Final Report: Self-Contained Human and Solar Powered LED Lighting System for Use in the Developing World

EPA Grant Number: SU833925
Title: Self-Contained Human and Solar Powered LED Lighting System for Use in the Developing World
Investigators: Stevens, Robert , Carrano, Andres , Myers, James , Thorn, Brian
Institution: Rochester Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


A large portion of the world’s population currently does not have access to clean and reliable sources of artificial lighting which is vital for furthering one’s education, enabling some income generating activities as well as providing a richer and healthier family and community environment. Currently over two billion people in the world go without lighting or use unhealthy and polluting lighting sources such a kerosene lamps, candles, or other unsustainable fuel based lights. In fact, approximately 33% of the world energy use for lighting is by kerosene lighting alone. Rural families spend a significant portion of their income on kerosene fuel for lighting. Many families in the world can spend as much as $8-15 per month, which is substantial considering that most rural incomes are below $2/day per person.

Besides the economic and poor light quality issues of fuel based lighting systems, these systems also pose a huge environmental problem. The entire world’s use of kerosene lighting emits more than 200 million tons of CO2 per year. During a recent global lighting study, Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that “The single-greatest way to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with lighting energy use is to replace kerosene lamps with white-LED electric systems in developing countries; this can be accomplished even while dramatically increasing currently deficient lighting service levels.” Although there has been significant progress in the development of LED applications, most work has been geared towards the developed world applications with little focus lighting technologies for kerosene users. For these reasons, the proposed project’s goal is to develop improved options for artificial lighting for the developing world that will not only have lower long-term operating costs but will also reduce the negative impact on the local and global environment associated with fuel combustion while also creating local wealth generating opportunities. The specific objectives for the first phase of the project are to:

  • Form and advise a multidisciplinary engineering student team to assess the lighting need and develop appropriate engineering specifications. Guide the student team through the entire design process.
  • Design, build, and conduct preliminary tests of a prototype white-LED lighting system and to lay the groundwork for future development of the technology.
  • Develop collaborative partnership(s) with organization(s) working in the developing world where access to high quality and clean lighting technology is currently lacking.
  • Send first generation prototype lighting systems out for field testing and observations by partner(s) and solicit input on the design in order to make future prototypes more easily manufactured by local microenterprises.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:
The second phase of this project will build on the successes of Phase I. The second phase objectives will be to:<

  • Develop two generations of improved individual lighting modules and a communal power generation system prototypes,
  • Conduct extensive field testing and observations of the lighting systems to both qualitatively and quantitatively measure the potential environmental, economic, and social impact of the lighting system adoption and to provide feedback for further design improvements,
  • Develop business plans for the creation of local microenterprises in Haiti and an initiative for broadening the lighting project on a regional or global level, and /li>
  • Develop pilot projects in three communities in Northern Haiti.

To build on the success of the first phase of the project, several first generation assembled lighting units and unassembled lighting kits will be sent to the project partners, H.O.P.E. and SOIL tech centers. The tech centers will assemble the units and document issues with assembly and then provide feedback to the project team on areas for improvement with techniques and design modifications that are more appropriate for local fabrication and assembly. The tech centers will also distribute several of the lighting systems and a charging system to the end users and follow-up with a survey and observations for future improvements. This feedback will be instrumental in the development of a second generation lighting unit and power generation system prototypes. A modification of the prototype lighting and power generation system designs will be made by multidisciplinary design teams based on the field testing feedback.

A team of engineering and business students with an interest in socially responsible business practices will be formed during the first year of Phase II to develop a business model with the focus on developing sustainable microenterprises that will help build local wealth, ensure the lighting systems are well maintained and adoption of the technology continues to accelerate and be sustainable. The team will take advantage of an existing entrepreneurial infrastructure at the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SCIE) at RIT. An initial business model will be developed within the context of the MBA Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation course and possibly move on to RIT’s Student Business Development Lab. A second plan will be developed during the second year of Phase II with the goal of developing the blueprint for an initiative to expand the adoption of the LED lighting systems on a regional or global level. The focus of this plan will be on how best to develop an organization for duplicating the successes of the Haitian LED microenterprises in other parts of the developing world. These business development activities will fit well into RIT’s new Social Entrepreneurship Initiative.

During the second year of Phase II, the project team in partnership with the H.O.P.E. and SOIL tech centers will identify three communities in Northern Haiti to initiate pilot projects based on the microenterprise business plan developed during the first year. Both H.O.P.E. and SOIL will assist in conducting user surveys that will focus on evaluating both the technology and the business structure for distributing and charging the units.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

A student team of mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineers was formed in the fall of 2008. Using a network of RIT Alumni, the Phase I student team developed a working relationship with two non-profit organizations, Sustained Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) and Haiti Outreach - Pwoje Espwa (H.O.P.E.), which have a focus on development in Haiti. Working closely with these two organizations, the team established the needs of the end customer, rural families in Haiti. Fifteen needs were identified to create an effective lighting solution that would be not only more functional than the current kerosene lamps available in Haiti, but also beneficial economically, environmentally, and to personal health. The most important of these needs are; provide improved lighting levels and distribution, be more environmentally friendly than the current kerosene lamps used, does not require the use of the electric grid, has a lower purchase and operating cost, and could be manufactured in developing nations. The team developed twenty-five engineering specifications based on the established customer needs. The specifications were used by the student team along with input from project partners and industrial representatives to guide the concept generation and final design selection.

The final concept selected by the team consisted of small inexpensive individual rechargeable lighting units charged by a central community based charging station. The primary advantage of the small lighting units with a central charging system is to reduce the initial cost to the individual user. Cost reduction is critical for populations living on less than $2/day. The material cost for an optimally designed system are expected to be less than $20 per unit and will be sufficient to provide 50 Lux of lighting on a two square meter surface, which is more than adequate for reading and significantly better than the kerosene based lighting currently used. The designed lighting units are far superior to the typical cheap consumer LED products available today. The units have higher light intensity and more efficient circuitry enabling them to operate for several nights between charges. The units are modular, so as a family’s needs and available resources change additional lighting units can be purchased.

The central charging stations consist of a bike with a small generator. Future power generation systems could be done on a communal or individual basis and could include a small treadle with a generator, photovoltaic module, or thermoelectric generation unit. Having a centralized charging system has the advantage of creating an income generating activity using local resources rather than importing fuel or batteries, which removes wealth from the local community. The central charging system also better ensures that the individual lighting systems are well maintained since the units can be inspected and serviced on a regular basis by a local expert who has a financial incentive to keep the lighting units working properly.

The project team has currently built the lighting unit housing and assembled the power charging circuitry on a breadboard and conducted preliminary testing. The light distribution tests demonstrated that the unit’s lighting quality and distribution is far superior the current kerosene units. The charging power conditioning circuitry also performed as expected. The team is currently in the process of testing the LED unit circuits and developing the printed circuit board layouts for both the lighting and charging units. The team expects to complete several prototypes during the spring of 2009. The units will be tested to ensure they meet all engineering specifications developed earlier.


Upon completion of initial testing, the team will enter a redesign phase to address any deficiencies in the design. By addressing these deficiencies in the alpha prototype design it will be possible to ensure that the beta prototype is truly ready for field testing deployment.

Field testing will be done with the help of the team’s partner organizations in Haiti. One charging system and six to ten light units will be sent to H.O.P.E. and SOIL during late spring or summer for distribution to the households in Northern Haiti. Daily use of both modules should provide valuable feedback with respect to the utility, durability, and desirability of the current design. Upon receiving this valuable feedback from field testing, the team will be able to prepare a plan for future phases of the project to be conducted by future student design teams.

Supplemental Keywords:

lighting, LED, community power, third world;

Relevant Websites:

The working project website can be accessed at EPA