Solar vs Kerosene

by Emily Boyce
Posted on 1st March 2016

The donation of solar lights and the development of solar power lighting schemes is becoming an increasingly popular practice by many missionaries, charities and NGOs. This new movement is driven by evidence that kerosene (Paraffin), a common light source in low to middle income communities, causes negative impacts on health, socio-economic status, and the environment.

Globally, over 3 billion people rely on solid fuels, such as wood, charcoal, and kerosene for household cooking and lighting. Of these, 1.3 billion have no access to the electricity grid, and the other 1.7billion who are connected suffer from unreliable and intermittent power.(1) This forces communities to rely on alternative sources of light. Kerosene has traditionally been that alternative; the fuel is currently used as a primary source of lighting by an estimated 250 to 500million people and is highly associated with poor health outcomes, climate change and both poor educational and socio-economic status.(1,2) For these reasons solar power is being assessed as a way of eradicating kerosene lamp usage.

The reasons for such wide scale use of kerosene are mainly attributable to the fact it is readily available, and due to heavy subsidization from local and national governments is somewhat affordable to purchase.(1) However, solar lights could easily be made readily available, and come in a whole magnitude of sizes, styles and costs, and are a great candidate for missionaries, charities and relief AID organisations to donate and distribute, providing both individuals and communities a better light source than Kerosene lamps.

Kerosene and health
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified that burning kerosene in the home increases the risk of several diseases, much in a way that smoking cigarettes does. Some of these diseases include; asthma, pneumonia, and lung/upper airway cancers.(2,3) Those worst effected are children. In developing communities kerosene lamps are often used to study, and due to the dimness of the light given off, children often sit very close, breathing in the toxic fumes given off by the flame.(4) On top of this kerosene lamps increase the likelihood of house fires, burns and poisoning.(5)

Solar lights offer salvation from Kerosene fumes, reducing the amount of smoke in the home, and creating a cleaner, safer community environment. Smoke free environments remove eye irritation; decrease the chances of respiratory disease, and help children focus on their studies. On top of this they remove the risk of house fires and burns, which can have a serious impact on quality of life.(1)

Kerosene and the environment
The same toxic fumes that negatively impact health are also a large contributor to air pollution and climate change.(6) Furthermore, it is thought that kerosene combustion contributes an estimated 190million metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere.(7)
At a time where national governments are thinking about how to develop a sustainable future for our children, it seems paramount to look at other lighting alternatives. Solar is a renewable energy, and once manufactured produces no carbon dioxide or air pollutants. A switch from kerosene to solar lighting is backed by the WHO and represents a positive step in reducing the global reliance on fossil fuels, whilst also improving health outcomes and local economies.(6,8,9)

Kerosene and the community
Kerosene usage can cause a significant socio-economic burden. Although the actual lamps are relatively inexpensive the constant purchase of fuel often represents a large proportion of family expenditure. It also means that light is limited depending on income. For those living below the poverty line, this cost burden means there is often little money left over for other items or services including education.(1)
Comparatively, once purchased solar lights offer unlimited, free light. This light is more efficient, brighter and clean, offering children the chance to study in the evening, adults to carry out housework, and local business to increase productivity without the reliance on unsafe, poor quality lighting. Through these means solar lights can empower communities to increase their socio-economic status by; improving literacy and education, growing business (both old and new), increasing disposable income and offering a light source for family bonding and social get-togethers.

Why donate Solar?
Solar lamps, such as Luci® offer a cost-effective, clean and safe alternative to kerosene lamps. Studies have shown that solar lamps are socially acceptable, readily available and more efficient source of light. Providing and incorporating these lamps into communities, can offer a renewable and reliable source of light, giving individuals and communities the chance to improve their quality of life, and step out of energy poverty.

For more information on Luci® the low cost, inflatable, waterproof solar light, specifically designed for developing communities and relief situations contact Durbin:
T: +44 20 8869 6513



Emily Boyce is the lead Analyst at Durbin, and is helping Durbin on its mission to raise awareness of the benefits of solar lighting in developing communities.