Solar Lanterns for Sub-Saharan Africans
When one lives in a developed country it becomes hard to visualize that how people manage in those parts of the world where electricity is still a distant dream. Residents of the village Ahire, Maharashtra in India claimed that people didn’t want to marry their daughters in their village due to lack of electricity. Now the government has installed solar panels in the village and the residents are having electricity for the first time. Similarly someone is thinking about people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is said to be the least electrified region in the world. To a rational mind the task seems daunting. The mind will think about infrastructure, finance, technical know-how, professionals etc. But an imaginative mind will think of bypassing all this and think about reality and what works without the essentials. A Kansas State University student is doing such kind of thinking. He is combining engineering and nature to design a more affordable and more sustainable lighting source for those souls living without electricity.
Tai-Wen Ko, Kansas State senior in electrical engineering, is working in collaboration with Justin Curry. He is also a K-State freshman in electrical engineering. They are designing a solar lantern with a more affordable initial cost. Ko is aiming this product for people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. If one waits for providing them electricity in conventional manner then it will take considerable amount of time to light up this part of the earth. Ko thinks that solar lamps are greener and cleaner option than kerosene lamps. He also thinks that solar lanterns are safe too because they don’t start a fire.
According to Ko, “Solar lanterns are not hard to make. You have to find the right parts and have ideas on how to build a circuit. I wanted to make a design that would be easy enough for someone living in Sub-Saharan Africa to build on their own, which would lower the cost because they wouldn’t have to have it shipped.”
Ko’s solar lantern consists of three main components: a solar panel, battery and a white light-emitting diode. Before choosing the main components of the lantern, Ko analyzed various options and decided in favor of cheaper materials. Ko said his lantern is about 30 percent cheaper than the average market value.
Ko is not using the usual florescent tubes in his lanterns. Because they consume lots of power. He is using a white light-emitting diode because it’s cheaper, lasts longer and is brighter. It goes without saying that it is cheaper than florescent tubes. His battery is also cheaper. It is a sealed lead-acid battery and is similar to a car battery.
Ko is still trying to find an alternative to lead-acid battery out of environmental concerns. He is researching a recycling plan that could be implemented in the Sub-Saharan African region. A lithium ion battery would be better for the environment, Ko said, but its current cost is expensive.