Energy Poverty Becomes Focus as UN Kicks Off ‘International Year of Light’

Jan. 19, 2015
UNESCO’s International Year of Light project will try to raise awareness about the health hazards faced by the 1.3 billion people without electricity.

The United Nations today kicked off the International Year of Light, an educational campaign aimed at highlighting the economic and health importance of light technologies.

Light poverty affects about one-fifth of the world’s population and leads to 1.5 million deaths from use of kerosene and candles that cause fires and respiratory illness, according to Royal Philips. This is the same number of deaths attributed to HIV-related diseases annually, the lighting company says.

The highest levels of light poverty exist in South America, Asia and Africa. In the South Sudan as few as 1.5 percent of the population has access to light, according to the World Bank.

Meanwhile, solar LED technology can provide light at a fraction of the cost of kerosene lamps, without the health, safety or environmental dangers – or the need for major investment in infrastructure, says Philips.

“Human suffering on this scale is unacceptable in the 21st century,” says Eric Rondolat, CEO of Philips Lighting. “Solar-powered LED lighting can transform rural communities and save millions of lives. What’s more, it does not have to be invented – it already exists and is proven. I call on politicians to stand together and commit to ending light poverty by 2030.”

A  solar-powered LED lantern requires no electricity and costs $10-20, compared with the $50 annual fuel bill of running a kerosene lamp, according to Philips.

Solar or wind microgrids offer an additional clean solution for remote communities without access to a functional electric grid.

In cases where electricity cannot be brought to an entire village, it can be channeled to schools, hospitals, water facilities and other critical or central facilities.

Philips says it is in the process of installing 100 Community Light Centers (CLCs) in 12 African countries to allow healthcare services and businesses to operate after sunset and encourage night time sports and social activities. The CLCs are 1,000 square meter areas that are  lit by solar powered LED lighting systems.

The Year of the Light is a program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project is bringing together scientific societies and unions, educational institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organizations and private sector partners. UNESCO hopes to raise awareness about how light technology can solve problems in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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