back to article African human-powered lighting plan announced

The BBC reports that the Freeplay Foundation - the organisation which distributes wind-up radios to Africans unable to obtain/afford batteries or mains power - is looking to offer wind-up home lighting solutions, too. According to World Bank estimates, half a billion sub-Saharan Africans have no access to grid electricity. …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Global development

    I heard that what africa needed was a way to kick start their economy, so I designed a computer so cheap even poor people could afford to buy it, and put an open source operating system on it because free and customisable.

    Then I discovered that the problem in some parts of africa they dont even have electricity, let alone problems using a basic off-the-shelf OS! Egg and my face were in alignment!

  2. eddiewrenn

    aren't we civilised

    It still surprises me that we call ourselves as a civilised race, presumably because we have invented cars and have busied ourselves with pointless jobs aimed at making money for a human-created concept - the economy - that we don't seem to have any control over.

    While we all put-put around in our cars and make and receive calls from salespeople, hundreds of people died each day from lack of water, lack of food, and lack of power.

    And until we actually sort that out, we fall far short on the scale of civilisation.

    That's so off-topic and hippified I cringe to read it back, but seriously, where are our priorities?

  3. Kit Temple

    Solar Power

    "Solar power is seen as expensive, and it would obviously not be available at night - which is just when the Africans want it."

    Off-grid solar power uses batteries. The cost of photovoltaics keeps dropping each year, and there are plenty of affordable home power photovoltaic solutions out there now as well as companies trying to leverage African entrepreneurs to distribute these systems.

    Indian companies have demonstrated that photovoltaics pays for itself for lighting solutions vs. the cost of kerosene in lighting houses.

  4. Ryan

    I read that as "Lightning"

    and wondered what the hell you were on about

  5. Norman Wanzer

    Change is good?

    LED light bulbs. If they truly use so little power, then I can't wait to see them available in America where we just started replacing incandescent bulbs with florescent. Now I get to spend twice as much on light bulbs to save almost as much on power. There is irony there I’m sure of it.

  6. Ross

    New power source

    Now if only they could make a generator that ran by burning Windows install CDs the Nigerians could have a decent open source OS for their lappies *and* the juice to run them!

    I despair at the economic state of Africa I really do. I just wanna go over there and tell them to stop paying their stupid debt back, and implement massive import tariffs for non-African made goods. It's how America did it. Of course the USA (and possibly the EU but maybe not) will bitch and whine about free trade, but then the Africans can point and laugh and actually get somewhere. Ah well.

    If only ECOWAS et al had balls....

  7. Anonymous Coward

    About those diesel generators

    You say that "Even in comparatively well-organised South Africa, it seems that diesel generators are a common household accessory in the wealthier Johannesburg suburbs".

    That only because people are fed up with the rolling brown-outs that are caused by ESKOM inefficiency. 90% of the South African neighbours buy 90% of their electricity from South Africa. Add to that the idiocy of letting ill-qualified engineers anywhere near the Koeberg Nuclear Power station, the idiocy of taking down 30% of South Africa's power generating capacity in spring (yes, it's almost summer there now), and the reliance on an aging power line from another country, you have disaster.

    Namibia had a fantastic power generation resource in the Ruacana power station (and as a kid I had the privilege to visit it with my father), but after the bombing of the Calueque Dam in Angola, Ruacana stopped generating power, and the whole project has never been brought back online (a big shame).

    Moçambique has Cahora Bassa, but thanks to an agreement signed between Portugal and South Africa at the time of its construction, Moçambique has to suffer the indignity of exporting ALL its power to South Africa, only to purchase it back for a significantly higher price.

    Botswana has practically no power resources to speak of (one major coal-fueled generation station), so they also import nearly half of their power from South Africa.

    Swaziland is also a net importer of power. Let's not even talk about Zimbabwe.

    Lesotho thankfully uses its massive Highlands Water Project to generate power while providing South Africa with water, so they are practically the only neighbour NOT using South African power.

    It is scary that a country like South Africa has rolling brown-outs because of idiots at the wheel. And no, I'm not being racist, I'm a realist.

  8. Mike Morgan

    I have seen the futrue of solar

    There is a way to use solar, but you do not use the power from the solar cells directly. There are 20 to 30 people in the states the have removed them selfs from the grid. They do this by using solar cells to make hydrogen. The hydrogen is then feed to a fuel cell that makes the electricity for the home. The by products of this process is heat and pure water. They take any left over hydrogen and use it to run their cars. Of course the greens us their waist to make methane for cooking. This is completely safe and has no left over radioactive waste. However I have not found out the life span of the fuel cells or the ability to recycle their components. The biggest draw back is cost. But if this industry was funded like oil it would be much cheaper and put the power and water utilities out of business. So we will not see lower cost of this form of power until Haliburton runs out of oil.

  9. TS

    There's no irony in the cost of bulbs.


    You forget that florescent bulbs, while costing 10x the cost of a incandescent bulb, last 10x as well, so in the long run they don't cost any more.

    LED bulbs currently run some 50x the cost of an incandescent bulb, but they are said to last 100x as long. Which would make them cheaper than your standard bulb.

    Not to mention the 70% electricity savings by using the LED bulbs.

    I converted to florescent a couple years ago. I haven't converted to LED yet since the energy savings aren't that much greater, but I expect that the prices of the bulbs will drop significantly in the next couple of years.

  10. Sam

    Am I missing something?

    Africa=lots of Sun.

    Lot of Sun=Solar power.

  11. Cliff

    muscle-powered light leaves no power for industry

    Yep, single wind-it-yourself power installations like the one in the article don't produce anything like enough power for pretty much anything above and beyond some basic lighting - but that's a massive value

    If you can generate light for an evening, it means you can read

    If you can read, you can learn

    If you can learn, you can improve yourself

    If you improve yourself, you can get a better job

    If you get a better job, maybe you can start leading your country out of the hole it's in...

    The change has to come from within

  12. Rebecca Putman

    @Mike Morgan

    A hydrogen economy doesn't make sense. Go look at and to see why.

    Solar, wind, and micro-hydro make far better sense.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    why not use hot air instead?

    its smoke and mirrors. its a marketing coup. not only are we now convinced that what 500m Africans need are lights, we are also convinced that the way to get this light shining is via a business and distribution model that has never been tried before so very few people know how much it really costs. just create a bunch of numbers, get a loan from the world bank, run a few tv ads of african chidren looking sad in the candlelight and you're set. It would be interesting to look at the financial ledgers of altruistic outfits like these that claim to be friends of Africa. but really, nothing wrong with free enterprise...not unless u're an African who is about to get a useless shining thang and actually get one less potentially useful thing that would otherwise have made its way to him, if people had not already used up their quota of goodwill for Africa trying to get Africans useless shining things.

    sound bites aside ("solar power is expensive and olny works at night", "firewood is hard to find", power done right is NOT expensive, and it works...not all of Africa is tumbleweed and deserts...), if indeed light was what Africans needed, and it had to be re-chargable LED lights, why not spend the aid money setting up factories that make the different components, and giving the economy a boost? sure, if power to the factories is unreliable, design the factories to be tolerant and easy to operate. Why not train Africans to help themselves? Why not start creating methane gas plants that utilize cattle shiet? Why not getting Africans to start manufacturing micro hydroelectric solutions? Why not just use wind power?

  14. Brian Miller

    Kerosene isn't that bad

    Look, kerosene lamps aren't that bad. When I was a kid my family used them as the main light source for a while. There are now kerosene lamps in the local hardware stores that throw out as much light as a 60W lightbulb. That is *not* a dim light!

    The real problem here is not what lights the homes at night. The real problem is a complete lack of industrial base and just too much war and general violence in the region. Until the violence subsides completely, don't expect any miracles in regards to the economy. It is hard to build idustrial infrastructure, but its really easy to tear all of it down.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    while west made Africans poor - africans passed to live in London & Paris

    Some goverments in Europe & America don't realise the power of modern transport. There are no distances any more - just ticket price... - so if somebody in the west thinks the poors of Africa will stay to die there - he is wrong , half of them are already in his own city... - so it better to think of Africa and it's problems as a problems of your own family...

    African contries corruption and poverty is result of economical enslavory of Africa by west, east and own grown kings. The future of africans today is in Europe and US - and who will stop them?

  16. Kevin O'Rourke

    Kerosene IS that bad

    @Brian Miller: You're probably thinking of pressurised kerosene lamps (aka Tilley lamps), which are fairly efficient and produce a bright white light (although they're pretty noisy and hot).

    In West Africa those are seldom found and very expensive, instead you have the old-fashioned kero lamps with a cloth wick: smoky, inefficient and only capable of producing a dim and flickery light.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's more to it...

    Among the many enormous problems facing Africa is the widespread, egregious corruption amongst its officials. Vast amounts of aid fall into the hands of those who have plenty, greedy people who steal from the ones who are dying from want.

    Seems to me this goes way back to the colonial days, when this sort of thing was encouraged. It helped to keep the people more manageable. Now it just perpetuates their misery.

    That misery could be brought to an end, were the world willing. Unfortunately, there's no profits to be made by helping them. Aside from some few altruistic groups and the occasional aid sent to further political goals, there is no help.

    Oh, and another thing? Birth control. Sorry, but we aren't taking care of the kids we've got now. No more new kids until every child has a safe home, food, medical care, and schooling. Once every child is in a loving and nurturing environment, then we can make more. This "God-given right" to have kids is utter shite, and will lead to our extinction if it continues unchecked.

  18. Charles Manning

    @Sam ... or is it little Sambo?

    Perhaps you've been reading too many stories of bally hot bwanas on lion hunting safaris and little pikaninis running around naked fetching gin and tonic.

    Africa is not all sunshine. Even if it was, PV is just too expensive to produce to make it worthwhile for everyone.

    The main thing to achieve is a simple low cost solution for personal/domestic use. There is no need for lighting up garden ornaments etc. When you have nothing then very simple lighting would be very useful.

    One or two LED lights give ample light for cooking/reading etc. I have a small wind-up LED torch/flashlight that provides approx 20 minutes of reading light from a 1-minute wind-up. It has a small (??20mAh??) rechargable battery in it. This cost me approx $15 retail - so make that $2 ex-China.

    It would be very easy/low cost to make something a bit bigger and more robust with a slightly bigger battery (say 1 hour run-time) and a bigger hand crank to make the winding easier.

  19. Richard Freeman

    I picked up one of thise things from the hardware store last week

    OK it is an ugly looking torch but it has three LEDs and uses an 80mAH NIMH battery and claims about 30 Minutes for a 1 minute wind.

    it cost $15 in Australia (which probably makes it about 0:02 from the factory door in china) and seems to work OK of course the light output after 1/2 an hour is getting low but still usable if I had access to a light meter I could do a proper test on it.

  20. Chris Cheale

    dunno - sounds like a reasonable

    Sounds like a reasonable idea to me and not just for use in Africa. Get an exercise bike wired up to a backup battery type doodah for charging your mobile phone, laptop or whatever and you can make inroads on the forthcoming "obesity crisis" whilst saving yourself a couple of quid on your leccy bill.

  21. Hanni Ali


    One of the most important aspects of reliable electricity is lighting, in the home for reading etc. but also for security, well lit streets reduce crime rates and make residents feel safer. It helps develop an economy although obviously the wind up is only suitable for home use, solar in combination with batteries/flywheel storage is ideal for street lighting.

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