Electromagnetic Savannah
Commentary on science, technology and economics in Nigeria and beyond

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wind-up Lights for African Homes

Before I start, I should offer a quick apology for resting this blog for so long. I'll try to be a bit more frequent on updates from now on. :)

I'll start with this interesting story from the BBC about wind up lights for African homes. The idea of wind up lighting isn't new - the advent of white light emitting diodes (LEDs) which consume very little energy have made this a possibility, so that you can get wind up torches quite easily today. I suspect then that the lighting that is proposed is one that will function like lightbulbs so that an entire room can be illuminated (rather than just the concentrated spot that you get with torch lighting). Unfortunately, I can't find any further information on just what technology will be used for the lighting (whether a typical light will simply be a larger cluster of LEDs, or some newer technology).

I'm not quite sure how the lights will be distributed - the story talks of a plan to get women to sell them, but at what price I have no idea. If they are sold at too cheap a price (to cater for the poverty of those who need them), then I worry that there are those who will take advantage of this to resell them on at a higher price. I hope that Freeplay can find a way of using cheap enough technology that they shouldn't need to subsidise the sale of these lights.

One thing I like about this proposal is that there is some implicit technology transfer involved, as the women sellers will be trained to repair and maintain the lights. I think this is vital to ensure that the lights don't end up as ornaments (as happens with much technology directly imported from elsewhere). Of course, sometimes maintenance of imported technology could simply mean replacing expensive foreign parts with other expensive foreign parts. What I would like is for some home-grown whiz-kid to take the lights apart and see which bits he can source from local materials, thus making it even easier to maintain the lights.

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