The Opportunity

Thomas Edison's seemingly forward-looking statement that "we will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles" was true enough for the industrialized world, but it did not anticipate the plight of 1.6 billion people—more than the world's population in Edison's time—who 100 years later still have no access to electricity. Due to population growth, barriers to electrification, and other factors, The International Energy Agency projects that this number will decline very gradually (by less than 1% per year!) between now and the year 2030. Although one in four people today obtain light exclusively with kerosene, other fuels, candles, and battery-powered torches (plus an unknown additional number on a part-time basis), they receive only 0.1% of the resulting lighting energy services. As an illustration of the inefficiencies involved, users of kerosene lighting pay 150-times more per unit of useful energy services than do those in electrified homes with compact fluorescent lamps (and 600-times more than for traditional incandescent lamps). We estimate that, in aggregate, the fuel-based lighting costs the world's poor $38 billion each year, plus ~190 megatons of CO2 emissions, the most important greenhouse gas. This does not even include the costs for candles and batteries. There are 192 countries that emit less greenhouse-gas emissions than this! Efforts to address the issue clearly have immense potential benefits for equity, development, and the environment. Thanks to dramatic improvements in the efficiency of white light-emitting diodes (WLEDs), it has become possible to create compact, highly affordable, rugged, and cost-effective illumination systems powered with small solar panels and rechargable commodity batteries. Other charging systems can also be applied.

The Lumina Project continues work begun in 1994 to cultivate technologies and markets for affordable low-carbon alternatives to fuel-based lighting in the developing world. The Lumina Project is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, providoing industry, consumers, and policymakers with timely analysis and information on off-grid lighting solutions for the developing world. Activities combine laboratory and field-based investigations to help ensure the uptake of products and policies that maximize consumer acceptance and market impact. Our results should not be construed as product endorsements by the authors. For more information:


View list of project accomplishments.