Cultivating technologies and markets for affordable low-carbon off-grid lighting in the developing world


The Lumina Project—an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—provides 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.

Our work falls into the following broad areas:


  1. Defining the Opportunity. The Lumina Project began by identifying and quantifying the much-overlooked specter of fuel-based lighting in the developing world. We found that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid spend about $40 billion each year on inefficient, ineffective, and polluting light from kerosene and other fuels. We then identified the potential of compact, rugged, and affordable light-emitting diode ("LED") systems to displace these fuels, while providing radically improved energy services. As NGOs and private companies engage in bringing solutions to the market, the Project evolves with them and continues to help accelerate technology innovation and the development of markets.
  2. Enabling companies to innovate more rapidly. Innovation in off-grid lighting solutions has thus far come almost exclusively from small companies and non-profits. These groups recognize the problem and the opportunity, but lack the technical expertise and equipment to design products and assess their target markets. Results from our field projects and laboratory testing have helped private companies make the business case for their initiatives and target their efforts.
  3. Advising international organizations on how to support these emerging markets. We have consulted to USAID, UNHCR, and The World Bank (Lighting Africa Project) on ways they can integrate efficient off-grid lighting into their existing activities.
  4. Assembling interdisciplinary teams to effectively address complex issues. Many failed efforts to develop and deploy energy-efficiency technologies in developing countries suffer from disciplinary biases or blind spots. Groups working in the lighting area rarely combine expertise in development, energy, and illumination. Our team members have depth in relevant disciplines, including development, economics, social sciences, energy analysis, lighting design, and electrical engineering.
  5. Designing market tests and performing market research. A growing number of pilot projects are taking place around the world but do not tend to publish substantive results, relying instead on brief, anecdotal assertions of success. As a result, third parties seeking to enter this market can gain little insight from preceding efforts and prospective sponsors of scale-up lack adequate data for decision making. The Lumina Project is unique in both the depth and transparency of its field tests, with all results published in the public domain. The project also integrates results from other projects in a one-stop, on-line world map.
  6. Providing a unique protocol for assessing product quality. Our work has demonstrated that there are widespread material problems with product quality. In response, the project established a protocol and applied it to more than a dozen products. This has influenced manufacturers to make improvements to their products. It also served as the inspiration for a World Bank workshop on the topic, and for a World Bank solicitation for proposals to perform this work on a wider range of products. We have been invited to present our methodology and findings at several LED industry meetings.
  7. Addressing key issues overlooked by private companies. Private companies often lack the incentive to explore issues that do not yield intellectual property. Examples include assessment of the indoor-air-quality impacts of kerosene lighting and the usage of fuelwood for illumination. Both of these are subjects of ongoing investigation by the Lumina Project, and the results will be shared widely.
  8. Helping students engage in the issue. The project has engaged with dozens of students at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, Humboldt State University, and Stanford University. Project staff have mentored two sets of student recipients of the MOT/UNIDO grants (through Haas Business school). One group conducted field research in Tibet and the other in India. Students are also receiving hands-on technical experience in product assessment. Some of these students have gone on to start companies targeting this market.
  9. Publicizing the opportunity. The Lumina Project provides an internet portal for objective information and analysis. The project team enjoys a unique, respectable platform based on a long history of energy and development work and the resources of major universities. As a result, our views are regularly sought by the media, other researchers, and private industry. Reports on our research and companies that have consulted with us appear frequently in the technical and popular media (including Time, Newsweek, The Economist, Forbes, and the New York Times).