Bright Idea: Startup Finds Unexpected Use for Solar-Powered Lights
Keeping hungry lions from attacking farm animals in rural Africa — or anywhere — is no easy feat, especially in the dark. Bright light helps keep the fierce predators at bay, something that’s hard to come by after the sun goes down and you live way off the grid.
Many people in remote, impoverished areas of Africa curb lion attacks at night using old-fashioned kerosene lamps. Often, they walk for miles to buy the expensive fossil fuel, which belches poisonous fumes when burned. In the short term, breathing the toxic exhaust causes dizziness and nausea. In the long, it can lead to blood clots that can damage the heart, brain, kidneys and other organs.
Clearly, kerosene lamps aren’t an ideal means of fending off the mighty Panthera leo.
M-KOPA Solar, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-backed company based out of Nairobi, Kenya, offers a safer, cleaner and greener solution: a portable solar-powered lighting system that reportedly wards off the big cats.
The lightweight solar lighting system — outfitted with a 4-watt solar panel, a USB multi-mobile phone charger, and three brightness-adjustable lights — highlights big changes on the horizon for people in the rural areas of the world’s second-largest continent. Namely, the proliferation of technology in regions where billions struggle to simply survive and our iPhones and Pebbles seem useless.
The M-KOPA Solar technology may be more affordable than kerosene, but it’s still not inexpensive for those who need it most.
M-KOPA customers pay 40 Kenyan shillings (about 45 cents) per day to use it, after making a 2,500-shilling ($ 28.38) deposit. That’s relatively steep, considering that most households in Kenya earn less than $ 2 per day, according to M-KOPA.
Pay-as-you go payments are processed via an embedded mobile SIM card, which, unfortunately, M-KOPA can use to remotely kill the lights if a customer falls behind on payments.
For this much-needed technology to reach widespread adoption in East Africa and beyond, the price has to go down. For now, only those who can afford it reap its benefits.