Efficient Off-Grid Lighting in Kenya

Kenyan street vendor "before"

“Before”: M.J., a vendor in the Kenyan town of Maai Mahiu, poses with his hurricane-type kerosene lamp inside his kiosk. (Photo credit SERC).

Kenyan street vendor "after"

“After”: M.J. with his LED lamp that he obtained through our research effort. (Photo credit SERC).

We continued our research on efficient lighting for sub-saharan Africa in winter 2009 as a continuing partner in the Lumina Project, a collaboration between SERC Co-director Arne Jacobson and Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Over a month-long trip in summer 2008, Dr. Jacobson, Kristen Radecsky, and I traveled in the Rift Valley region of Kenya doing market field testing of small, rechargeable LED lighting products. In January 2009, I returned to the field for two weeks to follow up with the study participants and wrap up the year’s data collection effort. The January tasks included a follow-up survey for night market vendors who participated in the study, surveying the demand threshold for illumination for the vendors, and gathering samples of
LED products that are available in the Kenyan marketplace.

Between July 2008 and January 2009 our research participants had 6 months to work with the LED lamps they purchased through our project, and their response to the technology has been very positive. M.J., a research participant in the town of Maai Mahiu says, “I stay open longer now than before. I’ve noticed more customers are attracted to my business in the evening compared to before, and they can see my goods more clearly. More customers means more sales and more money for me. Some people come from far [out of their way] to see the lamp, [due to the novelty of the lamp.]” Other research participants have observations such as: “…since I bought it I have stopped using kerosene.” “[The LED lamp is] safer than kerosene lamps in terms of fire, glass breaking, and other things.” Follow up surveys confirmed what we knew anecdotally to be true, that introduction of LED lighting helps people reduce their consumption of kerosene for lighting.

The results of our research are extensively reported on the Lumina Project website at http://light.lbl.gov. Some highlights include:

  • Those who purchase LED lighting don’t generally switch completely away from kerosene for lighting; they tend to only reduce their kerosene consumption by augmenting their current fuel based lighting technology with an LED option as it is appropriate. The implications for greenhouse gas reduction projects focused on distribution of LED lighting technology in developing countries is that one cannot make the assumption that fuel-based lighting devices are completely “replaced” by LEDs when efficient lighting is introduced.
  • The research participants we worked with generally allow their lamp to get very dim (2 Lux at 1 meter) before they recharge them, contrary to assumptions about demand for lighting that are based on occupational lighting requirements from industrialized countries.

Our research going forward through 2009 will expand on the market testing we completed over the last year, investigate indoor air quality implications of fuel-based lighting replacement, and include broader work with consumers, manufacturers, and distributors of LED lighting products. We are also expanding our work with the Lighting Africa Project, an initiative by the World Bank Group to develop the market for off-grid lighting technologies that are tailored to the needs of end-users in Africa. Overall, our efforts through the Lumina Project and Lighting Africa have positioned SERC as a technical and field research leader in the initiative to cultivate and grow a sustainable market for efficient off-grid lighting products in developing countries.