We love our LEDs for lamps and Christmas lights, but there’s a global application for LEDs that could bring inexpensive and efficient light to the 75% of Africa that lacks dependable access to clean, safe electrical lighting. (In Sub-Saharan Africa over 500 million people presently lack modern energy, and rural electricity access rates is only 2%.) A $13 million World Bank Group Initiative called Lighting Africa was launched in September 2007 to develop and distribute a highly efficient and rugged LED light bulb for the electricity-deprived in Africa. Evan Mills, a researcher with California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is the man who helped write the proposal which led to Lighting Africa. He has laid emphasis on the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as the affordable source of lighting in Africa. The principles of producing light are different in an incandescent bulb (contains a filament that emits heat, some of which is visible), a CFL (emits light when charged mercury vapor excites the bulb’s phosphorus coating), and an LED. The process used by LEDs is different from the two: here electrons are converted directly to light-emitting photons. The process is cleaner, and does not pose risks associated with disposal of mercury in CFLs.
The researchers at the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis, are working towards increasing the lumens per watt from LEDs to increase efficiency. In order to exploit LEDs in best possible way for African conditions they would be integrated with best optics, rechargeable batteries and charging systems, and housed in a casing that could last years.
Lighting Africa is also aiming to bring down the cost of developing LEDs; it would award 20 grants of up to $200,000 to companies and institutions. The whole endeavor would serve several goods at once: provide affordable light to the people in Africa, try to mitigate the problems associated with disposal of mercury in CFLs, reduce the use of kerosene, which, in turn, would reduce pollution; and give social justice as Evan Mills says, “The number of people without adequate light is greater than the entire world population when Edison invented the light bulb.”