Year of Light event focuses on drive to eradicate unsafe kerosene lamps

17 February 2016

Eradicating dangerous kerosene lamps used by millions of people in developing countries and replacing them with affordable solar lights was the focus of a legacy event for the International Year of Light (IYL) held on 9 February.

Olivia Otieno

Jointly organised by the Institute of Physics and the Society of Light and Lighting (SLL), the evening at the IOP’s London centre brought together people from the lighting industry, IOP members and others who wanted to know more about the moves being made in Africa and elsewhere to spread alternatives to kerosene lamps, which are hazardous, highly toxic, and give extremely poor levels of light.

Richard Turner, from the UK charity SolarAid, explained that kerosene lamps are often badly made objects recycled from aerosol cans. They are easily knocked over, causing severe burn injuries and fires that destroy property, as well as being toxic when used long-term. Kerosene fuel can also cost families around 20% or more of their income.

Youmna Abdallah, SLL’s Young Lighter of the Year 2015, described some field work she had undertaken in refugee camps in Lebanon to measure the lighting levels provided by kerosene lamps. At night, for example, the lamps provided around eight lux for moving around, eating or reading, when the recommended levels for these activities in a home were 20–50 lx, 200–300 lx and 300–500 lx respectively, she said.

Olivia Otieno (pictured), of the not-for-profit company SunnyMoney, described an alternative to kerosene lamps in the form of safe, affordable solar lighting. The company, which is owned by SolarAid, markets solar lamps that have batteries charged by sunlight during the day and operate at night. The company works with influential people, such as headteachers, to encourage take-up of solar lights.

While these are sold at fair prices, the upfront cost can still be expensive when compared with a kerosene lamp, but the company provides loans for buying them and the cost is quickly recouped in savings on fuel. A study light, for example, costs around $8–10, but families using kerosene lamps spend an average of $4 week on fuel, so the payback time is short. The study light is three times brighter than kerosene lighting and there are also larger models that can charge mobile phones (increasingly important in developing countries) or light up to three rooms.

The UK national coordinator for IYL, Toby Shannon, said the evening, sponsored by the European Optical Society, had been an excellent event and a chance for networking: “It was a great opportunity to gather together people from design, science and technology, who might not have met before, to talk about this important issue from their various perspectives. The event really seemed to spark people’s interest in the topic and I’m hopeful that the attendees will help to spread the word to raise awareness of the reality of lighting in the developing world.”