A fascinating story is unfolding in Mbita, Kenya, where OSRAM – one of the world’s two leading lighting firms – is embarking on a program to improve the environment and the lives of more than 175,000 Kenya fishermen who live “off-the-grid,” in a remote area of the world with no access to electricity. These fishermen are just one segment of more than 1.6 billion people throughout the world who live “off-the-grid.” For the most part, these people depend on portable, kerosene-burning lanterns for light. Every year, these people burn 77 billion liters of kerosene and, as a result, create more than 190 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to being harmful to the environment, kerosene is also a poor light source, expensive to use, dangerous and hazardous to the health of the people who use it. On the positive side, it is readily available in most parts of the world, and it can be purchased in small portions – the latter being an important advantage to people with small, irregular incomes. OSRAM is confronting the dependence on kerosene directly with a pilot project that goes by the Swahili name of “Umeme Kwa Wote” or “energy for all.” It began in April 2008, after nearly a year of preplanning, with the construction of an energy hub – an OSRAM O-Hub – on the banks of Lake Victoria in Mbita, Kenya.
A small cabin-like building, the O-Hub took nearly four months to construct and involved the help of OSRAM’s parent company, Siemens, and two partners – Solarworld AG and Nokia. Powered completely by solar panels, the O-Hub is a place where natives can come to recharge batteries for energy-saving lamps, luminaires and other electrical appliances – such as compatible mobile phones and radios – at a low cost. Initially, it was intended as a lighting infrastructure only. Quickly, however, other services were added – including the filtering of drinking water. With Siemens’ water-treatment units and OSRAM Puritec UVC lamps, bacteria and viruses are eliminated, enabling the O-Hub to produce up to 3000 liters of purified water daily.
Lighting solutions: Until OSRAM built the O-Hub, the area’s 175,000 fishermen depended on kerosene lanterns to light their nightly fishing excursions. Some were spending up to 70 percent of their income on kerosene, so they welcomed OSRAM’s lighting alternatives. The solutions OSRAM has offered are varied. All depend on batteries that are recharged at the O-Hub. These products currently comprise the program’s mainstay:
● O-Box – This rechargeable battery, complete with electrical components to control charging, comes housed in a sturdy case that includes a handle for easy transport. It can power a basic 11-watt O-Lamp (see below) for more than eight hours and also can be used to power a portable radio or recharge a compatible mobile phone. After the O-Box battery has been discharged, a fisherman can take it back to the O-Hub and exchange it for a charged battery. Users pay a deposit on the container.
● O-Lamp (basic) – This is the luminaire fishermen use to illuminate their nightly fishing. Powered by an O-Box battery, it is water tight, dust resistant and comes with a screw-on cover. It uses a solar 11-watt bulb that provides about 600 lumen, sufficient light to illuminate an entire room.
● O-Lamp (two in one) – This lantern-type luminaire is more rugged than the basic model (see above). Powered by an integrated rechargeable battery, it offers two lighting levels. It is comprised of a seven-watt compact fluorescent lamp that produces approximately 400 lumens for about eight hours. On its second setting, the O-Lamp activates LEDs, which provide a longer-lasting light that’s bright enough to illuminate book reading.
● LED Solar I – Said to be a “great all-in-one solution,” this luminaire offers light for up to seven hours in its normal mode and up to 30 hours when power is reduced by 25 percent. It comes complete with a small solar panel and adapters for charging several types of mobile phones.
More O-Hubs to come: The O-Hub in Mbita is the first of many that OSRAM plans to build in remote areas. “OSRAM’s solar station … is a concept that can be replicated anywhere in the world,” says Wolfgang Gregor, OSRAM’s chief sustainability officer and off-the-grid project leader. OSRAM sees the Mbita, Kenya project (and others to come) as projects that win in three ways: 1) They improve the lives of people living without electricity by bringing them lighting solutions that are more affordable and less hazardous to their health than kerosene. 2) They improve the environment by reducing CO2 emissions from kerosene with clean solar power. 3) They lay the groundwork for future business opportunities for OSRAM in the world’s undeveloped nations. The project in Kenya is one of many endeavors OSRAM is undertaking as part of its “Global Care” Initiative. “As one of the world’s largest lighting manufacturers,” says OSRAM CEO Martin Goetzeler, “we recognize that an intelligent, conscientious approach to the environment is not just the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do.”