Solar lanterns designed in Melbourne, made in China, bought by European, American and Japanese governments and distributed by the International Organisation for Migration to poor Pakistanis in camps. Thanks to the global partnership — not to mention favourable carbon credits — the lamps cost a mere $10 apiece, and help eliminate kerosene lamps that cause harm to the environment as much as the health of the poor.
Last month, 80,000 solar lights — called Mandarin Ultra — reached the camps of migrant Pakistanis whose homes were ravaged by floods.
“We created this light for the billion people who live off the grid and survive on less than a dollar a day,” said Shane Thatcher, chairman and CEO of illumination. “Buying fuel for a kerosene lamp can take a third of their income, the kerosene fumes are polluting, and the lanterns often start fires,” added the economist who, starting in the 1990s, took a deep interest in emissions trading before starting his enterprise in 2010.
Lasting social impact
“The solar lights transform life in the camps. Children can read, and women and children can move around the camps more safely at night,” pointed out Thatcher.
The Mandarin Ultras are water-resistant, bright, long-lasting, robust and “fit-for-purpose.” The lamps cost around a week’s income, but only a fraction of the cost of alternatives, according to innovation. Besides, they last for at least three years. The low cost is the result of specific design and identified target customers and the generation of UN accredited carbon credits.
“What makes the lights affordable is the generation of carbon credits as the lights are sold and used. We worked with our alliance partner, CarbonSoft (a Standard Bank joint venture) on the complex accreditation program,” said Liz Aitken, illumination’s CFO.
Carbon credits are earned by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Illumination’s solar lights earn the credits by demonstrating reduced use of kerosene lanterns. The company earns an income by selling these carbon credits to large polluters in developed countries. It uses part of its income to subsidise the cost of the lamps.
Illumination aims to replace nearly 10 million kerosene lanterns used across the world with its solar lights. This will not only save some of the world’s most marginal people hundreds of millions of dollars in forgone kerosene purchases but will also eradicate the huge number of burn injuries, and help prevent life-threatening diseases associated with burning kerosene, said Thatcher.
Thatcher says illumination plans to build other affordable smart devices that could similarly transform the world of the poor.
“Mobile phones are dramatically changing how the poor and remote communities farm, trade and access health and other government services. But many communities in Africa for example have no access to power. So people may have to walk many kilometres and then pay for access to a charger. We think we can change that,” he said, without indicating what the company might be developing.