Low-cost lamps brighten the future of rural India
(Page 2 of 2)
At $55 each, the lamps installed in nearly 300 homes by GSBF cost nearly half the price of other solar lighting systems. Jasjeet Singh Chaddha, the founder of the NGO, currently imports his LEDs from China.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He wants to set up an LED manufacturing unit and a solar panel manufacturing unit in India. If manufactured locally, the cost of his LED lamp could plummet to $22, as they won't incur heavy import duties. "But we need close to $5 million for this," he says. "And investments are difficult to come by."
Mr. Chaddha says he has also asked the government to exempt the lamps from such duties, but to no avail.
An entrepreneur who made his money in plastics, Chaddha has poured his own money into the project, providing the initial installations free of charge. As he looks to make the project self-sustainable, he recognizes that it's only urban markets - which have also shown an avid interest in LED lighting - that can pay. The rural markets in India can't afford it, he says, until the prices are brought down.
The rural markets would be able to afford it, says Mr. Irvine-Halliday, if they had access to micro-credit. He says that in Tembisa, a shanty town in Johannesburg, he found that almost 10,000 homes spent more than $60 each on candles and paraffin every year. As calculations revealed, these families can afford to purchase a solid state lighting system in just over a year of paying per week what they would normally spend on candles and paraffin - if they have access to micro-credit.
LUTW is in the process of creating such a micro-credit facility for South Africa. "Then more than 4 million homes in South Africa will be able to afford this lighting system," he says.
In villages neighboring Khadakwadi, the newly installed LED lamps are a subject of envy, even for those connected to the grid. Those connected to the grid have to face power cuts up to 6 or 7 hours a day. Constant energy shortages and blackouts are a common problem due to a lack of power plants, transmission, and distribution losses caused by old technology and illegal stealing of electricity from the grid.
LED systems require far less maintenance, a longer life, and as villagers jokingly say, "no electricity bills."
The lamps provided by GSBF have enough power to provide just four hours of light a day. But that's enough for people to get their work done in the early hours of the night, and is more reliable than light generated off India's electrical grid.
Villagers are educated by GSBF officials to make the most of the new lamps. An official from GSBF instructs Jadhav and his family to clean the lamp regularly. "Its luminosity and life will diminish if you let the dust settle on it," he warns them.
Such admonishments aren't taken lightly by villagers here, lest they be thrust into darkness again. The villagers don't fail to acknowledge how these lamps have lit up their dark lives and reversed their fortunes.
Before the LED lamps came, spending Rs. 40 (a little less than a dollar) each month on kerosene was too much. Jadhav earns just Rs. 50 a day as a contract laborer, and supports a family of five. "Now the money saved," he says with a smile, "goes into the children's education."