EWB-UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Developing a next generation solar lantern Chris White
University of Cambridge

Keywords Solar Lantern, Off-Grid Lighting, Kerosene,

The Glowstar lantern was developed to meet the needs of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who live without electricity and depend on kerosene for lighting. The lantern has sold in large numbers across the world but has not achieved the levels expected or fulfilled the need. This project examines the Glowstar project and attempts to identify the reasons for it not meeting expectations. In addition a new design for a lantern is developed and presented. The Glowstar lantern is regarded as a high performance and quality product but the price (US$150) at which it is sold is too high. This combined with a limited distribution network put the product out of the rea reach ch of the rural poor households at which the development was targeted. A new design of lantern is presented that comprises three multi-purpose smart and flexible modules that provide the functionality of a solar lantern for a projected cost of US$50 while being scalable to higher powers and better performance and providing auxiliary functions.

Worldwide 1.6 billion people live without access to electricity [1], relying on expensive and dangerous kerosene lanterns for light after dark. Kerosene for lighting can absorb up to 15% of household income and produces very poor quality light. Grid expansion is expensive and happening very slowly and so a new solution was sought. In 2003 the Glowstar lantern was released to market. Developed by Practic Practical al Action Consulting (formerly ITC) and produced and distributed by solar company Sollatek Ltd, it was designed to serve the world’s poorest people by providing low cost, high quality lighting to eliminate the need for kerosene lanterns. The Glowstar is a solar charged compact fluorescent lantern with a lead acid battery that continues to sell worldwide but has never enjoyed the success that was anticipated and has not spread as far as the need for improved lighting. This project investigates the reasons fo for r Glowstar’s level of success using Kenya as a case study for the global situation and seeks to design and prototype a lantern that can meet the needs of the target market more successfully.

Solar Lighting
The provision of electric lighting can provide a boost to families attempting to break away from poverty through increased productivity resulting from an extended working day, enabling children to study effectively after dark, reducing expenditure on consumables and improving the health of the whole fami family ly by removing exposure to kerosene smoke. Electric lighting can also improve business performance through the extension of working and trading hours and improved conditions from brighter and more consistent light. Photovoltaic (PV) systems are well suited to applications in the developing world as many areas receive high levels of insolation. In addition PV systems can be low maintenance and installed in a variety of situations. The main drawback in this context is the price which is falling as the global market develops but is still high, especially when compared to the income levels of the poorest people. The challenges with the cost of PV systems can be combated through the development of small scale PV appliances dubbed ‘micro’ or ‘Pico PV’ that can be produced at a cost that is compatible with rural household income in developing countries. The solar lantern is one example of this that offers the potential to meet this large market.

The work in this project falls broadly into two areas, first firstly ly the investigation of the Glowstar project and secondly the development of a new lantern. The research into the Glowstar project focused around a field trip to Kenya to investigate the market performance of Glowstar and obtain opinions from across the di distribution stribution network from importers, distributers, agents and end users as well as NGOs working in related areas. The trip was also used develop an understanding of the general state of the off-grid lighting market in Kenya. This field trip was complimented by UK based research using reports and papers produced by a wide range of stakeholders in the Glowstar project and the off-grid lighting market in general. The development of a new lantern followed on from the first phase, using the knowledge of the market to inform the design. Consideration has also been given to the distribution and marketing of a solar lantern.

Panel Presentation: Energy Author: Chris White Institution: University of Cambridge


EWB-UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Results and discussion Glowstar
The Glowstar lantern (Fig 1) is widely regarded in Kenya as a high quality and robust product that performs well and is simple to use. This is backed up by the excellent 5 year warranty offered by the manufacturer Sollatek. There are some commonly reported faults with the battery management system leading to reduced battery lifetimes and the reported lifetimes varied widely between users with some requiring replacement within a year and others lasting in excess of six years. A clear theme emerged from many users of disappointment with the battery life. A technical assessment of a range of solar lanterns undertaken by GTZ [2] placed the Glowstar 7th out of the 12 lanterns tested. The ‘Glowstar was criticised for wrongly designed circuitry’ and scored poorly on efficiency, run time and deviation from specifications. The report concluded that ‘The Glowstar failed both the technical test and in terms of value for money. This unusually heavy and cumbersome lantern was a pioneer of the market sector, but exhibits defects in workmanship and offers only a poor solar fraction and modest light duration.’

The Glowstar lantern typically sells for around US$100 without a solar module, rising to US$150 with a solar module which puts it out of reach for many of the rural poor for whom the lantern was designed. This combined with a limited distribution network focusing mainly on regional centres (the majority of sales taking place in Nairobi “61 out of 100 last month” Figure 1 - Glowstar lantern regional sales manager for Sollatek) and not on rural areas has contributed to the poor penetration of the rural market by the Glowstar in Kenya. Sales of the Glowstar in Kenya are dominated by NGOs who have the capital available to purchase the lanterns and value their rugged and robust construction. A common use for the lanterns is in remote field sites in Northern Kenya and South Sudan. This demand has maintained sales of the Glowstar, and it appears that Sollatek have settled on pursuing this high margin market rather than actively targeting the rural mass market.

Glowstar Impacts
The Glowstar lantern has had a number of impacts in the area of off grid lighting whic which h are potentially much wider reaching than simply providing lighting solutions to poor rural people. The project successfully developed a good quality lantern that was taken on by a private company and marketed worldwide. This has been an experiment in partnerships of this nature which will provide interesting lessons for the future. The direct social impact of the lantern on poor rural people has been very limited due to poor market penetration. Where the product has been used within this market users repo reported rted that the lantern was very useful and replaced kerosene for lighting. In addition to this most of the users interviewed for this research now have alternative supplies of electricity installed either from a solar system or mains. This is not a strong b basis asis for conclusions without further research but appears to suggest that the Glowstar lantern was a first step on the energy ladder. The lantern has been used extensively by NGOs in remote areas and continues to sell today in significant numbers worldwide. The Glowstar was one of the first lanterns designed for this market and as such played a role in establishing the market that has continued to develop.

Off-Grid Lighting market
The solar market in Kenya is well established and growing with a high level of awareness of solar power. The extent of the grid is limited with poor reliability and high costs. This, combined with a growing awareness of environmental concerns, has led to a high level of enthusiasm for solar power. The government has responded to support the market by introducing strict import standards and rigorous checks to ensure that products are not substandard and has removed VAT (16%) from solar products. The wider off grid lighting market is quite broad incorporating solar lanterns, solar h home ome systems and fuel based generators as well as traditional kerosene lamps and candles. In addition new schemes are being trialled based on an energy kiosk idea where energy is bought as a product from a central kiosk, mini grids covering one village and generating local power from alternative fuels e.g. biogas. The solar lantern market is also developing rapidly with two generations of lantern evident. The first generation, contemporaries of Glowstar, tend to be large CFL and lead acid based lanterns. The new generation of solar lighting is emerging on the market now and is often LED based with a range of prices and power options. The companies producing the new generation include number of social enterprises including Barefoot Power and Tough Stuff Solar, but also include

Panel Presentation: Energy Author: Chris White Institution: University of Cambridge


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

some big corporate names including Phillips and Osram. These companies are pursuing enthusiastic marketing and educational campaigns targeting rural populations with low cost, good quality products that appear to be selling well. There is a wide range of price points in the market, with some lanterns retailing at UD$10, however these tend to have low light outputs, providing an improvement on kerosene, but significantly dimmer than Glowstar. There did not appear to be a direct replacement for Glowstar that offered a similar level of light output, battery life and 360 degree room lighting in a portable package.

Distribution For a product to be self sustaining it needs to be sold on a commercial basis. Charity funded give-aways give are inherently not self sustaining and they degrade the perceived value of the product with the risk of market spoiling. To quote Tough Stuff Solar “There’s a built in feedback loop when you sell something – people only pay for something they want. That just doesn’t happen when you give things ings away.”[3] The Glowstar distribution network in place in Kenya is inadequate for rural market penetration. The product must be available locally and coupled with knowledgeable advisors for effective distribution. Utilising the mobile bile phone distribution network is a possible solution that could provide an extensive distribution network very rapidly. Partnerships with micro credit agencies and community groups has been explored by the Glowstar project but could be expanded to provide e an effective distribution network by combining a solution to capital availability access to large numbers of people. A potential method of providing flexible payment programs is through the use of mobile money transfers that have become widespread across Kenya allowing anyone with a mobile phone to electronically transfer money.

Next Generation Lantern Requirements for a next generation lantern It would seem that little has changed to the requirements for a solar lantern since the market research was carried car out for the Glowstar except for the desire for six hours of light. Detailed market research by Lighting Africa [4, 5] and this project projec research have led to the summary of key requirements as follows: • • • • • Cost – below $50 and as low as possible Light Duration – minimum of 6 hours on a day’s charge Easy to operate and maintain 360 degree light distribution Some industry experts felt that general room lighting, rather than directional task lighting is a higher priority for domestic users.

Proposed design Solar lar lanterns are a very good first step on the energy ladder, but they are not a long term solution and it is likely that customers will seek to upgrade to higher power systems with more functionality when their finances permit, perhaps using the money saved ed by not buying kerosene for lighting. When a larger system is installed the solar lanterns become redundant, or act as a backup light source and new lighting systems are purchased. This concept aims to improve the scalability of Pico solar systems and allow llow them to be easily upgraded to suit all requirements. The lighting system concept is described in Figure 2. The basis of the system is a smart solar lighting unit that offers flexibility while remaining simple to use and maintain. The basic lantern is split into three elements: the lamp, Battery pack and solar module. Each Figure 2 Function diagram of the next generation concept is a standalone appliance and can be used seamlessly with the others as well as other products.

Panel Presentation: Energy Author: Chris White Institution: University of Cambridge


EWB-UK UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Lamp The lamp consists of a high power, high efficiency LED with a driver circuit t that hat allows input voltages of 4 to 15 volts. This allows the lamp to be run from a 4xAA NiMH battery pack or a 12V lead acid solar battery in a solar home system (SHS). Therefore if the household upgrades to a SHS they can use their existing high quality la lamps.

Battery pack The battery pack holds four AA NiMH batteries which can be replaced by the owner and used as individual batteries in other appliances as well as in the battery pack. The battery pack has over over-discharge discharge protection for the batteries and a charge controller that will accept power between 6 and 24 volts allowing a range of solar modules to be used to charge it. This allows seamless upgrading to higher power solar modules without rendering the battery pack useless. The battery pack can clip into to the lamp to provide a single lantern unit, or it can be attached via wires for permanent light fittings in the house with the batteries at a central location. The battery pack can also be utilised for other applications e.g. phone charging or powering a radio.

Solar module The basic lighting pack would be supplied with a 2Wp solar module to minimise cost but as described above any other size of panel could be used to suit the household budget.

Technical implementation The prototype design is based around nd switch switch-mode DC-DC DC converters that allow for high efficiency utilisation of energy. The battery pack employs a micro-controller controller controlled DC DC-DC DC converter to match the solar module (or other input power source) to the charging characteristics of the batt batteries, eries, providing maximum power point tracking to achieve the optimum power output from the solar module and also controlling the charge of the batteries to prevent damage from overcharging and over discharging. The lamp module uses a DC DC-DC converter to efficiently iciently drive the high brightness LED.

Cost The cost of the parts for the prototype lantern is around £40 (approximately US$65). To produce 1000 prototype lanterns would reduce the cost per lantern below £35 (approximately US$55). This is still too expe expensive nsive to meet the target of sub US$50 as this does not include the casings, transport, mark mark-ups ups and taxes that will be imposed on a product going to market. There are going to be savings in the economies of mass production that will drive the cost down but it is difficult to quantify that amount. The total production cost will have to be brought down to around US$25 in order for the final retail price to be on target, however this should be possible to achieve with the current design.

Return on Investment Typical running costs are US$2.80 and US$8.06 per month for a simple wick lamp and a hurricane lantern respectively [5]. At a retail cost of US$50 a solar lantern would have a payback period of 6 to 18 months if seen as a direct replacement. This is obviously ously a significant capital outlay necessitating a suitable finance provision to enable poor households to purchase one. The extra benefits of replacing a kerosene lantern are obviously not accounted for in this simplistic equation and nor are the addition additional al lighting costs such as batteries for torches and candles that a household is likely to use in addition to kerosene lanterns. Once purchased a solar lantern should be expected to operate without any additional costs for around two years before replacemen replacement of the batteries is required.

Remaining challenges Challenges remain over the optimisation of the circuitry to maximise the efficiency and performance of the lantern and the embodiment of the design into a robust and intuitive package that is easy to us use e and maintain. One particular element that requires further work is the lens to distribute the light into a 360 degree room light. The directional nature of o LEDs makes this difficult to achieve but there are some interesting possible solutions available including i commercial LED bulb enclosures that achieve a very uniform light distribution through to cheap and simple machined acrylic attachments.

Panel Presentation: Energy Author: Chris White Institution: University of Cambridge


EWB-UK National Research & Education Conference 2011 ‘Our Global Future’ 4th March 2011

Glowstar pioneered a new market sector ten years ago and was in many ways a ground breaking innovation. During the intervening decade great advances have been made in technology that now allows new options to be explored and there are many factors both social and technological that make a next generation lantern development a very exciting prospect.

Technical: • • • Social: • • • • • • The need for improved off-grid lighting has not diminished with a huge and under-served market There is great desire and enthusiasm amongst un-electrified communities The potential benefits to people are huge and potentially life-changing There is an unprecedented global focus on off-grid lighting through projects such as Lighting Africa Access to relevant information is easier than ever before Governments, communities and individuals are increasingly aware of the potential benefits including environmental issues resulting from the worldwide concern over climate change.
LED technology has developed new, efficient and robust lighting possibilities that are proven in service and continues to develop rapidly. A great array of very capable and affordable ICs is now available on the market that can simplify the design and reduce costs. Battery technology has advanced significantly and continues to expand the options for off-grid applications including NiMH and lithium chemistries.

The coincidence of the above factors makes now a very good time for a new lantern development and indeed there are many companies in various stages of the process. The design proposed here perhaps offers a new level of modularity and flexibility of use to the design that can benefit users.
With further development this design could form the basis of a high performance, scalable and affordable solar lantern that can help to address the need for off-grid grid lighting in Kenya and beyond. There is the potential to reach huge numbers of people through a suitable and scalable development, manufacturing and distribution program building on the lessons learnt from the Glowstar project and subsequent market experience. A proportion of local manufacture and assembly is a feasible option given the design of the lantern with benefits for both the host country and the business viability through improved maintainability, local servicing and building of local skill which may help to stimulate the local market through indigenous innovation. The challenges in a lantern development are clearly large and numerous, but not insurmountable. The main considerations are:

• • • • •

Obtaining funding to pursue the development as returns on investments is likely to be slow due to the nature of the market and the need to sell many products at low mark-ups. Setting up a successful distribution network which to be effective is likely to be highly labour intensive and geographically diverse. Marketing the product successfully to a target group who are geographicall geographically y diverse, may not be technology aware and have little spare cash available. Making the product affordable by keeping the cost to a minimum and seeking ways to enable poor people to purchase the product Building a strong brand through high product performa performance nce and providing good after sales service.

For more information please see www.solarclever.co.uk

Acknowledgements Dr Patrick Palmer, Project supervisor, Cambridge University Engineering Department Lighting Africa Sollatek Kenya Barefoot Power Practical Action and Practical Action Consulting Scode Nakuru

References Chris White. 2010. Developing the Next Generation Solar Lantern. www.solarclever.co.uk [1] Lighting Africa. Lighting and Development. Lighting Africa. [Online] [Cited: 21 05 2010.] http://www.lightingafrica.org/node/326. [2] GTZ. Grüner, Roman, et al. 2009. Solar Lanterns Test: Shades of Light. s.l. : GTZ, 2009. [3] Rocky Radar. 2009. Tough Stuff: Bringing Solar to the Developing World. Rocky Radar. [Online] 01 09 2009. [Cited: 23 05 2010.] http://www.rockyradar.com/cleantech/?p=341. [4] Lighting Africa. 2008. Kenya Qualitative Off-Grid Lighting Market Assessment. s.l. : IFC - World Bank, 2008. [5] Lighting Africa. 2008. Lighting Africa Market Assessment Results: Quantitative Results - Kenya. s.l. : IFC - World Bank, 2008.

Panel Presentation: Energy Author: Chris White Institution: University of Cambridge


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