International Year of Light

Every year we have somethng to commemorate, but UNESCO has declared 2015 International Year of LIght, aptly launched in Paris. Most of us have plentiful access to electricity, so no shortage of light, but at the end of John Fowles’ book The Maggot is a piece on the imense impact of electric lightiing. Though it should have been seen as a great thing, to save the strain on our eyes, to improve air quality in the home, but any were afraid of it, in Russia especially, believing it to be a tool of the devil. By abolishing the hidden darkness in corners of our homes, it took away the mystery of the everyday, made it hard to imagine spirits and fairies living in our homes. Ghost stories work so much better without electric light. But I giress. This is from the i newspaper:

“It is 1,000 years since the great Arabic scintist, Ign al-Haytham released his magnum opus on optics, 150 years since the Scot James Clerk Maxwell came up with the electromagnetic theory of light, and 50 yers since the development of fibreoptics.”

And yet “According to UNESCO, more than 1.5 billion people currently have no access to elecric light, and about 1.3 billion of hem spend up to half their income on paraffin to light their omes. Paraffin kills 1.5 milllion people a year in fires, or from associated health problems such as bronchitis and cancer. Inhaling paraffin smoke regularly is equivalent to smoking 4 packets of cigarettes a day.

…one charity, Liter of Light has pledged to create a million green, off-the-power-grid lights tht is, frankly, rubbish. Liter of Light has developed a solar-powered light that is cheap and easy to assemble and whose main feature is a plastic bottle: the kind that holds a litre of fizzy drink, and that is usually thrown away..
The original Liter of Light roup was formed in 2011 in the Philippines by the MyShelter Foundation, a charity offering sustainable building solutions for storm-damaged communities. Its founder, Illac Diaz, was shocked by lliving conditions he saw in rural areas of the Philippines hit by severe storm damage during his work as telecoms manager. He began to think about ways of providing cheap and durable replacement buildings in these areas.

He left his job to study alternative architectue and urban plannign in the US. There he came across the original bottle-light develed by a Brazillian mechanic, Alfredo Moser, in 2002. Diaz hit upon the idea of using the technology in a light poor and storm damaged homes after seeing videos of it being put to similar use in Haiti. He returned to his home country and set up MyShelter Foundation in 2006. In 2011, it created Liter of Light, installing solar bottles in more tha 15,000 homes in and around the capital, Manilla.

The technology is disarmingly simple – a plastic bttle filled with bleached water installed in the roof of a building tso that daylight from outside refracts through the water into the rooom, providing equivalent brightness to a 50-watt conventional bulb in full daylight. A YouTube video ( whosw how simple it is to install.

Now, the charity has chapters in 53 countries and has installed at least 350,000 daytime lights and aobut 15,000 night lighs, which uses a solar panel to provide ower for 4 LED bulbs. The LEDs are housed inside the protective botle with the solar panel screwed into the top, the 3-watt lighs provide enough brightess to light a 15sq m room. With the addition of a 10ft PVC pipe, or pole made from bamboo or wood, the device can be transfomed into a street lamp. More imortantly, all fo the components are open-sourced and can be built from scratch (

The fact that the technology is not owned by a multinational corporation is hugely important in the charity’s bottom-up approach. “If you teach enough people how to make solar lights they can keep their communities safe with solar street lights”, Diaz said. “Three to 5 watts is all that is needed to light an entire village. One watt times a million people who do it could be more powerful than a large-scale power plant”

Liter of Light provides amodel where individual interpreneurs can learn to make and install the devices and sell them on to their communities at a small profit, thus kick-starting grassroots green economies such as the one in San Pedro Laguna in the Philippines where a single local entrepreneur has installed 11,000 solar bottles.

The global success of the idea has led to projects around the world. In Pakistan, a local Liter of Light organiser, Vaqas Butt, has installed 100 street lights in the UN’s Jalozai refuge cam, one of the country’s larges. “Thse camps were clock-a-block and the average refugee had to access to light” said Mr Butt.

For the Year of Light, he intends o install anoter 450 lights in teh camp and 400 in a fisig village on the coast. “The plan is to make sure every nook and corner fo theat village [is] lit up – the houses, washrooms, community places, worship places, shops, everything.” He will also teach locals how to replicate the technology.

In Egypt, Liter of Light, backed by Pepsi, will provide lights for villages and 35 schools. But it is in Columbia where perhaps the most ambitious projects are takng place. Liter of Light Columbia as developed its own version of the technology to provide lgihting 300% more powerful than conventional yellow street lights at just 2% of the cost. “the lifespan in 70,000 hours,” said the spkesman Camilo Hererra. “That’s 6 years of light.”

The lights can shine for about 3 consecutive nights without recharging. This yer 2,000 more will beinstalled in some of Colombia’s off-grid, conflict-torn areas. Hererra said: “The first step in making these communities safer is to iluminate their streets.”

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