Finding ways to generate low-cost or free light has captured the imagination of innovators across the global South. The desire for light is strong: Light gives an immediate boost to income-making opportunities and quality of life when the sun goes down or in dark homes with few windows.
More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without a source of electricity, it is difficult to use conventional technology to switch the lights on.
While it is possible to run lights using batteries or diesel generators, these are expensive options that are not possible for many poor people. The more of a slim income that is spent on light, heat or cooking fuel, the less there is left for better-quality food, clothing, transport or education and skills development.
Low-cost light is great, but free light is even better – and one Brazilian solution is offering this.
Brazilian innovator and mechanic Alfredo Moser has taken the common plastic water bottle and created a low-cost lighting solution for dark spaces. Often makeshift homes lack decent lighting or a good design that lets the light in during the day. This means it may be a bright, sunny day outside, but inside the home or workplace, it is very dark and reading or working is difficult.
Moser came upon the idea during regular blackouts in his home city of Uberaba (http://www.uberaba.mg.gov.br/portal/principal) in southern Brazil during 2002. During the blackouts, only factories were able to get electricity, leaving the rest of the population in the dark.
The “Moser Light” involves taking plastic bottles, which are usually just thrown away or recycled, and filling them with water and bleach to draw on a basic physical phenomenon: the refraction of sunlight when it passes through a water-based medium.
It is a simple idea: Holes are drilled in the ceiling of a room and the bottles placed in the holes. The liquid-filled bottle amplifies the existing sunlight (or even moonlight) and projects it into the dark room. This turns the plastic bottle into a very bright lightbulb that does not require any electricity.
Moser uses a solution of two capfuls of bleach added to the water to prevent anything growing in the water such as algae because of the exposure to sunlight.
“The cleaner the bottle, the better,” he said.
Polyester resin is used to seal the hole around the plastic bottle and make it watertight from rain.
Moser claims his bottle innovation can produce between 40 and 60 watts of light.
Moser uses recycled plastic bottles, so the carbon footprint is minimal compared to the manufacture of one incandescent bulb, which takes 0.45 kilograms of CO2 (UN). Running a 50 Watt incandescent light bulb for 14 hours a day for a year, around the same light as produced by the bottle bulb, produces a carbon footprint of nearly 200 kilograms of CO2.
“There was one man who installed the lights and within a month he had saved enough to pay for the essential things for his child, who was about to be born. Can you imagine?” Moser told the BBC.
The plan is to try and get as many as a million homes fitted with the lighting system by the end of 2013.
In many poor areas, it is common to live in makeshift or rudimentary dwellings. These are often built to crude designs and, in order to keep costs down and boost security, will have few or no windows. These dwellings will consequently be very dark inside, even on the brightest days. This leaves people having to turn to a source of artificial light if they want to do something indoors like read or work. And this costs money. Be it electricity from a mains, or battery-powered lamps or gas-powered lanterns, the cost will eat into a person’s tight income. This is where Moser’s simple solution saves the day and saves pennies: it is free light once the bottle lamp system is installed.
Placing the bottle lights in the ceiling transforms the ceiling into something akin to the night sky, with many points of light shining down into the room like stars. It also means the occupant of the room does not just have to strain to see with the use of a single light but now has many lights illuminating the room from all angles.
“It’s a divine light,” Moser told the BBC World Service. “God gave the sun to everyone, and light is for everyone. Whoever wants it saves money. You can’t get an electric shock from it, and it doesn’t cost a penny.”
It has not been a road to riches for Moser. He has made some money installing the system in a local supermarket and nearby homes, and he has inspired a charity to install the lighting system and to train people to do the installation and make an income from it.
The MyShelter Foundation in the Philippines was inspired by Moser’s invention and has installed the system in some 140,000 homes there, the BBC reported.
“We want him to know that there are a great number of people who admire what he is doing,” MyShelter Executive Director Illac Angelo Diaz said of Moser.
Using bottle bulbs instead of electricity or generators means families can save US $6 per month, according to Diaz (CNN). The Philippines is reported to have the most expensive electricity in Asia and slum homes usually do not have electricity.
It is estimated 15 other countries also have homes using the Moser system. The MyShelter Foundation believes 1 million homes worldwide have used the Moser system as of 2013.
Liter of Light (http://aliteroflight.org), run by the MyShelter Foundation, offers instructions on how to install the lighting system on its website.
1) D-Lab: MIT: Development through Dialogue, Design and Dissemination: D-Lab is building a global network of innovators to design and disseminate technologies that meaningfully improve the lives of people living in poverty. The program’s mission is pursued through interdisciplinary courses, technology development, and community initiatives, all of which emphasize experiential learning, real-world projects, community-led development, and scalability. Website: http://d-lab.mit.edu/
2) d.light Solar: d.light is a for-profit social enterprise whose purpose is to create new freedoms for customers without access to reliable power so they can enjoy a brighter future. d.light design manufacture and distribute solar light and power products throughout the developing world. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com/
3) Liter of Light: It brings the eco-friendly bottle light to communities living without electricity. Website: http://aliteroflight.org
4) Solar Sister: Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. They combine the breakthrough potential of solar technology with a deliberately woman-centered direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in rural Africa. Website: http://www.solarsister.org/
The coming wave of technological innovations aimed at global South cities will dominate civic debates whether people wish it to or not. Already, futuristic, 21st-century cities are being built around Asia from scratch. I had the privilege of visiting a couple of them in 2012 while researching the fourth issue of our magazine, Southern Innovator ( h t t p : / / w w w . s c r i b d . c o m / SouthernInnovator). Each city had a different focus for its construction – one was seeking to be an “eco-city” and the other one called itself a “smart city,” focused on becoming a regional business and technology hub. Both aimed to use the latest information technologies to make the way Asian cities operate on a day-to-day basis smarter – and greener.
Large information technology companies – including India’s Infosys (infosys.com) – have their sights set on selling all sorts of technological solutions to common problems of urban living. This aspiring revolution is built on two foundations: One is the Internet of Things – in which everyday objects are connected to the Internet via microchips. The other is Big Data, the vast quantities of data being generated by all the mobile phones and other electronic devices people use these days.
Much of this new technology will be manufactured in Asia, and not just that – it will also be developed and designed in Asia, often to meet the challenges of urban Asia.
By their nature, cities are fluid places. People come and go for work and pleasure, and successful cities are magnets for people of all backgrounds seeking new opportunities. This fluidity puts stress on cities and leads to the constant complaints familiar to any urban dweller – inadequate transport, traffic jams, air pollution, poor housing, and a high cost of living.
If handled well and with imagination, new information technologies can ensure Asian cities do more than pay lip service to aspirations to improve human development. They can make cities resilient places – able to bounce back from disasters, whether man made or natural.
During the late 1990s, I saw first-hand the pressures placed on one Asian city, Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. The country endured the worst peacetime economic collapse since World War II while confronting the wrenching social and economic stresses of switching from a command economy during Communism to a free-market democracy. The city’s population grew quickly as rural economies collapsed and poverty shot upwards. I can only imagine now how the response could have been different with the technologies available today.
“A lot of social initiatives based on the right to the city are coming from these ‘new cities of the South,'” Mathivet said. “The book highlights original social initiatives: protests and organizing of the urban poor, such as the pavement dwellers’ movements in Mumbai where people with nothing, living on the pavements of a very big city, organise themselves to struggle for their collective rights, just as the park dwellers did in Osaka.”
Recently, an Indian restaurant uploaded to the Internet a video of what it claimed to be the first drone delivering a pizza in an Indian city. While this may or may not be a practical solution to traffic congestion, the subsequent negative fallout – angry police and public officials – from this use of new technology highlights the promise and perils of innovating in the real world of Asian cities (http:/ /www.bbc.co.uk/news/ b l o g s – n e w s – f r o m – elsewhere-27537120).
Micro electronics are becoming cheaper and more powerful by the month. Small businesses armed with a only laptop computer, access to the Internet and/or mobile phone networks, and cloud computing services, can offer very powerful business and public services solutions. And sharing solutions across the global South via information technologies has never been easier.
The U.S. Pentagon published various reports and studies in the 2000s forecasting a dark future for cities in the global South. As author Mike Davis revealed in his seminal work, Planet of Slums (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obido/ASIN/1844670228/nationbooks08), the Pentagon saw the developing world’s cities as the “battlespace of the twenty-first century.” It imagined sprawling, crime ridden cities full of poverty and slums and needing tiny drones and robots darting back and forth, keeping an eye on everything and suppressing unrest. This threat-based view of future cities is one to be avoided. It is possible, through the right application of quick solutions to the challenges that arise as cities grow, to turn to cooperation across the cities of the global South to avoid this pessimistic fate.
– David South, Editor, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), UK
The transition to a green economy has reached a crossroads: while multilateral global initiatives have been long-running and complex, the idea of a green economy still seems fragile and achieving it far from certain. In the face of the ravages of the global economic crisis that has raged since 2007/2008, countries are now trying to roll back their green pledges or slow the pace of transition.
This exposes a dilemma: a perception that a green economy is in conflict with economic growth, prosperity and the advance of human development, particularly in developing countries seeking to make rapid gains in reducing poverty and building a middle class, consumer society.
Three things need to be foremost in the minds of those who care about creating a global green economy in the 21st century: innovation in design, in market prices and in business models. I think these three factors will be the deciding elements in whether green technologies are taken up quickly and used by large numbers of people to improve their lives.
The green option needs to always be the more appealing, cheaper option that also improves living standards. Happily, many people are doing this all around the world – you just may not have heard of them yet (unless you are reading Southern Innovator magazine that is).
As editor of the magazine Southern Innovator since 2011, I have had the privilege to meet, interview and see first-hand green economy innovators across the global South and profile them in the magazine. What has stood out for me is this: the ones who have achieved sustainable success have put a great deal of effort into design – how the technology is made, what it looks like and how it is used, how efficiently it is made and distributed – while also thinking through the business case for their work and how to make it appealing to others.
We have tried to apply this thinking to the magazine as well, by using clear and modern design with bright, eye-pleasing colours, and by choosing to use 100 per cent renewable energy (much of it from geothermal sources) for the magazine’s design and layout and to have it printed on paper from sustainable forest sources.
The fourth issue of Southern Innovator (www.southerninnovator.org), on cities and urbanization, launched in October at the Global South-South Development Expo 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya. It profiles many practical initiatives and innovators that are currently building green homes, communities and even whole cities. The magazine’s fifth issue will focus on the theme of waste and recycling and hopes to be a one-stop source of inspiration to better use the finite resources of planet earth.
– David South, Editor, Southern Innovator United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)