Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Light Up The World With Solar Power

Companies predict that solar-powered lamps made up of LED lighting will soon be the leading gadgets for poor countries around the world. Solar-powered lamps are critical for these people: it reduces the use of expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps, which release toxic fumes producing carbon-dioxide emissions and are fire hazards. However, manufacturing these lamps are not as easy and cheap as they appear to be; the general concepts and technology of the lamps exist, but constructing and selling the lamps is another story. But finally, with new business models evolving and the use of cheaper materials, the prices for these modern solar-powered lamps are gradually falling. The article “Lighting the Way” in the magazine The Economist is convincing and extremely detailed, as it presents both the technological and business aspect to such a simple product that could potentially change the lives for millions of people.
The article explains the various uses of technology used to create these solar-powered lamps, and the different designs and models produced for the customers. The article explains how there will be “more emphasis on styling and appealing to younger customers,” which apparently, seems necessary for poor countries (Economist). The fact that companies are even worried about the style of these lamps completely surprises me because I would assume that was last on the list of concerns. Although the design can affect marketing and overall profit for a product, I feel as though whether these solar-powered lights come fully detailed with a bright yellow sunflower or without, it will not make a difference for the people in desperate need for a lamp at night. If anything, it just makes the product more expensive. With competitive companies in this market, I believe that people will compromise on efficiency for a cheaper cost. Although the designs are creative and will appeal and attract customers, in reality, these people just need light.
The article also explains the use of mobile money and other flexible payment systems in which they could “vary the size of payments depending on their cashflow” (Economist). I think this is a great idea for these poor countries because this means they will not have to make expensive payments upfront, but instead they can pay off loans, or pay as they use the lamps, depending on the company. Some companies will even offer these payment systems as a way to create credit history.
There is another product known as the Smart meters, which is a competitive product for the LED solar-powered lamps. The Smart meters are electricity meters that record the use of electricity in each home. On the Smart meter website, a report was made that these meters will “create a revolution in the South African power market” because it will allow utility companies to “establish rates based on the time of day the power is consumed,” that way people can control how much money they pay for their electricity (Smart meters). With the use of electricity spreading gradually throughout these poor countries, the use of solar-powered lamps may potentially become obsolete in the future. Time will only tell though if these developing countries will actually develop. Right now though, the solar-powered lamps are the best option for people who just need to do simple tasks at night.

Main Article:
The Economist, magazine. “Lighting the way” p. 14-16

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