Locally produced solar powered lighting systems, developed for use in rural areas and informal settle- ments, can contribute to increased safety and access to lighting without requiring connection to the national power grid.
The patented Sola-Lite systems were designed and developed locally by design and engineering specialist Cadcom. Sales and marketing manager Kerry Buckle says that a significant part of the project was ensuring that the lighting systems could be produced locally as a unique solution for the South African context without compromising on quality or inflating the costs of the systems.
With the exception of the solar panels and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), all the components are manufactured and assembled in South Africa. Cadcom director Steve Buckle says that care has been taken to ensure that the plastic components are made from recyclable material and carry a recycling symbol.
The systems use LEDs in light mouldings that are shaped for efficient light distribution. LEDs consume significantly less power than traditional globes and are able to light up living spaces better than candles and paraffin lamps, which are the most common lighting methods in informal and rural housing.
The Sola-Lite systems were tested in a pilot project in the Thembisa informal settlement, north-east of Johannesburg. Kerry Buckle says that there was a notable difference in air quality in the pilot houses once paraffin use was reduced.
Sola-Lite system kits are do-it-yourself (DIY) friendly and are packaged as complete units with everything required for installation. The kit is accompanied by an installation instruction leaflet that gives detailed information on how to install the system, including a simple method to determine the correct direction that the solar panel should face. The DIY aspect of the system allows users access to lighting systems without having to pay an additional cost for the services of electricians or installers.
The solar panels accom-panying the lights vary between 3 W and 10 W, depending on the size of the system that is bought. The 3-W system has two lights, each light with 12 LEDs, and a controller unit housing and a 12-V battery. The medium-size system is 5 W with four lights and a 12-V battery. The 10-W system has eight lights and two batteries.
The batteries for the systems are housed in a modular con- troller unit with controller intelligence. The modular controller unit also houses a cellphone charging socket. The 10-W system has a controller unit with an additional battery pack. The modular design allows users to add more lights and batteries to the systems should they wish.
The lights can run up to six hours a night for each light and the system can support two cellphone charging sessions a week. Kerry Buckle says that research undertaken in informal settlements showed that people can pay up to R20 to have a cellphone charged at businesses in the settlement. She adds that the Sola-Lite system increases people’s ability to control their own energy use.
The lights in the system each have an on-off pull switch, which enables customers to mount the lights high on the walls for better light distri-bution. The switches are three-function pull switches that allow users to dim the lights.
The Sola-Lite product has been endorsed as energy effi-cient by the National Energy Efficiency Agency as part of an initiative to encourage consumers to buy energy efficient products.
The system also won a South African Bureau of Standards Design Excellence award in 2009.
There is also a rechargable portable torch-like system available, the E-Pac Mobile, which can be used for portable light, emergency light and as a light for recreational activities, such as camping, and can provide up to 50 hours of light when fully charged.
Kerry Buckle says that keeping the cost down was a significant consideration in the development of the product.
The Sola-Lite equipment is an effective entry-level solar technology tool for communities that would not otherwise be able to benefit from the advantages of renewable-energy sources, as they are often expensive.