka – which means “Shine Bright” in Swahili – manufactures high-tech, low-cost, solar-powered lamps and chargers plus operates a New York City-based North American office. Using the latest patented solar technology, the WakaWaka Light flashlight and WakaWaka Power+ charger provide an alternative to traditional kerosene lamps. The WakaWaka Light supplies up to 80 hours of bright, safe, and sustainable light after just one single day in the sun. It can be paired with the lightweight and durable WakaWaka Power+ compact charger that is capable of charging virtually any type of smartphone or small electronic device in just a few hours. This energy-efficient power source boasts a full battery after 12 hours in the sun and offers up to 150 hours of light with four settings from 5 to 75 lumens.

Another benefit: for every WakaWaka product purchased, one WakaWaka Light is donated to the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid organization that ensures they are distributed to families that need them most. Inside each purchased light package is a special code that enables the consumer to select which part of the world they would like their contribution to go.


WakaWaka Solar-Waka Waka
The WakaWaka Light and Power+ charger are lightweight and offer 150 hours of light.

Shaan Technologies, an affiliate of California-based
LEDtronics , offers a LED Solar Power Compact Lantern that will illuminate up to 16 hours.  A 2-watt solar panel charges the lantern with only 8 hours of sunlight and supplies two levels of brightness at 80 lumens.  Cell phone charging is possible through a USB port integrated directly into the solar panel itself.

The founder and President of LEDtronics began a philanthropic initiative in 2003 to bring a “First Ray of Light” to the rural and poor communities of Pakistan. The on-going initiative has since expanded to several countries with rural and poverty-stricken areas. The mission’s objective is to not only provide ownership of Solar LED lighting systems, but to educate and provide detailed instructions and support on how to maintain and benefit from solar-power technology.

Off-grid, solar-powered products yield numerous benefits. The use of these energy-efficient and affordable light sources give communities better learning environments as children have more hours of light to study and learn; increase the income-generating capacity for families as there are more hours of light to work; and reduces burn risks and the unhealthy side effects of kerosene use.  However, these solutions aren’t just ideal for resolving lighting needs in under-developed countries. In recent years several new markets have opened up for solar consumer products, particularly for lighting, mobile phone charging, and power for small direct current (DS) appliances.  According to a report in Navigant Research, worldwide units of sales of pico solar and solar home systems will grow from 8.2 million annually in 2014 to 64.3 million in 2024.

LEDtronics- LED Solar Power Compact Lantern
Having a solar-powered light source (the light shown is from LEDtronics) is safer and less expensive than kerosene for people without access to electricity.

Solar-powered streetlights and off-grid solutions were recently identified as one of the top five trends in commercial lighting. The $11-billion+ commercial outdoor lighting market continues to experience a solar and LED renaissance.

Oregon-based Urban Solar got its start as the only solar lighting provider exclusively dedicated to the transportation industry. Its solar-powered LED lighting systems are designed specifically to address the needs of transit, transportation, parking lots, pathway, and general illumination for bus stops and transit shelters.

This parking lot in Ko Olina, Hawaii, is illuminated by SEPCO solar-powered fixtures.
This parking lot in Ko Olina, Hawaii, is illuminated by SEPCO solar-powered fixtures.

Solar Electric Power Company (SEPCO) , head-
quartered in Florida, is a leader in outdoor solar lighting.  Founder Steve Robbins invented the first solar streetlight over 25 years ago and the company continues to manufacture solar LED lighting systems for commercial-grade applications with a focus on site and roadway systems.

New York-based Lumi•Solair is a manufacturer specializing in off-grid solar and wind streetlights that use a wind turbine combined with a powerful solar system. These pedestrian and roadway lighting products eliminate the need for underground wiring as they are powered by wind, sun, or a combination of the two. Lumi•Solair was recently awarded an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Award for having the only operational streetlights during Superstorm Sandy in Atlantic City.  Other installations in the U.S. can be seen at the Charlotte, N.C. airport and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

In the off-grid market, there are plenty of changes and growth but the revolution hasn’t occurred just yet. While numerous startups and established lighting manufacturers are moving to seize the opportunity represented by the needs of the non- and under-electrified, no one group has come to dominate this area. The potential market size ranges from about $2.7 billion for solar lanterns alone to $50 billion including larger solar home systems and accessories such as TVs, fans, and other electrical appliances — and we haven’t even touched the commercial market applications for outdoor solar lighting.   

A report released by the World Bank Group and the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), in partnership with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, found that the market for off-grid solar products is worth an annual $300 million with over 13 million off-grid solar products having been sold to date. Solar portable lights are already the preferred source of lighting for households with zero or unreliable access to energy. As awareness of the advantages of such sources increases, demand will continue to grow. 

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