Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, as a volunteer with start-up non governmental organisation Village Infrastructure Angels. VIA have developed a micro-credit programming for the financing of solar lighting, and I was there to demonstrate a range of household solar lights to see which lights were of the greatest interest to villagers.
The most popular lights were those with a central battery and a number of lights, so that several rooms in a house could be lit from the one battery and solar panel.
It was very different to my work in energy efficiency, which my role is to point out where energy, mostly electricity, can be used more efficiently. Here I was introducing electricity, and small lighting systems that produce much high quality light than that produced from a fire, a candle or a kerosene lantern. Normally my work is about reducing energy wastage, here I was introducing (efficient!) energy usage. From addressing energy wastage in a country (Australia) with substantial generation and distribution infrastructure to addressing energy poverty in a country with little energy distribution infrastructure.
This has not been possible or affordable until very recently, and has arising by the dramatic decrease in solar PV costs, improvements in LED lighting efficiency, and drops in LED pricing.
Just as mobile phone networks have provided phone access in many countries without the need to invest in expensive fixed line infrastructure (e.g. most of Africa), so lighting systems such as those promoted by VIA are eliminating the need for high cost electricity distribution infrastructure, and accelerating the pace of development. VIA’s hire-purchase model is also similar to a phone plan – pay as you go – and makes electric lighting affordable to almost everyone.
The video below has Vallette Nako, one of the people promoting the project, describing the lighting systems, the loan payments and highlighting two human development benefits: the ability to now weave mats and baskets at night (economic benefit), and for kids to do their school homework (educational benefit).