Rapid growth in world population, industries, and technologies has led to a greater demand for energy sources in order to meet future needs. However, there are still some parts of the world which are not able to meet their current energy needs. The Indian government recently announced that 100% of Indian villages have access to electricity. As per the Indian Power Ministry, a village is considered electrified if at least 10% of households in it have power connections and if electricity is provided in public places like schools, panchayat, health care centres, etc. But as reported by the International Energy Agency, nearly 240 million Indians lacked access to electricity in 2017. Even recent government data shows that there are still 31 million households without electricity in India.
In this context, the lighting of homes is a major challenge in villages, which do not have access to a power grid. In such villages, people are dependant on hazardous and polluting fuels, such as kerosene, for lighting. Typically, people use candles, traditional lamps like PetroMax lantern, hurricane lantern, and chimney wick lantern fuelled by kerosene. The fumes created from burning kerosene lamps are harmful and can cause cataracts, eye infections, air pollution and severe burns. A survey has indicated that use of kerosene results in higher cancer rates due to smoke inhalation; around 2.5 million people suffer from severe burns due to dropped or jostled lamps every year in India alone. This emphasises the need for improvement in lighting technology for off-grid communities. This article discusses the recent development in lighting technologies which are adept at addressing the electricity demand for off-grid communities.
Improved lighting technology is likely to improve the livelihood opportunities of the rural communities. Generally, in remote areas the lighting facility is provided through solar-powered lamps and rechargeable batteries which require relatively expensive kits and are therefore not an affordable option for several communities. An alternative technology has been developed which produces light from gravitational energy.
London based researchers, Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves, were inspired by the potential of gravity and developed this radical form of lighting technology that harnesses electricity from gravitational force. This gravity light has a gravity power generation mechanism, which provides continuous and stable operation to convert gravitational potential into kinetic energy and then the kinetic energy into electricity, which powers the bulb. This gravity light can be hooked up on a wall and has a ballast bag (weighted bag) hanging from it. Gravitational energy is converted into electricity with the help of a synchronous motor, creating sufficient energy to power LEDs for up to 20 – 30 minutes. This type of setup provides light round-the-clock, under any climatic condition, at zero operating costs. Moreover, this technology is clean, reliable, and eco-friendly. In the year 2013, with financial support raised via a crowdfunding campaign, these gravity lights were distributed in the villages of Africa and India.
The next generation gravity light has been further developed by Deciwatt, with several advancements to the previous version and has been now named “Nowlight”. Nowlight generates light and power with just a pull of a cord. One whole minute of pulling can power the LED lamp for over an hour. It also has USB ports through which mobile phones can be charged. This technology provides a portable home system of light and power for off-grid families.
These promising lighting technologies provide off-grid communities the opportunity to generate their own electricity rather than using conventional energy. Being able to generate clean, reliable, and cheap electricity can improve economic development. Scaling up such technologies into larger systems will allow off-grid communities to achieve emission free, sustainable electricity.