Kerosene lamps provide light for thousands of Kenyan children, who study their homework by them at night. The lamps pose not only a threat to the environment, but to the health of the children as well. The soot pollutes the environment, while the toxic fumes present a constant threat of respiratory illnesses and serious eye problems. Indoor pollution generates many complaints among residents of Nairobi.
The United Nations Environmental Program indicates more deaths occur in women of rural Kenya from illnesses arising from exposure to fumes than die from either tuberculosis or malaria. Kerosene lamps may also be responsible for cancer and learning disorders. Not only that, if they are accidentally kicked over they will start a fire.
According to the Global Energy Network Institute, only 15% of households in Kenya have electricity, the rest depend on kerosene lamps for lighting. Solar lanterns are already saving lives, improving health, productivity, and furthering education. The end result is that people’s lives are improving in Kenya, thanks to solar lantern technology. The goal of Solanterns is to replace over a million kerosene death traps with the safe solar lantern technology.
Solanterns is an initiative of Renewable Energy Ventures. They produce a solar lantern that runs about $25 and receives its power from the Sun. The solar cells recharge an internal lithium ion battery. The battery lasts three years. Considering a family’s expenses for a kerosene lamp will within 200 days pay for a solar lantern, the family will enjoy free energy for the remaining 895 days.
To date, Solanterns has made it into 1,500 homes, a third of which were purchased and distributed throughout Nairobi by USAID. That is still a far cry from one million, though. Joseph Nganga, CEO of Solanterns, explained, “We anticipate broadening solar lantern application through a richer product offering that fulfills consumer needs and meets their budgets. The most important missing key that will help us reach our goal of replacing one million kerosene lamps with our solar lantern technology is consumer awareness.”
Solanterns claims that one solar lantern will spare the Earth 135 Kilograms of CO2 and reduce the consumption of kerosene by 52 liters. The result is that the environment will breathe easier, as will families who end up spending less on fuel. The company’s estimates on lighting cost places it at $140 for three years. At $25 for the solar lantern, the cost saving is obvious. Fruits and vegetables tend to spoil from exposure to kerosene fumes. So solar lanterns improve a family’s income by reducing the amount of ruined produce, and increasing the their sales at produce stands.
Leah, a Kenyan mother of a primary school student, admits, “I don’t always have the money to buy kerosene with the prices the way they are now. Sometimes my child needs to do schoolwork after the sun goes down and the solar lantern has made it possible.” Solanterns has found that more than 50% of children whose family owns a solar lantern were free to study an additional two hours at night.