Most of the floor space at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is devoted to gadgets that connect with each other: fridges that connect to your smart phone, home alarms that connect to the cloud, and even watches that connect to your car. But those gadgets only work if there’s already an existing network for power and Internet. For 1.2 billion people – about a sixth of the world’s population – electricity is a scarce commodity, available only in limited quantities or at certain hours of the day.
In many developing areas, and especially in West Africa, households spend a significant portion of their income on kerosene fuel for lighting. But in addition to being expensive, kerosene poses risks of fire and air pollution.
MPOWERD, a start-up company with a booth at CES 2015, wants to help families without electricity make the switch from kerosene to solar-powered lamps.
In the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, MPOWERD chief executive officer Jacques-Phillipe Piverger began working on a solar-powered lamp that would be cheaper and safer than kerosene lanterns. In an interview with The Verge, Mr. Piverger said the company decided to sell the lanterns in developed markets such as the US and Europe, then use the proceeds to donate lanterns to communities in need.
At the time, the costs of needed components, including solar panels and LEDs, were just beginning to dip low enough that an inexpensive lantern could be built. The company created the Luci, which weighs just a quarter of a pound but can light a small room for 12 hours on an eight-hour charge. The Luci is collapsible and completely waterproof, so it can be used even in storms or floods. And it costs just a penny under $15 – which is steep for a family in a developing country, but pays for itself within six months since household budgets are no longer going toward kerosene.
You can buy a Luci right now – it’s on the shelves of more than 700 retailers in the US and Europe. MPOWERD has also launched a “Give Luci” program, which encourages customers to buy extra lanterns (at a discount) which are distributed to communities in need. So far, MPOWERD has sent lanterns to 70 countries, both directly and through partnerships with nongovernmental organizations.
In areas without an electric grid, lanterns allow children to do their homework and families to take care of business after the sun has set. The Luci aims to do all that without the risk of kerosene, and with a lantern that’s as rugged and affordable as possible.