News

Solar Powered LEDs Light Up Developing Nations

This solar panel will be installed in an LED system in an Ecuadorian village
This solar panel will be installed in an LED system in an Ecuadorian village
Rosanne Skirble

What do traffic lights, remote control devices and cell phone displays have in common?  The answer is light emitting diodes or LEDs. LEDs produce as much light as incandescent light bulbs but consume only 10 percent of the electricity and last many times longer.  This is the story of how one man combined LEDs with solar energy technology to bring high-quality, low-cost electric light to poor people around the world. 

Some 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity

Dave Irvine-Halliday works one house at a time in Mexico to install LED lighting
Dave Irvine-Halliday works one house at a time in Mexico to install LED lighting

In 1996 Canadian professor David Irvine-Halliday was on a work trip in Nepal when his return flight was canceled. It would be weeks before he could catch another flight home, but the delay gave him time to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a 14-day trek through the Himalayas.  One day, wandering past a school he heard children singing.  He looked in the window and wondered how, without light, the kids could study.  Sadly, he realized, these conditions are common in poor countries. Some 1.6 billion people in the world have no access to electricity.

LEDs can replace expensive and polluting kerosene lamps
LEDs can replace expensive and polluting kerosene lamps

People who aren't connected to the electric grid often get their light from kerosene, candles or burning wood. But, the products are expensive, produce only dim light and generate polluting fumes that cause health and environmental problems.  Responding to the need for safe, clean and affordable lighting, Irvine-Halliday set to work on a solution. 

LEDs turn out to be a bright idea

Back in his laboratory at the University of Calgary, Alberta, he experimented with light emitting diodes, technology he was familiar with as a professor of renewable energy. "I knew that they were virtually indestructible.  They lasted for decades because they were putting them under the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and they were going to be there for years and years and years working for 24 hours a day," he says.

Irvine-Halliday settled on a one watt bright white light, a Japanese product he discovered on the Internet. Startled by the intense beam he generated when he rigged the diode to his bike generator, he recalls saying to his partner, "Good God, a child could read by the light of a single diode."

Girls in Sierra Leone read by the light of a single watt LED
Girls in Sierra Leone read by the light of a single watt LED

In 2000, Irvine-Halliday returned to Nepal to put the system in homes. He first used pedal power, then turned to hydro and finally turned to solar power generation. The single watt solar LED package works, Irvine-Halliday told Capitol Hill staffers at a recent meeting in Washington, because it is affordable, clean and easy to set up and maintain. "The one-time cost of our system - which consists of a small solar panel, a little motorcycle-sized battery and a couple of LED lamps, is less than one hundred dollars," he says.  He adds that's about the same as the cost of kerosene for a year. 

Villagers get micro-loans to buy lighting systems

Boys help assemble an LED system
Boys help assemble an LED system

What started as a family project has emerged as the Light Up the World Foundation, which has reached 25,000 people in 51 countries. Initially systems were given away. Today, growing numbers of villagers are purchasing and maintaining the equipment.   "Our short term goal for the next couple of years is that 80 percent of all the systems that Light up the World is involved [with] will be via micro-credit," Irvine-Halliday says, "where the villager borrows from local micro-credit organizations and pays them back."

The organization has made a difference in people's lives beyond Irvine-Halliday's expectations.

Acquiring this simple and non-polluting form of electric light, he points out, promotes education, public health, economic security and a cleaner environment.  In January, he will retire from his day job at the University of Calgary.  He's also decided to give up leadership in Light up the World Foundation to start a company in India that will develop a more energy-efficient and cheaper lighting system that he hopes will bring even more light to the world's poor. 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs