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1.2 Billion people around the world have no access to electricity, and hundreds of millions more face regular blackouts.

The effects of energy poverty are enormous. The absence of power and light severely reduces the quality of life. Kerosene lamps are widely used for lighting, yet they are very inefficient, dangerous and expensive, and have extensive health and environmental drawbacks. WakaWakas provide enormous benefits for everyday life. We have listed some of the disadvantages of off-grid living and the advantages of solar LED.


Studying with kerosene light or candles is very difficult because the light output is very low, especially compared to electric LED-light: "Poor illumination levels from fuel-based lanterns are only 1% to 10% of those recommended by lighting authorities in industrialized countries. Users complain of vision-related problems and irritation." (Mills E., Lumina Project 2012).

In order to try to quantify the positive benefits of the switch from fuel-based light sources / candles to LED-lights, we have compared 7 different reports into the effect of LED lighting on education in off-grid situations. Each of these reports are based research of +200 students in different off-grid areas: India, Malawi, Tanzania, Senegal, Kenya and South-Sudan. When we average the results from these studies, we see that children switch from kerosene to LED-light instead of kerosene, they study an average of 1-3 hours extra per day. If children have access to LED-light, their grades increase an average of 25% and their pass grades can almost double. A more qualitative finding that we found across all papers was that the study motivation is much higher with LED because the light andfumes do not longer burn the students' eyes or makes them cough. (Agamoorthy et al., 2009),  (Harisson K., Solar Aid Factsheet 2013), (Esper et al., University of Michigan 2013), (Solar Aid Library Project 2013), (Solar Aid & TPS 2013), (Report on Abu Hasheem, The World Bank 2013), (Ministry of Education Kenya / Wenzi Foundation 2014)


Kerosene lamps are often no more than a can with a wick, which makes them extremely dangerous because the combustible fuel often spills. Kerosene is also often secretly mixed with other fuels by oil merchants because they are cheaper. This creates a volatile mix which can easily explode. "The World Health Organization estimated global deaths from burns and smoke inhalation during fires were on the order of 322,000 in the year 2002, which Peck et al. (2008) refer to as likely a “gross underestimate."" (Light for Life 2014, WHO). Of the total number of burn victims in off-grid areas, a large percentage is attributed to kerosene lanterns. In the available research, estimates vary between 20-40% of burns attributable to kerosene or other fuel based lighting, which translates in approximately 100.000 people who are severely burned and maimed for life every year. The numerous reports on the link between kerosene lanterns and burns are listed in "Health Impact of Fuel Based Lighting" (Mills E., Lumina Project 2012).

The smoke and fumes of indoor kerosene lights increases the risk of respiratory diseases like COPD and lung cancer (Esper et al., University of Michigan 2013). The fumes of kerosene "consist of a particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs and lower respiratory tract, contain carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene and toluene. In the short term the fumes can cause headaches and dizzy spells and in the long term, they can increase the risk of damage to the respiratory and nervous system and cause kidney damage and blood clots" (Solar Aid Impact Report 2014).

Another major health risk of kerosene is the fact that it looks like lemonade and is often stored in kitchen cabinets or simply on the ground. Infants often accidentally ingest kerosene, and 10 ml of kerosene can be fatal. Comparing the different estimates, we see that 50% to 75% of alle child posoining in off-grid areas are dure to kerosene ingestion.  (Schwebel et al., WHO 2008) (Mills E., Lumina Project 2012)

In most off-grid health care centers there is no source of clear light. This leads to unsafe and unhygienic circumstance. This is especially dangerous when women give birth or when fighting infectious diseases like Ebola.


Kerosene prices can vary enormously. They are often linked to global oil prices, but the availability in off-grid areas is highly irregular, meaning that prices can change day by day. It also differs wildy per country, of course. It is therefore difficult to make an estimate of the percentage of money which is used for kerosene globally. There are however, many local studies on the price of kerosene. In Kenya, kerosene cost between 25 and 30% of a family’s income in 2013. (Harisson K., Solar Aid Factsheet 2013) A study in western India finds that "households in western India earning an annual family income of $150–250 avoided annual energy costs of $91.55 on average due to solar photovoltaic lanterns" (Agamoorthy et al., 2009). Another study asserts that "rural households face high recurring expenditures on fuel, sometimes reaching 25% of household budgets (Peon et al., 2005), but prices have doubled in some places since 2005. Another study found that "lighting expenditures on all sources excluding the cost of the LED lantern fell from $1.06 per week to $0.15 per week after lantern purchase, a reduction of 85.7%" (Edkins et al. 2009). Because of these differences, the off-grid lighting industry often works with the conservative average of kerosene expenditures accounting for 20-25% of the income of a household living on less than 2 dollar a day. 

There are also some study's on the increase of income associated with having access to clear light at night because people can be productive at night or keep their shops open longer (Radecsky et al., Lumina Project 2008). Some businesses are very light-dependent which is very costly in off-grid areas. An example are night fishers wich spend "35% to 50% of their take-home pay on lighting costs (fuel plus lamp maintenance)." (Gengnagel et al., Lumina Project 2013).


There are countless reports on the instances that fire has swept through refugee camps. Indoor cooking and kerosene heating are seen as the major culprit (Iraq RRP6 - Dec 2014, UNHCR), (IFSEC Global 2014). These fires kan wipe out 1000s of tents, whole segments of an encampment, resulting in many deaths and injuries.

The absence of light on the street and public spaces increases the incidence of crime and (sexual) violence, especially against women. The risk of (sexual) violence against women and children in refugee camps is one of the highest in the world. (Sexual Violence Against Refugees, UNHCR 1995).

Apart from the risk of human predators, in any off-grid area stepping on critters like snakes or scorpions is a high, everyday risk. Often, the toilet facilities are outside and without adequate lighting many families cannot use these facilities at night.


Burning kerosene as a lighting source is very inefficient and is a major contributor to climate change: "A single fuel based lantern used 4 h/d was estimated to emit more than 100 kg of CO2 per year, corresponding to 190 million tonnes annually by all fuel-based lighting in houses without electricity" (Lam N. et al UC Berkeley 2012). Kerosene lamps also release 1/3 of the world’s black carbon into the atmosphere. One gram of black carbon warms the atmosphere several hundred times more in days than one gram of carbon dioxide in 100s of years" (Jacobson et al 2013, The Brookings Insitution). Also, resources used for lighting, such as wood, lead to deforestation and land degradation.


Even though 1/5 of the earth's population live off-grid, many of them have cheap cell phones. Charging them, however, is not easy. Off-grid mobile phone users often have to use charging shops in town centres. Estimates of the costs range from from 20-25 dollar cents per charge. ("Community Power From Mobile Charging Services", GSMA 2011), (Azuri Technologies, Scientific American 2014), this is about 100 times more than one would pay in the U.S. for charging your phone and is significant cost for people living on less than 2 dollar a day. Depending on the rate of charging, 5-20% of a family's income is spent on electricity for the mobile phone.

Now, if people can charge their phones more often and without costs, they can use their phones more, which is associated with high increases in well-being, as well as economic opportunity. For example, mobile phones make small entrepreneurs less dependent as farmers can compare prices in different markets.

In refugee situations, being able to charge mobile phones and staying connected with scattered family members is a number one priority. Solar lights and chargers are considered one of the top non-food items for refugees (NFI Need Assessment reports, International Rescue Committee 2013).


-Mills, E. (2012) Health Impacts of Fuel-based Lighting. The Lumina Project, Technical Report #10, 1-25.-Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews. Lam N. et al UC Berkeley 2012
-Black Carbon and Kerosene Lighting: An Opportunity for Rapid Action on Climate Change and Clean Energy for Development - The Brookings Institution , Jacobson et al 2013

-Off-grid energy services for the poor: Introducing LED lighting in the Millennium Villages Project in Malawi (Edkins et al. 2009)
-Pilot project in rural western Madhya Pradesh, India, to assess the feasibility of using LED and solar-powered lanterns to remove kerosene lamps and related hazards from home - Chamania et al., 2014)

-Monitoring Exercise TWAWEZA Solar Aid / TPS Partnership (Solar Aid 2013)
-Lumina Project 2008 Technical Report #3 -Solid-State Lighting on a Shoestring Budget:
-"In Sudan, Where There is Power, There is Development", World Bank 2014
-The Economics of Off-Grid Lighting for Small Businesses in Kenya - Radecsky et al, 2008
- The Specter of Fuel-Based Lighting - Mills E., UC Berkeley 2005
-Access to Clean Lighting and ITS Impact on Children: An Exploration of SolarAid’s SunnyMoney (Esper et al., University of Michigan 2013)

-Impact report fall 2014 Solar Aid
-A WHO plan for burn prevention and care  - Mock C., WHO 2008
-Light for Life:  Identifying and Reducing  the Health and Safety Impacts of Fuel-Based Lighting - E. Mills, WHO 2014
-WHO BulletinParaffin-related injury in low-income SouthAfrican communities: knowledge, practice and perceived risk - Schwebel et al., WHO 2008
-Alternatives to Fuel-based Lighting for Night Fishing - Field Tests of Lake and Ocean Applications in East Africa - Gengnagel et al., Lumina Project 2013
-Solar Aid Factsheet 13-02-2013 -  Harisson, K.

-Lighting the Lives of the Impoverished in India’s Ruraland Tribal Drylands - Agamoorthy et al., 2009
-Solid State Lighting, Renewable Energy Solution Handbook - Peon, L. et a., 2005

-On the risk of kerosene in refugee camps:


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