Melbourne inventors create a $10 solar light that generates carbon credits and transforms lives
A Melbourne invention is brightening the lives of hundreds of thousands of flood refugees in Pakistan by bringing them sustainable solar light.
The governments of Britain, the USA, Japan and the EU have all bought the new lights and supplied them to refugees via the International Organisation for Migration.
The life-transforming solar light was invented by an economist based in Melbourne who was working in the energy industry.
“We created this light for the billion people who live off the grid and survive on less than a dollar a day. Buying fuel for a kerosene lamp can take a third of their income, the kerosene fumes are polluting, and the lanterns often start fires,” says Shane Thatcher, the chairman and CEO of illumination, which he founded in 2010.
The new solar light, called Mandarin Ultra, costs less than $10 a unit delivered. It’s water-resistant, bright, long-lasting, robust and “fit-for-purpose”. The light’s creators have combined smart technology, good, simple design and economics to tackle a perennial problem for poor people across the world – life stops at dusk unless you’ve got light. The light costs around a week’s income, but that’s a fraction of the cost of alternatives. And it’s a one-off investment that will last for at least three years.
The Mandarin Ultra, has been quietly selling for two years and is already being used by communities across Africa, south Asia and south-east Asia. But the purchase of 20,000 lights by the British Department for International Development (DFID) just before Christmas was a game-changer. A series of orders followed and as of today, 80,000 lights have been delivered to the Sindh Province in Pakistan.
“In the past refugees sometimes were given kerosene lights, but when the fuel runs out, it’s difficult to buy in the camps. And the lamps are crude and dangerous – fires are common.
“The solar lights transform life in the camps. Children can read, and women and children can move around the camps more safely at night.”
It costs a fraction of competing designs because it was designed with the income level of the target customers and the generation of UN accredited carbon credits in mind.
“What makes the lights affordable is the generation of carbon credits as the lights are sold and used. We worked with our alliance partner, CarbonSoft (a Standard Bank joint venture) on the complex accreditation program,” says Liz Aitken, illumination’s CFO.
illumination is continuing to improve the lights, which are made in China to tight specifications.
And more affordable, smart devices are on the way.
“Mobile phones are dramatically changing how the poor and remote communities farm, trade and access health and other government services. But many communities in Africa for example have no access to power. So people may have to walk many kilometres and then pay for access to a charger. We think we can change that,” says Shane.
More than 1 billion people in the developing world use kerosene or candles for lighting.
The benefits of replacing kerosene lanterns with solar-powered lights are to:
- Reduce poverty: Kerosene accounts for up to one third of household budgets, eliminating this expense means illumination customers have more money to spend on food, education and medicine;
- Improve health and safety: Kerosene fumes are toxic causing respiratory/eye ailments and cancer, and the toppling of kerosene lamps is the largest cause of house-fires;
- Improve personal security: the provision of light in refugee camps vastly reduces the incidents of rape;
- Improve education: Solar lights provide better and less expensive light than kerosene, enabling children to study longer and safer at night;
- Reduce greenhouse emissions: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning kerosene alleviates global warming;
- Conservation of biodiversity: high kerosene prices push some people to use firewood, exerting pressure on forest resources and reducing biodiversity.
Mandarin Ultra is the cheapest, quality solar light in the world. For the first time it makes renewable energy accessible to the world’s poorest people.
The Mandarin Ultra is ultra-bright, long lasting and highly durable. It was specifically designed to survive everyday use in the harsh conditions of the developing world, and has been proven on the ground in rural Tanzania over several years.
The Mandarin Ultra is a high brightness, low cost, portable and robust solar powered light. Specifically designed for everyday use in the harsh conditions of the developing world, it has a number of key attributes that make it uniquely suitable for the purpose for which it was designed:
- Ultra bright light: more than 40 Lumens from 12 super bright LEDs (4 times brighter than a kerosene lamp)
- Produces bright light for 6 to 8 hours on full charge
- Fast solar charging: 6 to 8 hours
- Long lasting and environmentally responsible Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries
- Suitable for indoor and outdoor use
- Single unit with no external pieces, cables, etc.
- Light and compact for easy, inexpensive transport
- Side lugs for ceiling, wall or table-top placement
- Optional hanging kit
- Robust casing to ensure durability from impacts
- Internal wiring minimised and robust to ensure little risk of loose or disconnected wires
- Water and weather-resistant: rated IP44
- 3 year lifetime
- 1 year warranty
The Mandarin is also made entirely from environmentally responsible and recyclable materials.
The difference it makes
“Early one evening as the sun was going down there was a lot of noise coming from the house next door to ours. When we went out to find out what was going on we found our neighbours yelling about a snake being in their house and that they could not find it. They usually use kerosene for light however because they had no money on this week they could not buy any. So it was dark in their house and their son had seen a snake slither inside. There was no way they could sleep in the house with a snake in there. We have a Mandarin so we always have light. with our Mandarin (and some sticks!) we were able to go into the house, find the snake and chase it outside into the bush. Our neighbours could then sleep soundly.”
All too often the world is hit by man-made and natural disasters. People lose their homes, their belongings and sometimes their lives. Often those worst affected are those with little to begin with, those with no savings, no government safety nets or support structures. Long after the disaster has left our television screens many of those affected are still living in dire circumstances.
The Mandarin Ultra has found a useful home in the relief packs given to the victims of disaster the world over. It is the first solar light being used extensively in disaster relief. It requires no fuel, is safe, is robust enough to survive the harshest of conditions and it is compact and light so it can be moved about easily and in very large quantities.
- Pakistan: illumination is working with several Aid agencies on the ground in Pakistan to deliver safe, clean light to the victims of the recent devastating floods around the Hyderabad region of Pakistan. As far as we know this is the first very large scale distribution of solar lights as part of a relief effort.
- Liberia: illumination has worked for some time with Concern International, an Ireland-based NGO, to deliver solar lights to people from surrounding conflicts who have sought refuge in Liberia.
- Japan: Relief work is of course not just limited to the developing world. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, we worked with several NGOs as well as Virgin Atlantic to donate solar lights to families who were left without electricity.
Donor Countries/Organisations for Pakistan effort
Kerosene Costs Across the World
illumination is a new type of business, it is committed to providing returns to its shareholders, but also measures itself on the social and environmental good it generates. We have gathered a team of very professional people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They all however share a commitment to improving the lives of those in developing countries and to reducing the world’s greenhouse emissions… and to having a bit of fun along the way. We are also located across the world (very important given the nature of our business) and we have offices in Hong Kong, Ningbo, Tanzania, Melbourne and London.
illumination is different because we and our distribution partners are able to sell our lights at a price that is far lower than other lights. Yet despite the low price, our light is also bright, long lasting and very durable. So for the first time, the vast numbers of the world’s poorest people can now afford quality solar lighting.
We can sell at such a low price because sales of our lights generate carbon credits under the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism. This additional revenue for us and/or our distribution partners eliminates the need for high sales margins, and enables us to sell our high-quality lights at a price that many more people can afford. This innovative approach means we are able to help more people to start using solar power, reduce more greenhouse emissions, and still make returns for ourselves and our distributors.
Solar lighting is just the beginning for illumination. In the coming months we will introduce a radio. Radio is a highly popular and important form of entertainment in developing countries, however the batteries are expensive. Mobile phones are also hugely popular however charging them is difficult and expensive, so we are also developing an inexpensive sustainable, mobile phone charger.
Shane Thatcher, illumination Chairman and CEO
After discovering an academic interest in emissions trading at university some 15 years ago, Shane also discovered that at that time such an academic interest didn’t translate into a paying job. So after 15 years waylaid in Trading and Executive Management in the electricity business he has come full circle and found a use for his early dabblings in emissions trading as founder, Chairman and CEO of illumination.