Lighting at night is one of the most basic human needs. And for the many millions of people around the world who live off-grid that often means burning things. Diesel, propane, candles, grass, wood and even old tyres are all burned to illuminate life after dark. But the most common fuel for lighting off-grid communities is kerosene.
Kerosene may be widely available, but it has its drawbacks, to say the least.
It is dirty, producing a greasy soot which sticks to everything it comes into contact with. It presents a fire risk, especially for those who live in homes constructed of wood or thatch. It is acknowledged as a health hazard before it is burned – it can cause dermatitis, is poisonous if ingested and is damaging if it comes into contact with people's eyes. It is also a health hazard after it has been burned, with the fumes emitted including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and a range of other chemicals. Apparently, the World Bank estimates that breathing kerosene fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day.
Furthermore, kerosene is expensive and inefficient. Academic studies have shown that typical kerosene lamps deliver between one and six lumens of useful light per square metre. By contrast, the amount of light deemed necessary for reading in the developed world tends to be around the 300 lumen mark. Or, as Evan Mills, a senior scientist at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently reported in the UK's The Guardian newspaper, "A sixth of humanity spends upwards of $40bn (£26bn) per year on lighting (20% of the total energy spend for lighting), yet enjoys only 0.1% as much illumination as does the electrified world."
At one time, burning fuels such as kerosene for light was the only alternative to a mains electricity or gas supply – which were obviously not available for many communities in the developing world. Freeplay Energy - alongside a number of other companies, development agencies and NGOs – have long advocated the use of safe, reliable and cheap solar lighting as an alternative. Yes, we have a vested interest, but our primary concerns are the safety of users, together with access to cheap, reliable lighting capable of supporting educational attainment and economic development.
The technology is in place, and the products are affordable. So there is no excuse for tolerating sustained reliance on fuels such as kerosene.