For nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, sundown means living, working, and studying by flickering candlelight or polluting kerosene lamps. Rural electrification is proceeding, but it's outpaced by population growth. So Lighting Africa, a program of the World Bank and the International Finance Corp., is taking a different tack to try to improve the lives of Africans who are not on the grid. By working with private companies and cooperative governments, the group wants to kick-start a functioning market for affordable, efficient, and clean off-the-grid lighting products, including solar lamps. Call it market manipulation for the good.
With prices for solar portable devices falling, a market probably would have developed on its own. Eventually. "The question is how long it would take -- and how many setbacks there would be," says Dana Rysankova, a senior energy specialist at the World Bank who manages the Lighting Africa program. One such stumbling point has been the prevalence of mediocre solar products in Africa. Cheap lamps or flashlights that break after only a few weeks "are creating a really bad name for solar lights," Rysankova says.