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Student team develops $20 solar lamp for remote parts of India

By Damir Beciri
4 Comments24 May 2010

kerosene-lampA week ago, during the all-day Saturday session, ten student teams demonstrated projects they had been working on for three months. Their assignment had been to design a new product with no more than 10 parts and build a prototype. It also had to relate to one of this year’s class themes: green living, global health, and clean transportation. Each team got $1,000 to spend. One of the teams came up with a small, affordable and rechargeable lamp.

The lamp, priced at $20, can be sited on the floor, hang from a peg on a wall, and be carried like a flashlight or worn around the neck. It can withstand drops to the floor and is easily taken apart to be fixed if something goes wrong. Designed to be recharged at a solar generating station, it is strong enough to read by or to light up a room. It holds a charge for eight hours.

Dubbed “Enlight” by a seven-person team of students from MIT and Rhode Island School of Design that created it, the lamp could eventually be used by millions of people in remote parts of India. The student team will present its prototype to one of India’s largest non-governmental organizations, the Energy and Resource Institute, which will consider using Enlight or the concepts behind it in plans to light some 40,000 villages.

“There are 67 million households in India that don’t have proper lighting and use open fires or kerosene, which is unhealthy, unsafe, and inadequate,” said Lennon Rodgers, an MIT Engineering student and a member of the team that developed Enlight. The product, he said, is “versatile, rugged, low cost, small in size, low in weight, and bright enough to satisfy all their needs.”

Rodgers and his teammates unveiled Enlight during the recent final presentations of the Product Design and Development class run by Steven Eppinger, professor of management science and engineering systems at Sloan School of Management. Prof. Warren Seering of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Matthew Kressy of the Rhode Island School of Design co-teach the course with Eppinger. Most who take the course are either Sloan MBA students, MIT engineering graduate students, or undergraduates in industrial design at RISD.

This is a great way to encourage cooperation and communication among students in order to make better products. The RISD students know how to design the product, while the MIT engineering students can make it, and the Sloan students can determine how to turn it into a business.

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4 Comments — Leave your response!

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    Lights for rural areas through solar operation with storage in batteries is not new. There were several models available . Here are some models discussed:

    Let There Be Light: Solar-Powered LED Lamps Brighten Lives of Poor People
    Solar-powered LED lamps could save lives, lower costs, create new opportunities Environmental Issues :

    An experiment with low-cost, solar-powered light emitting diode (LED) lamps that is lighting up the lives of a handful of families in rural India could become a beacon of hope for millions of poor people worldwide who currently rely on kerosene lamps and other lighting solutions that are toxic–and frequently lethal–when used indoors.
    Solar Lighting Eliminates the Need for Electricity in Rural Areas
    The Grameen Surya Bijli Foundation (GSBF), a Bombay-based nongovernmental organization that is committed to bringing light to rural India, installed the $55 lamps in about 300 homes. About 100,000 villages in India still do not have electricity, and the cost of lighting those villages by traditional means is prohibitive. The solar LED technology eliminates the need for electric lights. After the initial cost, solar energy continues to light the lamps free of charge.

    “Children can now study at night, elders can manage their chores better,” one relieved villager told The Christian Science Monitor. “Life doesn’t halt anymore when darkness falls.”
    LED Lamps Provide Safer and Better Light For Less
    Replacing kerosene lamps with clean solar-powered LED lamps also provides healthier and safer living conditions as well as better light for less money. According to The Christian Science Monitor, about 1.5 billion people worldwide use kerosene to light their homes, but the fuel is dangerous.

    Sunlabob Renewable Energies Ltd, Laos
    Solar power electrifies rural villages (2007).

    Laos is ranked among the 50 poorest countries in the world with 74% of the population living on less than $2 per day. The average annual electricity consumption per capita is 135 kWh, compared to a global average of 2,490 kWh, and only 48% of the population have access to the electricity grid.

    The Lao government is committed to rural electrification of up to 90% by 2020 yet recognises that centralised systems cannot be relied upon to deliver electricity to remote, sparsely populated rural areas. Rural communities need alternative sources of electricity that can be delivered at the local level and at a price people can afford.
    Solar energy is an obvious choice yet many initiatives have proved unsustainable because of dependence on direct subsidies to cover the upfront costs of the technology. The answer lies in making solar energy commercially viable yet affordable for the rural poor. Sunlabob has done just that. It has succeeded in developing a commercially viable business model providing high quality solar PV systems to the rural poor at a price they can afford. The success and sustainability of the scheme lies in a rental service which avoids upfront costs and direct subsidies and a network of trained rural entrepreneurs who can respond quickly to any technical hitches in the more remote areas and so maintain the high quality of the PV systems.
    A network of trained franchisees install and maintain the solar PV equipment. Each franchisee trains technicians in the villages to perform day-to-day maintenance. Equipment is rented to the Village Energy Committee (VEC) which is selected by the whole community, and the VEC then leases it on to individual households. This puts the community in control of setting prices, collecting rents and performing basic maintenance. Larger systems are also supplied to health centres which has made a huge difference to the delivery of health care. Dr Sonexay Phonexaysack, a doctor at solar-powered health centre in Ban Kuai village, comments on the benefits of the system: “Before we had solar, we had to fetch essential medicines and vaccines from elsewhere, because we had no way of keeping them cool here. Often people are very ill by the time they reach here so it could make a difference to whether they live or die. With solar, we can operate at all hours. We used kerosene lanterns before, but they were dirty and smoky and the light was poor.”

    At present 1,870 home systems (including 20 larger ones for community use) and 500 solar lanterns are rented to families in 73 different villages. More than 5,600 solar-home-systems have also been sold to the Lao Government, development agencies and commercial enterprises as part of a separate scheme.

    Solar-home-systems and portable solar lamps are rented at prices starting lower than the spending on kerosene for lighting, so that families can actually save money by switching to solar PV. Users benefit from safe light in the evening for household chores, income generating craftwork and school homework. As Mr Paek Keo Douangsouphan, a solar user says: “Before we had solar, the children could only spend an hour on their homework – till it got dark. But now they can spend enough time on it because the light is good. And that means they do better at school.”

    Mr Ban Ounlatsamy, adds: “I like making baskets, and now I can do them more quickly – and there’s enough light for my grandchildren to do their homework as well. I was spending a lot on kerosene. Now solar gives me better light but doesn’t cost so much.”

    These extended evening hours and the time saved from fetching kerosene and firebrands give more time to spend as a family and with their neighbours. The hazards associated with kerosene lamps such as burns, fires and indoor air pollution are removed as are carbon emissions.

    “I’ve had the lamp for eight months, and its great. Before, if we were working in the fields or going into the forest, we used to take a firebrand but it would often go out and was useless in the rain. Sometimes the flame started fires and if you were careless you could get burnt. Now you just take the lamp and you don’t have to worry about any of the that.” Bounmy Chanxay, solar lamp user
    The success of Sunlabob’s business model and the high quality of their PV systems has led one independent renewable energy consultant with 30 years experience to comment: “I personally have been directly involved in rural electrification through solar photovoltaics in more than 25 countries. The Sunlabob project is easily the one that stands out as the best at integrating PV based rural electrification, rural business development and lifestyle improvement for rural dwellers and, most remarkably, has done so with no support from the government and with the apparently achievable goal of full cost recovery.” Herbert Wade, Renewable Energy Consultant.

    The potential for growth and replication of Sunlabob’s business model is huge. Sunlabob is already starting work in Cambodia and Indonesia, and is exploring possibilities in Bhutan, East Timor, Eastern Africa and Latin America. The main barriers for replication are the development of a local skill base and the establishment of small enterprises to run the franchises, but these are by no means insurmountable.

    Sunlabob’s success has led the Lao government to consult them on its rural electrification policy and also to comment: “Sunlabob really works well with local people. Because they are a private company they can make things happen quickly. If we had one or two more like Sunlabob, then I think the government would be very happy.” Head of the Lao Government Rural Electrification Programme, Bouathep Malaykham.

    Light Up the World, a Canadian based organisation has Solar operated and Hand operated battery charging WLED Lights for rural areas. Many are in use in Nepal and other developing countries.

    There are several models of WLED Lights powered by Solar Energy both from abroad and within the country are available. The main component for the success of these Solar Lamps is QUALITY BATTERIES. How to match the Cost and Quality is the main question.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

  • Avatar
    Kishore Chandra

    Now the Solar lamp is available at just US $11/ Indian Rupees 550. This lamp is working very efficiently in my home for the past 6 months. Thanks to Dlightdesign. Please visit: http://dlightdesign.com/home_india.php

  • Avatar

    it nice and woderful

  • Avatar

    I am new.
    Delighted to find folks on this page.

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