Brilliant minds convened at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble during the entire week of 16-20 November, 2015, to lay the groundwork for an eventual African Light Source (AfLS). There are approximately fifty light sources worldwide, with some laboratories possessing more than one. As seen in the figure below, Africa is the only habitable continent in the world without a light source, and addressing this shortcoming is what served as the impetus for the AfLS meeting.
Those of us who are fortunate to work directly in the photonics or optical technology fields or are members of the wider technical community, already have an innate appreciation of the transformative nature of light-based technologies and the crucial role they place in our daily lives. Light is not something we take for granted; we recognize implicitly how optical technologies have revolutionized medicine, manufacturing communications, and energy. However, while developed countries have benefited tremendously from these advancements, there are many in developing countries that lack basic access to the very technologies that we consider both commonplace and fundamental for existence. For example, more than one-fifth of the world’s 7.3 billion population has no access to electricity, almost 600 million people living in Africa alone. Without electricity families have no clean source of light, having to rely instead on expensive (and dangerous) alternatives like homemade kerosene lamps; families can spend up to 40 percent of their income just on kerosene. With respect to access to communications, less than 20% of the global internet usage comes from Africa. This disparity in technology richness and its detrimental consequences was recently highlighted by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon who noted, “Widespread energy poverty still condemns billions to darkness, ill health and missed opportunities for education and prosperity”.
Today 1.2 billion people around the world do not have access to electricity. Without light, they resort to using dangerous and unhealthy toxic carbon-emitting kerosene lanterns to extend daily hours to be able to do daily tasks such as cooking and studying. To address this issue, the VELUX Group and the social business Little Sun are collaborating to help bring clean, reliable, and affordable light to off-grid African regions.
There are currently more “international days” than days in the year (approximately 400).
Each of these days is trying to raise awareness on important problems (diseases, human
rights, environment, etc.), or on even more important issues (“Go barefoot day”,
“Raspberry cake day”, etc.). Only at the highest level, can a topic be considered
sufficiently important to deserve a full year of celebration. This is why United Nations
supports between one and five “international years” every year. Different than the
selection of international days, the UN selection process is so rigorous that we can
trust every chosen topic to be essentially pertinent for Mankind. Through this selection
process, this year has been proclaimed “International Year of Light and Light-based
Technologies” (IYL 2015), but it is noteworthy that it is also the “International Year of
I am fortunate to be an active participant of IYL 2015, and in particular, to represent the
African Physical Society (AfPS) in many IYL 2015-related events. One of the questions I am
asked very often is “Why would such a year be important for Africa? Why do you think we
should pay attention to IYL 2015 while we are still struggling with very fundamental problems
like education, healthcare, and basic infrastructures, etc? ”
My answer is always simple: the economy.
The war on climate change is not one that can be won in a boardroom or conference hall. It is a war that has to be taken to the frontlines and intertwined into the lives of the men, women and children who currently rely on burning dangerous and polluting fossil fuels for their most basic needs. For many of those living in regions most affected by the impacts of climate change, it is a war that starts with light.
As Pope Francis recently highlighted, tackling climate change cannot be done without simultaneously tackling poverty. In the 21st century, over half a billion people live without electricity in Africa, many of whom have no alternative but to light toxic kerosene in their home at night in order to study, work or spend time with their family. SunnyMoney has joined the fight against energy poverty by finding ways to ensure that high quality and affordable solar lights are available in rural Africa, setting these regions on a pathway to low-carbon development. To date, there are over 10 million people across the continent benefiting from SunnyMoney solar lights. People that no longer have to inhale toxic fumes, purchase expensive kerosene or risk potentially fatal burns.